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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Putin Soars High on War's Wings




In a little over three months Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has gone from being a faceless fixer to the most popular politician in the country.


His extraordinary ratings - 60 percent to 75 percent approval and at least triple the presidential rating enjoyed by his rivals - need to be regarded with some skepticism.


Russia's polls are in general unreliable and open to manipulation. The office of prime minister has worked this kind of magic before; neither of Putin's two predecessors were truly popular before they took office.


But even so, Putin now enjoys a greater level of support than perhaps any post-Soviet politician. Even President Boris Yeltsin in his heyday had to contend with determined parliamentary opposition at the least.


Therein lies much of the secret of Putin's success. By playing the Chechen card, he has succeeded in uniting society behind him.


Horrified at both Shamil Basayev's invasion of Dagestan and the bombings that claimed 300 lives, Russia's usually fractious elite and middle classes were ready to follow a decisive leader. And Putin has proven to be more than merely decisive.


The West has been understandably horrified at the carnage and the flood of refugees, but Russians across the political spectrum have applauded wholeheartedly, as have the media.


Putin has thus been given a free ride to popularity and prestige. Nary a word of criticism against him has escaped anyone's lips. He has instead been showered with praise.


It would be interesting to see what would happen should his free ride come to an end, for the prime minister is potentially vulnerable to attack on many fronts.


Putin was chosen by a president widely hated for the poverty and disorder he has overseen. But the prime minister has done nothing to distance himself from Yeltsin, clinging close to the presidential bosom.


He has also done very little to distance himself from Boris Berezovsky and other oligarchs close to the Kremlin inner circle, all of whom have reputations almost as bad as Yeltsin's. He in fact reaffirmed his ties to such figures last week when he endorsed Sergei Shoigu's Medved, or Unity, bloc, a party widely reported as a Berezovsky creation.


And while he has been pounding away at Chechnya, the prime minister has done little to attack Russia's real woes - the aching poverty most of the population faces every day as they struggle to survive despite minimaal and often unpaid wages, meager pensions and rotten infrastructure.


What Putin has done is to cynically wage a brutal and bloody war for his own political ends. It is to be hoped that Russians will eventually remember these facts and punish him appropriately.