Vladimir Putin is probably the most popular Russian leader there has ever been, polling up around a phenomenal 80% as recently as November 2015 in a study carried out by a team of American researchers. This makes him inarguably the most popular world leader today, though you would think the opposite given the way he’s routinely depicted and demonized in the West.
Paradoxically, the main reason for Putin’s popularity in Russia is the same reason he’s so reviled in the US and Western Europe. It comes down to the simple but salient fact that when it comes to leadership and political nous Vladimir Putin is playing chess while his counterparts in London, Washington, and Paris are playing chequers.
This is not to ascribe to the Russian leader the moral virtues of Nelson Mandela or the humanitarian instincts of Mahatma Gandhi. But neither is he the caricature regularly and vehemently described in the UK and US media. Putin is not a villain straight from a Bond movie, sitting in a spooky castle somewhere in deepest Russia planning and plotting world domination.
For that kind of ‘Masters of the Universe’ malarkey you need to take yourself to the White House in Washington, or maybe CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. No, the Russian President is a man who knows his enemy better than they know themselves, and who understands and has imbibed the truth of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s statement that, “If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf.”
What those Western ideologues and members of the liberal commentariat who’ve been lining up to attack him in their newspaper columns fail to appreciate, not to mention the army of the authors who’ve been churning out books painting Putin as a latter day Genghis Khan, is the deep scars left on the Russian psyche by the country’s exposure to freedom and democracy Western-style upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein lays it out in forensic detail in her peerless work, The Shock Doctrine (Penguin, 2007). The impact of free market shock therapy on Russia under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, Klein describes thus: “In the absence of major famine, plague or battle, never have so many lost so much in so short a time.
By 1998 more than 80 percent of Russian farms had gone bankrupt, and roughly seventy thousand state factories had closed, creating an epidemic of unemployment. In 1989, before shock therapy, 2 million people in the Russian Federation were living in poverty, on less than $4 a day. By the time the shock therapists had administered their ‘bitter medicine’ in the mid-nineties, 74 million Russians were living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.”
Klein also reveals that by 1994 the Russian suicide rate had doubled and violent crime increased fourfold.
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