Despite what can fairly be called a tough ending to 2014, Vladimir Putin has been voted Russia’s “Man of the Year” via a Public Opinion Foundation poll. 1,500 people voted in the Russian foundation’s poll and the only person they could come up with was the Russian president himself. Apparently the voters were short on imagination as they could not think of anyone in either the sport or culture categories. The only person who sounded good to them was their national leader in the political category. Putin has been voted Man of the Year 14 times in a row, rivalling records only held by dictators and tyrants the world over.
Okay, so dear old Vlad probably is not the best award candidate in Russia, but as the de facto despot of the country, he is the only safe person to vote for. People’s real opinions may be a bit different in private, however, especially if their recent purchase histories are any indication. After the precipitous fall of the Russian ruble, people began buying anything and everything they could as confidence in the economy sank. If this was America, that decline might also mean a decline in popularity for the president. But as the old joke goes, in Russia decline sinks… well, anyone else but Putin.
In reality (where Putin does not live), the economic woes of Russia can be laid squarely at the president’s feet. He has been belligerent with the international community, perhaps even criminal after what has happened in Crimea and the downing of MH17. Sanctions have been levelled against him and his country. Warnings have been issued (including one of a “shirtfront”). And he has ignored all of them, styling himself as the brave leader standing up against Western meddling and evil through the exercises of the state-run media.
Still, the fall of oil prices, the fall of the ruble and the resulting chaos and insecurity have dented his shining armor. For once, Russia’s knight in shining armor looks a little tarnished. He has defended himself by blaming the West and its interference in sovereign Russian matters, but it is really just a gambit, a guessing move which he is unsure will actually work. A professor in Russia told the Washington Post that “no one really knows how the populace will react to the rapidly deteriorating economic circumstances.” That mean Putin does not know, which means his normally so secure position is now precarious.
No matter how powerful a dictator may be, his power and position always depends on the acceptance of the people. Putin has been well and truly popular in Russia, especially during years of prosperity. That popularity has not been entirely manufactured by the media and other sources, but it has been exaggerated. Naming Putin as Russia’s “Man of the Year” may seem completely laughable, especially after the trouble he has created towards the end of 2014. But do not overestimate how ridiculous it really is. Russia is entering a time of change. Will Putin survive this change? It is difficult to say at this point. At the very least, he should not feel as comfortable with that “Man of the Year” title as he did the previous 13 years.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury