Many countries in the West have this image of Russia and its government as corrupt and dangerous and that is completely true. The funny thing is, the Russian people are completely fine with that. Throughout his entire time in office (President and Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin has retained over a 60% approval rate and when you look back at Russia’s history it becomes a little easier to see why.
Vladimir Putin and his party, United Russia, have been defined by many in the international community as “the most brazzen and dangerous world leader” mostly for his aggressive forign policy and his violent suppression of political rivals both in Russia and abroad. So how could someone like this continue to gain the support of his people, even with allegations of the use of fraudulent elections to stay in power, many Russians do still support Putin or at least some of his policies.
To truly understand why someone like Putin could gain and hold power in Russia, back to the beginning of the 20th century just before World War One during the time of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. For hundreds of years, life in Imperial Russia was basically unchanged, the rich and powerful lived in their country estates or in the Imperial cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg while most of the peasant class were either serfs on the estates and their surrounding communities, or in communities surrounding the cities outside the walls.
Many of these peasants lived simple lives, living in poverty and paycheck to paycheck. Most of these peasants were also illiterate and often entire villages relied on one literate peasant to conduct their affairs. Peasants also lived in small one or two room houses, which could be particularly crowded since peasant families were often large to compensate for early deaths due to violence and disease.
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the freeing of the serfs in the later parts of the 19th, the lower classes of Russia were presented with new opportunities working in factories. While working conditions in factories were awful, it did provide young peasants with new experiences away from their rural villages and more pay.
Finally, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the USSR in the 1920’s, the masses finally had access to things like healthcare,education for all, and modern housing. The USSR offered the promise of a better future for hard work in the present. While overall, living conditions for more citizens massively improved from Imperial times, food shortages, purges, the abuse of the legal system and intelligence agencies combined with economic setbacks in the 50’s and 70’s meant eventually, the quality of life in Soviet Russia was well below the west.
Post Soviet Russia was equally a time of upheaval. With the collapse of the Red Army, organized crime became extremely prevalent and lots of government corruption transferred over from the old system. When Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, Russia faced extreme problems caused by the collapse of the USSR.
Putin spent much of his early time in power rebuilding the infrastructure of the country and improving the general impoverished nature caused by years of economic decay. Through both his time as Prime Minister and President, Putin has worked to improve Russian healthcare, education, housing, and agriculture through a number of reforms, backed in part by the Russian Oligarchy class who have supported Putin over the years. Under Putin, Russia’s GDP has risen exponentially since the collapse of the USSR.
While Putin’s Russia isn’t perfect and in fact still struggles with issues with corruption, bribery, censorship, and silencing of opinions with violence; compared to what the everyday citizen has had to deal with over the last 150 years, their quality of life is much better.
Now, this is not to say that I approve of Putin or that I think he should remain in office; I personally think the people of Russia should attempt to move away from him before he becomes even more deeply rooted. But it is important to see why he continually receives popular support and that compared to Russia’s recent history, Putin’s Russia allows more for the everyday citizen.