By Philip Amur
It was with his typical energy that President Putin addressed an enthralled public in Moscow following the acquisition of his fourth term as Russia’s leader. With 99.8 percent of the votes counted, Putin won with 76.7 percent according to data from Russia’s central election commission, while his nearest rival, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, won 11.79%, and tra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky took 5.7 percent,
This electoral success is not at all accidental; with a registered-voter turnout of 67.47 percent (more than 56 million of Russia’s 110 million eligible voters) according to the New York Times, the Russian people showed that the course onto which Mr. Putin had set their country was one worth they want to continue to follow. Needless to say, Americans and those in other Western governments decried the elections as illegitimate, corrupt and suitable only for an authoritarian leader whose concern fell not in the welfare of the Russian people, but rather in the consolidation of power.
Unfortunately this popular narrative doesn’t address why Putin is a popular President and a powerful politician. It is therefore worth exploring the positive changes that Russia has undergone since the USSR’s collapse in order to understand why the leader that Americans loath is the same one that Russians appear to reviere.
The Russian Federation from 1991-2000 was a country in disarray. With the breakup of the USSR and a transition to a market system from a command economy, society fell into the abyss. Pensions once guaranteed by the state were lost, inflation soared to what was at one point 5000 percent due to massive money supply increases in the post-price control economy (taken from research by San Jose State University) and criminal activity revolving around the sale of black market goods and ponzi schemes skyrocketed.
To add insult to injury the country was run by Boris Yeltsin, a leader so incompetent that he is known for being seen by the U.S. secret service in his underwear drunkenly trying to get pizza via taxi from the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Peter Conradi’s book “Who Lost Russia?” adds how NATO amassed troops in the East despite declaring Russia an ally; the West’s “allyship” was seen not just as a military betrayal but as a token gesture of good grace to the Russian people ($2.50/Russian citizen on average was granted in aid by the Western powers).
Putin’s presidency represents progress to the Russian people. Under Putin, Russia’s GDP per capita had tripled from Yelstin’s $9,989 to $27,900, while unemployment has contracted from 13 percent to 5.3 percent. The public debt stands at 17.4 percent of GDP while reserves have increased to $356 billion from $12 billion in 2000, whereas in the year 2000 public debt constituted just over an astounding 92 percent of GDP value. In the 2017 agricultural year, Russian farmers produced their largest ever crop yield of 130 million tons of grain, thus breaking the 40-year-old Soviet record.
Lastly, there is the “strongman” aspect of Putin, which in itself serves as the greatest example of divide between Russia and the West. Citizens within the Russian federation are essentially unified in their concerns over what they see as Western territorial encroachment and the expansion of hostile global liberalism.
America’s funding of the Ukrainian Army despite Kiev’s violation of the 2015 Minsk Agreement, its uninvited entry into Syria for the sake of funding “moderate” rebels as well as U.S. coverage of the alleged 2016 election meddling have given Moscow plenty to play with. Finally, in a time of not just economic but also cultural globalism, many are quick to condemn Russia’s conservative traditions and views regarding national identity without ever questioning what they have been taught over several years.
Objectivity is essential in understanding the reasons behind political dissonance among nations. Vladimir Putin, love him or hate him, undeniably has people who see him as the one hope in keeping Russia strong and thus unable to fall back into a darker time. He will go down in history as one of the most powerful political forces of the 21st century, and with time, even those who follow the standard anti-Putin talking points will see that there was a great deal of substance to his rule over the world’s largest country. The Russian people have chosen their fate, and Putin will actualize it accordingly.