Understanding Putin’s Popularity

By Rob Dannenberg

Rob Dannenberg served as chief of operations for CIA's Counterterrorism Center, chief of the Central Eurasia Division and chief of the Information Operations Center before retiring from the Agency.  He served as managing director and head of the Office of Global Security for Goldman Sachs, and as director of International Security Affairs at BP.  He is now an independent consultant on geopolitical and security risk.

There are several considerations to keep in mind when assessing the sustainability of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership: his sense of paranoia, his nostalgia for the influence Russia used to hold globally as a superpower, and his desire for “stability” in Russia.  Significantly, the popularity of these aspects of Putin’s leadership style are shared by the average Russian and are reflected in the astonishing level of Putin’s popularity ratings and their long term duration.  Such levels of popularity would be the envy of any leader in the West.  Equally significant is the popularity of Putin’s activism in the near abroad and the Middle East, as well as his re-building of Russian military capability and the military exercises held near the airspace and territorial waters of the United States and NATO members in Europe.   

Putin’s monitoring of the Internet and use of impressive propaganda tools make it difficult to build any meaningful opposition.  And the efficacy of the institutions of political control and repression have essentially eliminated any meaningful democratic opposition.  Finally, many in the West look with anticipation to the end of the Putin era, assuming the administration that follows will be more democratic and pro-Western.  That may not be the case.

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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