Vladimir Putin, in the midst of the wave of anti-government protests, is beginning to see more clearly the contours of a threat to his rule: generational change. Young people born in 2000, the start of Putinism, grew up under the sign of one ruler to dominate the Kremlin and flirt with new directions, in a trend picked up by opinion polls.
Between 18 and 24 years old, 46% of those polled disapprove of the president’s performance, while the index in 2018 was 18%, pointed out a study published this week by Centro Levada, a Russian research institute known for its independence. .
The survey also confirms the strength of Putin’s popularity among older Russians. Between 40 and 54 years old, the approval rate reaches 60%, and above 55 years old it reaches 73%. In the average interviewee, the index points to 64%, a respectable level, but far enough from the marks already exceeded 80%.
Putin owes his popularity above all to the social contract imposed since 2000. The regime ensures political, economic and social stability, a scarce commodity in previous decades, and, in return, applies setbacks to the nascent Russian democracy, introducing the hand heavy with putinism.
The formula imposed by Putin found an echo in local public opinion. There was, at the end of the 1990s, and still survives, particularly among Russians over 40, a colossal demand for stability, in a country with rare democratic experience, after centuries of Tsarist tyranny and decades of Soviet dictatorship.
Putin’s immediate predecessors left traces of overwhelming crises. Mikhail Gorbatchov, faced with the Soviet bankruptcy, inaugurated in 1985 reforms aimed at saving the Communist Empire. Internationally, it has reaped successes, such as contributing to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
Glasnost (transparency, in Russian) also provided unprecedented individual freedoms, but these achievements were overshadowed by the biggest economic crisis since the tragedy of World War II.
Under Gorbachev, the regime with a powerful nuclear arsenal was unable to adequately feed the population. The USSR, in its throes, received international humanitarian aid.
Gorbachev’s failure on the domestic plane propelled the rise of Boris Yeltsin, his main political opponent, in 1991. The Yeltinist project promised “shock therapy” to inject capitalism and save the economy, and announced democratic advances.
However, famous for his mercurial personality, Yeltsin ruled from crisis to crisis. He even ordered the bombing of a parliament dominated by opponents and carried out controversial privatizations, seen as a way to irrigate the channels of corruption. There was the financial crisis of 1998, with the devaluation of the ruble. The mafias have grown.
Then head of the FSB (one of the successor agencies of the Soviet KGB and responsible for internal security), Putin became Prime Minister in 1999 and, after Yeltsin’s resignation, he went to the Kremlin, supported by the fact that he headed the “siloviki”, a Russian term for members of the defense and repression apparatus. And the new president, elected for the first time in March 2000, imposed his social contract.
However, many of those born after this year do not compare to the recent past, grew up in a more stable time, and understand the Putin era primarily from the point of view of authoritarianism. They want new directions. With the generational shift, a threat vector for a president arrives with signs of plans to attempt to stay in power until 2036.
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