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Putin's approval soars as sanctions bite

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Putin's approval soars as sanctions bite
Photo: Vladimir Putin during an annual Q&A conference | http://www.kremlin.ru | Wikimedia Commons
16:25 CEST+02:00
Western sanctions are the main reason Russian President Vladimir Putin has such a huge approval rating, and he can also blame those for the fact his economic policies are a miserable failure according to a leading economist.

Dr Vladislav Inozemtsev, who is the director of the Centre for Post-Industrial Studies in the Russian capital Moscow, was speaking at a conference in the Austrian capital Vienna this week, where he said Western sanctions were the main reason Putin had managed to notch up an 88-percent approval rating, and it has now been revealed to have soared soared to 90 percent, boosted by the bombing of Islamic militants in Syria.

VTsIOM, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, said Putin's rating had reached 89.9 percent in October, up from a previous high of 89.1 percent in June. In January 2012, it put his rating at just 58.8 percent.

The Russian Air Force says it has flown over 700 sorties against more than 690 targets in Syria since September 30, a campaign to which state TV has given blanket coverage with widespread approval from the public.

The meeting in Vienna was organised by the International Centre for Advanced Comparative EU Russian Research (ICEUR) and included leading Russian economist Dr Vladislav Inozemtsev as a special guest.

Apportioning blame to the West

He said that since 2012, Putin had been increasingly implementing state control over the economy, which is the reason for its current decline, and that the president had been able to blame this on Western sanctions.

In 2012, the Russian Federation posted growth of 4.9 percent but this declined to only 0.2 percent in the space of two years. Since January 2015, GDP has declined by 4.5 percent and per capita living standards by 8.9 percent.

Dr Inozemtsev said that lower world oil prices had impacted the economy, however the raft of Western trade sanctions was of only minor effect. Economic analysis showed that most of the problems were attributable to the failure of domestic policy and that the Russian government was more than happy to pin the blame on the sanctions.

"Real incomes are constantly declining"

He said: "Real incomes are constantly declining and Russia is now in a full-scale economic crisis."

Yet the approval rating of 90 percent shows that Putin is not paying the price for his actions, even though the population have been paying for what he has done with a 30-percent drop in living standards.

In his opinion, many business people have still not woken up to the new reality, but this may change when the holiday season arrives, next January, a time for rest and reflection.

He also said many Western leaders and commentators have failed to grasp why President Putin remains popular despite the failure of his economic programme as people felt it was important to rally around the government in the face of opposition from abroad, giving him free range to do whatever he wants.

Emigration a significant factor

He added: "A substantial number of Russians believe quite wrongly, that the economic problems, especially in relation to oil prices, have been engineered by the United States and Saudi Arabia."

Another factor was the way Russians, who might otherwise be critical of the state, were leaving the country in large numbers, with emigration currently running at around 480,000 per year, which has reduced the number of potential dissenters, who form a pool estimated at just 1 to 2 percent of the population.

And for anyone hoping that the president might step down, the economist was convinced it would never happen. Putin, whose words and actions dominate state TV, has not yet said whether he intends to stand for a fourth presidential term in 2018 and if he did, he could remain in power until 2024.

Syria intervention "popular"

But according to Dr Inozemtsev: "The political situation is such that Putin may be expected to remain in power for the foreseeable future. Putin can be re-elected as often as he wishes and he will not leave office alive - for whatever reason."

Dr Inozemtsev advised that Western business people should just make money with Russia and avoid trying to pressurise the regime - as it was a waste of time trying to influence Putin because, as with the president’s close associates, the economist believes he has no respect for dialogue.

He said that the recent intervention in Syria will remain popular with Russians until significant casualties are reported, which Putin would be taking action to guard against.

He added that the best way to defeat Putin is to look at historical models.

Thaw

He said: "After 1918, Germany was left to its own devices which led to social breakdown and ultimately to Nazism. The West is now in a reduced 'Second Cold War' with Russia but when the thaw comes, Russia should be integrated as a partner into the Western bloc."

Dr Inozemtsev explained that Putin would be disarmed if the European Union offered Russia the prospect of membership within 10 to 20 years. Money and investment would flow in as confidence would increase to the benefit of the entire Russian business sector.

If Putin refused the offer, he would lose a powerful segment of his support and become isolated. It was also confirmed that EU membership for Ukraine and Russia would help to dispel tension between the two nations and generally stabilise all eastern European countries.

The country's other main pollster, Levada-Center, which is not linked to the Kremlin, has also registered strong public approval for Putin, saying he scored a rating of 83 percent in August this year.

By Ken Cameron in Vienna

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