Don't Blame Putin; Blame Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin may face international disapproval from the West over his Crimean actions, but at home, he's enjoying his highest approval ratings in years.

I'll let the experts churn out opinions on what should be done about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But it does appear that many of them refuse to accept a number of truths about the world. Take these, for instance:

Vladimir Putin ||| www.kremlin.ruwww.kremlin.ru

1) Most people do not share American values.

2) Most people don't even understand our values.

3) Authoritarianism is often more popular than freedom.

4) Democracy and liberalism are not the same.

I argue the latter point—not coincidentally!—in detail in my new book, The People Have Spoken (And They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may face international disapproval from the West over his Crimean actions, and he may even have to deal with some short-term ineffectual sanctions; but at home, he's enjoying his highest approval ratings in years. Yet we act as if Putin is acting alone. Before the invasion, the respected Levada Center found that 65 percent of respondents approved of Putin's leadership. According to The Guardian, the less respected pollsters at the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center gauged Russian attitudes on the first two days of March and found that nearly 68 percent of respondents approved of Putin's job performance. That was right as Russian troops were entering Crimea, so expect that number to go up.

Putin has enjoyed 60 percent approval ratings throughout his career—and often much higher. Despite a stagnating economy, a Pew Research Center poll in 2012 found that 72 percent thought Putin was doing a good job. It's the kind of support that—apart from some fleeting moments of history—is, thankfully, unachievable in a healthy democratic nation. Despite some of the political rhetoric we hear at home, too much unity reflects poorly on a nation's health.

And the more Putin undermines liberal institutions the more popular he becomes. The people who vote for the presidents of Russia and the United States are unrelated, emerging from distinct historical, moral, and ideological perspectives. So expecting people—even people given a vote—to act in what we consider a logical manner is a waste of time. While we, for example, may be confused about the harsh fate of Pussy Riot, only 5 percent of Russians believed that the punk/activist band didn't deserve serious penalties for its actions. Actually, 29 percent believe that the band members should have been sent into forced labor, while 37 percent believe they should be imprisoned.

So the Russian government controls the country's three main television channels, and at the end of 2013, Putin replaced the national news agency with a new and more compliant version. This undermines the free press, of course, but the ugly fact is there doesn't seem to be much anger about it. In recent years, the Kremlin has imposed limits on protests, criminalized libel, and censored political material on the Internet. It has banned the work of nongovernmental organizations (typically aimed at fostering more transparency in government), frozen the assets of human rights groups that receive funding from U.S. citizens, and jailed the political opposition. Occasionally, a dissident dies of poisoning.

But the reversal of once promising liberal reforms in Russia is not the result of an undermining of democracy. It happened with the full consent of the electorate. In Russia's first presidential election, in 2000, Putin—who had previously been made prime minister—won 53 percent of the vote. In 2004, he won 71 percent of the vote. In 2008, his lackey Dmitry Medvedev also won in a landslide. In 2012, Putin returned to the presidency in a landslide election with a Parliament dominated by members of his party, giving him virtually one-party rule.

Gloomier still, Putin may be a better choice. It's not as if democrats with widespread support are waiting in the wings. Remember that it was the Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who came in second place in the most recent election, with 20 percent of the vote. In a 2009 poll, nearly 60 percent of Russians said they "deeply regret" the Soviet Union's demise. So forget the Middle East, where we've thankfully stopped pretending democracy is a panacea, and start accepting the fact that most people don't view the world as we do.

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  • R C Dean||

    Let's not beat around the bush on this.

    The Russian soldiers now in Crimea are without insignia. That makes them war criminals, and everyone up the chain of command who authorized it (including Putin) a war criminal as well.

    I can only assume they are relying on the affirmative defense of "we have nukes, so what are you gonna do about it." I do find it curious that an overt, undeniable war crime gets zero attention, as such, from all those people who get so exercised about "war crimes" committed by the US

  • DJF||

    You do realize that the US has sent forces to war without insignia? The US special forces often don’t wear insignia and sometimes don’t wear uniforms at all.

  • R C Dean||

    And your point?

  • DJF||

    So do we put the US and Russian war criminals in the same cells?

  • R C Dean||

    Still waiting for a point.

    BTW, logical fallacies and attempts to divert do not constitute a point.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    all is fair in love and war, there is no such thing as a war crime. Look at history, whenever it is inconvenient the "rules of warfare" go out the window. "War crimes" are made up bullshit that politicians come up with to attempt to take the moral high ground.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    Hilariously wrong.

  • Beezard||

    Maybe morally but not factually.

  • Volren||

    A little curious: do you think that America committed no war crimes in Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya/Yemen/Pakistan, etc because the soldiers sent and the drones/planes launched were easily identifiable as American? I'm not sure why sending armies in without insignia somehow makes it worse than sending them in flying the flag.

    I have no problem condemning Russia for what they're doing, but the bizarre implication I've seen in many articles and comments about the subject that America is somehow more virtuous baffles me.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Um. America IS more virtuous. Anyone baffled by that is morally retarded.

  • Volren||

    Rah rah 'Murica!

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    If you don't like America then I am sure that you can find a real comfy spot in North Korea. I am sure that they would welcome a person of your apparent intellect

  • R C Dean||

    I'm not sure why sending armies in without insignia somehow makes it worse than sending them in flying the flag.

    Ask the Geneva Conventions. That's where the requirement that a lawful combatant wear insignia comes from.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    "A little curious: do you think that America committed no war crimes in Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya/Yemen/Pakistan, etc because the soldiers sent and the drones/planes launched were easily identifiable as American?"

    Logical fallacy much?

    There's no need to be relative here. Russia is wrong for sending in unmarked troops. We're not even a combatant here so what does America's own war crimes have to do with Russia's current flaunting of the various Laws of Land Warfare?

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    when is the last time the US put people in concentration camps and starved them to death? russia did that in the last century and killed millions of people in the process.
    how much land has the US annexed though war in the last century
    None. in fact it has lost territory such as the Philippines.
    Russia forcibly annexed Latvia, Estonia, lithuania, poland Hungary,Czechoslovakia,
    Romania, Ukraine, and the rest of eastern europe.
    they invaded Afghanistan with no provocation unlike the US that was attacked by radials supported by the government of Afghanistan
    They have illegally seized lands in Georgia and now in Ukraine.
    The US has been a liberating force in the world - Russia has not

    So I would say there is a huge difference between the two countries

  • Alien Invader||

    Gee, don't you know nothin' by now?

    To American liberals, only US Republicans are capable of committing real war crimes.

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    of course, American liberals(socialists really...) everything is political. Their only real loyalty is to their shitty ideology which they must prop up at every opportunity because it is constantly eroding in the light of truth.

    Conservatives(GOP) are their current target but if libertarians become powerful enough (Tea party ect...) then the socialist attack machine will be all over them too

  • DJF||

    “’”Democracy and liberalism are not the same.””’

    And libertarianism is not the same as democracy or liberalism.

    “”’’It has banned the work of nongovernmental organizations (typically aimed at fostering more transparency in government),”’’

    In the name of transparency, many of these NGO are no more the government contractors paid for by US and other countries tax payers.

  • Cytotoxic||

    In the name of transparency, many of these NGO are no more the government contractors paid for by US and other countries tax payers.

    And therefore all must be guilty!

  • DJF||

    Actually I think the ones banned were the ones getting foreign taxpayer money.

    I could be wrong if so correct me.

  • Cytotoxic||

    You are and even if they were getting US taxpayer money so what?

  • DJF||

    The US does not allow foreign government to interfere with US politics. Its against the law.

    Also I support anything that reduces wasteful US spending and that especially includes playing politics in foreign countries with my money.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The US does not allow foreign government to interfere with US politics. Its against the law.

    There was no evidence of this happening in Russia.

    Also I support anything that reduces wasteful US spending and that especially includes playing politics in foreign countries with my money.

    Even if it results in far greater losses of freedom. One of those ends justifies the means types troglodytes.

  • DJF||

    “””Even if it results in far greater losses of freedom””’

    I lose freedom every time the government takes a penny from my pocket.

    And when did government contractors bring freedom, they bring government

    Also looking at the internet it appears that the law concerning NGO does not ban them but instead requires them to register as a foreign agent and open their books to inspection. Since they are agents of foreign governments why is this wrong? Hopefully Russia publishes in English the accounts of these NGO’s so I can see where my tax dollars are being spent

    If you don’t want to be considered a agent for a foreign government then don’t be an agent for a foreign government.

  • Cytotoxic||

    the law concerning NGO does not ban them but instead requires them to register as a foreign agent and open their books to inspection. Since they are agents of foreign governments why is this wrong?

    You are just making unverified statements. There is no proof they are agents of foreign governments you Putin-apologist troglodyte.

  • DJF||

    If they get paid by foreign governments they are agents of foreign governments. He who pays makes the rules

    Just like the law in the US says.

  • Cytotoxic||

    If they get paid by foreign governments they are agents of foreign governments. He who pays makes the rules

    What a bunch of shit. You can't prove your point, so you turn it into an axiom. You're like a less erudite version of Bo.

  • DJF||

    If they did not do what the US government wants then they would not get paid. What part of that don't you understand.

    And why is US taxpayer money going there in the first place.

  • Juice||

    And libertarianism is not the same as democracy or liberalism.

    Libertarianism IS liberalism. People just use the word liberal wrong these days.

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    correct.

    socialists in this country co-opted the word as a smoke screen to cover up their activities and beliefs. anyone professing to a be a liberal or progressive are actually socialists. If you ask a progressive what he is progressing towards it is a socialist state.

    Classical liberalism is actually conservative/libertarian. That is the root of the concept of liberal education. education for free thinking individuals.
    Socialism is anything but free thinking.
    I has a rigid dogma that requires compliance. it is a command society that requires a top down control structure.
    That is why they want BHO to become a dictator and stifle dissent.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Seriously: fuck Russia. Nothing good has come out of that place since Solzhetisyn, and aside from him it's just been Ayn Rand, that guy who made the Beta version of the periodic table, and Crime and Punishment. I am sure the world would be a better place if Napoleon had won the Eastern front. Russians are a bunch of backwards culturally retarded assholes.

    Only things that can stop Putin and put Russia in its place is 1) economic collapse (not unlikely) and/or 2) crushing military defeat. The latter is possible but it is not America's job. This task falls to the Baltic states and Poland and whatever neighbours of Russia want to preserve their sovereignty.

    I listed to this as a I read the article and you should too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBOD8qeCBuc

  • Cytotoxic||

    One other thing that will put a dent in Putin's popularity is when he inevitably loses Syria.

  • DJF||

    You mean when the islamists take over?

  • Cytotoxic||

    The Islamists that are fighting each other and otherwise imploding? We'll see.

  • grrizzly||

    If he gets Crimea, nobody will care about Syria. Actually Russians don't really care about Syria regardless of Crimea.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Putin and co. will still care about Syria. They have a port there and an ally in Assad.

  • R C Dean||

    And Assad looks like he's going to win the civil war.

    Putin's going to win what he wanted to in Syria: Assad still in power, and the Russian Navy comfortably ensconced in a warm water port.

  • Cytotoxic||

    And Assad looks like he's going to win the civil war.

    What planet are you reporting from? He can barely make advances with Hizbollah leading the charge in places where he's pushing. He can't even hold ground in most of the other places. The parts of Syria next to Jordan are more and more under the control of rebels who are getting their hands on more and more anti-tank missiles. Putin is going to get a hot mess out of Syria.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    The Assad regime still controls the coast which is the core of the country, the rebels are only able to control the border regions which they infiltrate from and receive foreign aid (indeed many rebels aren't even Syrian) if the rebel forces actually do make significant gains they will wind up fighting each other (as they often do anyway). For these reasons Assad will not be ousted without foreign military intervention which is unlikely as long as Assad has the blessing of Putin.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The Assad regime still controls the coast which is the core of the country,

    It's the core of his support base, not the country. Neither Damascus nor Aleppo are 'on the coast'.

    many rebels aren't even Syrian

    But the vast majority are.

    if the rebel forces actually do make significant gains they will wind up fighting each other (as they often do anyway)

    They just spent the last few months or so fight each other very intensely. ISIS was booted out of large sections of the country and today pulled out of more. They still control Raqqa but they are weakened. If rebel infighting was going to wreck the rebels, it would have by now. Instead they held off Syrian government offensives and seized territory next to Jordan which can and probably will be the staging ground for an offensive on Damascus.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    actually I think Assad is winning

  • Cytotoxic||

    He's not.

  • R C Dean||

    Well, he's not losing any more, as far as I can tell. And, since he's still the ruler, that means he's winning.

  • R C Dean||

  • Cytotoxic||

    Another appropriate musical score: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....E4DC91ED57

  • R C Dean||

    One more thing, Cyto, which makes the demise of Russia certain at some point:

    Demographic collapse. Their birth rate is shockingly low. And demographics is destiny. Russia is doomed. Unfortunately, the slow strangulation of demographic collapse will probably fuel more aggression.

  • Cytotoxic||

    That aggression will get them their asses kicked. And you are right that country is literally dying. Also, oil and gas prices will come down one way or another.

    Also worth noting: Chechnya's neighboring provinces were never pacified. They are super violent everyday.

  • DJF||

    Europeans birth rates are worse and the US is heading in that direction

    But Europe and the US were still Europe and the US years ago with far fewer people so they should still be Europe and the US in the future

    The same with Russia

  • Cytotoxic||

    Far fewer people? WTF are you talking about? America's birth rates have actually recovered to almost replacement and America's population has never shrunk since ever.
    Russia's birthrate is not only worse but people-the educated, non-Putin supporting young people-are leaving and so is capital. That is why Russia's population has shrunk 6% since 1990. That is devastating.

  • DJF||

    """Russia's population has shrunk 6% since 1990"''

    There is plenty of examples of countries population shrinking for a time, most of those countris still exist.

    And as I said Europe has far worse numbers

  • OneOut||

    "Only things that can stop Putin and put Russia in its place is 1) economic collapse (not unlikely) and/or 2) crushing military defeat. "

    And it seems he is engineering #1.

    http://goo.gl/bH1fka

  • Vincent Milburn||

    Don't forget Tetris.

  • grrizzly||

    I'm not sure that even many Americans share American values.

    But the snark aside, yes, the Russian people are responsible for Putin and everything that happens in Russia

  • DJF||

    Damm, that means I am responsible for Obama, Bush, Clinto, Bush etc.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Pssst. Read the article again. When it gets to the polling numbers, engage your reading comprehension.

  • DJF||

    Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush etc all won the polls that mattered, they are called elections. So this means I am responsible for them according to you.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The nature of Putin's support is a little different, your wanton obtuseness notwithstanding.

  • DJF||

    There was major support for the US invading Iraq, even from the Democrats.

  • Cytotoxic||

    And rightly so.

  • DJF||

    Yes, for Iraq not having WMD's and not having ties to Osama. Just so we could install a Sunni government with ties to Iran and waste a lot of lives and money doing it.

  • Cytotoxic||

    It was done to increase freedom. Misguided, but we had every right. Russia invades because they want to swing their dicks around and have an entho-chauvanistic inferiority complex. No right.

    install a Sunni government with ties to Iran

    DERP

  • DJF||

    Sorry, Shiite government with ties to Iran

    So what about my loss of freedom when a trillion US taxpayer dollars was wasted there?

  • Cytotoxic||

    Getting back the original point, Bush and the GOP ended up suffering at the polls over Iraq. The Georgian invasion-which was another act of Russian aggression-cost Russia a minor economic catastrophe, but the Russian people supported that through and through. That has bled through to the current acts of aggression against Ukraine.

  • DJF||

    “”’The Georgian invasion-which was another act of Russian aggression-”’’

    The Georgians attacked the Russian peacekeepers that the Georgians had agreed too after the Georgians failed to take over South Ossetia when the Soviet Union collapse. The Russian ‘invasion’ just restored the status from 1992.

  • DJF||

    And if Bush had managed to turn the war into a less then a week event like the war in Georgia with Bush rescuing American peacekeepers and reestablishing a cease fire then Bush would be popular too

  • wwhorton||

    It was done to increase freedom. Misguided, but we had every right.

    Do what now? Since when do we have a right to "increase freedom" in other countries? BTW, that's now my favorite euphemism for invading foreign countries to install friendly regimes.

    I may also be able to stretch it to any time someone just rolls up on someone they don't like and caves his face in: "Keep runnin' that mouth, pal...I'm about to increase the shit out of your freedom."

    Furthermore, how exactly does one increase freedom, from a strategic perspective? We deposed a bloodthirsty dictator, yes. Then we spent the better part of a decade micromanaging (poorly) the Iraqi economy, running prisons (poorly), and babysitting a burgeoning Islamic dictatorship rife with corruption. Which steps increased freedom again? What exactly is the metric by which freedom gets measured?

  • jay_dubya||

    Dont forget the torture camps. When increasing freedom its absolutely essential to have systematic and random water boarding, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation and application of stress positions. What would freedom be without torture camps? Boooooorrrrrrring.

  • Boogens||

    Very interesting and spot on article. I am an in-home salesman here in Philly. I went to an appointment recently that consisted of Russian immigrants- a mother and daughter. They literally had a shrine to Putin in one corner of the apartment. They were not old people (early 40's, early 20's). People there long for the old days. I guess breadlines are a small price to pay in exchange for feeling like a bad ass on the world stage.

  • DJF||

    The last time Russia had bread lines was after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Yeltsen was in charge and the US government was paying for Harvard financial “experts” to advise the Russians. This was also the time when the life expectancy of the average Russian dropped 10 years.

    Of course the Harvard experts had to be sent home since they had engaged in insider trading with the Oligarchs and violated their contract. Could explain in part why the Russians don’t want any more advice from the US.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Yes, that is the legacy of the Soviet communism the Russian 'people' seem nostalgic for, your Harvard expert red herrings notwithstanding.

  • DJF||

    Here it is, the Harvard Institute for International Development, which was both fined and had to shut down its operations due to its actions in Russia. Don’t worry, none of the Harvard experts were put in jail , the US taxpayer and the Harvard paid the costs

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.....evelopment

    The people in charge were Jeffrey Sachs, Andrei Shleifer, Lawrence Summers who all managed to walk away. That is the NGO business, get US government money and the people in charge walk away when they make it go bad.

  • grrizzly||

    Liar! The food shortages, which were ubiquitous in the Soviet Union, disappeared under Yeltsin. I know, I lived there and then.

    Got your 85 roubles per comment?

  • DJF||

    Then why did the life expecency collapse after the Soviet Union ended? It went bad during the Yeltsin era. The same era when the Oligarchs were created with western help

  • Cytotoxic||

    Not sure, but apparently it had nothing to do with the bread lines you made up. Maybe it had something to do with a collapse in the health care system which tends to happen when unsustainable systems collapse.

  • R C Dean||

    Then why did the life expecency collapse after the Soviet Union ended

  • R C Dean||

    Lemme finish that:

    I wouldn't assume that anything reported by the Soviets, from wheat production to life expectancy, was accurate.

  • DRM||

    Excuse me, you actually believe official government figures from the Soviet era?

  • Voxpo||

    Please tell me they didn't also commit insider non-trading.

  • DJF||

    Insider trading is illegal when you sign a contract with the government to not insider trade. You do belive in contracts don't you?

  • R C Dean||

    They literally had a shrine to Putin in one corner of the apartment.

    So why are they here?

  • Boogens||

    I Don't know. You would have to ask them. I was there to sell, not deport them.

  • Lyle||

    The one true dictator of Russia is the patron and savior of Edward Snowden.

    When he's done using Edward Snowden Putin is going to kill Edward Snowden. Y'all just watch.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The Russians are fucking bullies.

  • Robert||

    Which bullies are being fucked?

  • judeoconnor@mac.com||

    Putin's 60% is way above Obama at46% and that's probably inflated to 46.

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    I think the latest is 33%.
    even large portions of the black community are deserting him.

  • JeffreyinSandySprings||

    putin

    Meet the new boss.....same as the old boss.

  • flashgordon||

    Great article. I want to read his book. I have been thinking about the deficiencies of Democracy in many country's for a while now. He's absolutely right about Russia. Ukraine elected a guy who wants to cozy up to Russia. I was amazed Ukraine got rid of that guy with the biggest house in Europe but getting rid of him was proabably anti-democratic and illegal. But without democracy what do you have? I can't think of no democracy without some form of authoritarianism.

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