Putin Approval Rating Drops to Historic Low Amid Coronavirus Crisis, Kremlin Says It Does Not 'Fully Trust' Polls

Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval rating has fallen to a record low as the strongman leader marks 20 years in power, and while the country battles with spiking coronavirus infections and economic dislocation caused by the national lockdown.

Putin's approval rating dropped to 59 percent in the latest poll from the independent Levada Center, which announced the figures on Wednesday. This marks his lowest point as president since he polled at 61 percent approval after first being inaugurated in 2000 and in 2013 just before Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian Crimea peninsula.

Wednesday's figures are the lowest for Putin as president, but not as low as the 53 percent approval recorded in September 1999, soon after he was appointed prime minister by the Russian Federation's first President Boris Yeltsin.

The Levada poll was conducted with 1,608 people via phone interviews in April, by which time most of Russia was already under lockdown measures to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Thirty three percent of those surveyed said they currently disapproved of Putin's performance.

Last month, Levada reported that more Russians approved of the performance of local officials responding to coronavirus than they did of Putin's. A survey by the state-funded VTsIOM polling agency found last month that Russians' trust in Putin has fallen to a 14-year low of 28 percent.

The coronavirus has taken hold in Russia despite Putin claiming in March that the situation was under control. Authorities recorded 10,559 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, bringing the country's official number of cases to 165,929, according to The Moscow Times. So far, 1,537 people have died—86 of them over the past 24 hours.

Russia has the seventh-highest number of confirmed cases in the world, but observers believe the true number of infections and deaths is likely much higher. In the early stages of the outbreak, for example, medical officials reported a spike in deaths attributed to pneumonia—a prominent complication of COVID-19—but not registered as coronavirus linked.

Putin self-isolated early in the crisis, having come into contact with a Moscow doctor who later tested positive for the virus. Putin has constructed a hyper-presidential system and centralized power in the Kremlin, but during the pandemic the veteran leader has delegated responsibilities, leaving others like Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin—who has tested positive for the virus—and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin to emerge as key voices.

The Kremlin dismissed the latest Levada figures, explaining that the government is "not inclined to fully trust" the poll results. "There are other surveys that paint a different picture," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday at a press briefing, according to the Interfax news agency.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with chief of the National Guard Viktor Zolotov at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia on May 6, 2020. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images/Getty