Quora Question: Why Would Anyone Like and Support Vladimir Putin?

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with journalists in Moscow, Russia on April 14. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

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Answer from Rhodri James 'Llewelyn' Gillham:

In essence, Vladimir Putin performed an epic economic lazarus act on Russia. The sad fact is, the old Roman adage of "Bread and Circuses" very much applies here. Heck, it applies to all states. If people have food to put on their tables and are entertained, they are much less inclined to rock the boat for fear of losing that economic security.

Yes, Russia is so spectacularly corrupt that it has been described as a kleptocracy, a country run by criminals. Yes, a lot of Russian TV is basically propaganda - the Kremlin has been surprisingly open about that fact. Yes, dissenters are imprisoned. But Russia is wealthy (Putin's made the corruption work for him), the people are far less impoverished than they were only a couple of decades ago—and, in any case, the reaction to the Panama Papers showed quite clearly that they don't really mind if the people at the top are rich, they're kind of used to it. Also, they think it's a Western plot.

That latter part is key. For three hundred years, since Tsar Peter the Great defeated the Swedish empire at the Battle of Poltava in 1709 (the Great Northern War went on until 1721, but Poltava broke Sweden's power), Russia has been a dominant force in European and Asian politics, even more so following the partition of Poland-Lithuania. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Russian Tsars, who had married into the Byzantine royal family, claimed Moscow as the Third Rome. That gives you some idea as to its ambitions and national self-image.

Historically, it has been a great power, dominating Eastern Europe and Central Asia, capable of vying with the likes of the British Empire at the height of its power for influence—look up the "Great Game," essentially the struggle for control of Afghanistan and Persia (modern-day Iran) and the Crimean War. That kind of power continued under the Soviets, who matched America (the pre-eminent great power of the modern era and a de facto empire in its own right) and its allies, NATO, step for step. Well, actually the USSR crumbled under its own economic weight, among other things, but that's another matter.

The point is that the Russian people and Russia itself are accustomed to being a very powerful and respected nation. After the USSR fell, it was cut off from its colonies (I have heard Russians explicitly describe countries like Ukraine as colonies, and let's make no bones about it, that's exactly what they were) and stripped of the vast majority of its power, while its enemies, NATO, go from strength to strength, undergoing the longest sustained economic boom in decades. While the USSR/Russia was in a downward spiral and effectively irrelevant on the world stage, NATO flexed its muscles, crushing Hussein's Iraq in a matter of weeks in the first Gulf War, preventing a horrific situation from becoming a second Holocaust in the Balkans. Both of these are regions where Russia has tried to exert influence, the latter in Russia's very backyard.

Meanwhile, Russia had to handle economic collapse, the rise of the oligarchs, the rampant corruption… Really, 90s Russia resembled nothing so much as late 20s/early 30s Germany, allowing the emergence of a small, charismatic man who talks a lot about restoring national pride and national power. Putin, of course, is not a mere demagogue—he's a former KGB agent who's made it work for him, and he's mostly sane. Or at least, he's functionally insane. He's set about restoring Russia's prestige, its pride and its power, showing the world that Russia won't be pushed around and will push back, positioning himself as a global statesman. Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, it's a running theme—Russia's playing the "Great Game" again. And by and large, Russians love him for it. He's put food on their tables, money in their pockets and pride in their hearts. And with all that in mind, really, it's quite easy for them to turn a blind eye to a few dissenters and opposition politicians being disappeared, protesters being beaten and imprisoned. After all, the apple cart's full. Who wants to upset it?

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