- After the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin's popularity with the Russians shot up to more than 80 percent overnight.
- After five years, this Crimean effect seems to be used up.
- For the economic and social problems of the Russians have become rather larger as a result of the annexation.
President Vladimir Putin does not often talk about feelings. With one exception maybe: when it comes to his love for Russia. The "many times" has risen in the past 15 years, said the President in the fall in a television program, as it was already downhill with his poll numbers. Lately, a question is getting louder: Does Russia still love him at all?
Often in this context another, almost past feeling is mentioned, some called it the "Crimean consensus". It described the widespread joy in Russia and the pride that Crimea once again belongs to them. An euphoria that has subsided for some time. It was also an often conjured feeling of togetherness of all Russians, and the Russians with their president. But now loses everywhere approval.
In a February poll, only 64 percent of respondents agreed with Putin's policy. The independent Lewada Center asks this question every month. The special feature of the current result is that the value is as low as it was before the annexation of the Crimea in March 2014. At that time, the Russians' approval of the president virtually shot over 80 percent overnight – and remained at this level for four years. But after five years, the Crimean effect seems to be used up.
Has Putin lost touch with the people?
How can this effect be described? For the first time since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia had expanded again by annexation. It had demonstrated its power to the world. To a world full of enemies, as Putin often said, they want to harm Russia and keep it small. A message that repeated the state television on all channels and made the people move together behind the president. Putin received a sort of carte blanche for his foreign policy agenda, his actions in eastern Ukraine, interference in Syria, confrontational politics towards the West.
Instead of more prosperity, he promised people greatness and national pride. But meanwhile they are feeling more and more what this barter transaction means. For the economic and social problems which they were able to forget for a while in their joy over the Crimea, have become rather larger as a result of the annexation. The president does not seem to have any answers for them. Has he lost contact with the people over his foreign policy ambitions?
After the post-Crimean euphoria is over, writes Tatiana Stanovaya for the Moscow Carnegie Center, and "the public has shifted their attention from television to the fridge", social inequality and declining living standards come to the fore. Even the mainstream media are now dealing with the unpopular economic decisions of the government, from higher retirement age to higher VAT.
Although most Russians still agree with the annexation, 77 percent of respondents were in a recent survey of the state-affiliated institute Fom. If one asks, however, whether the connection has been of use to Russia, only 39 per cent answer yes. Three years ago, it was still 67 percent.
The Crimean annexation indirectly contributed to the difficult economic situation. The sanctions, the weak ruble, the falling value of Russian incomes, the rising prices in the supermarket – all this is partly related to the situation in which Putin brought his country. In the election last year, which had been set extra on the anniversary of the annexation, Putin still won nearly 77 percent of the vote. In the fall, only 56 percent told the Lewada Center that they would vote for Putin next Sunday. And in February, state-owned opinion polling agency Wziom found that just 33 percent of respondents trusted Putin, the lowest in 13 years.
In his speech to the nation, the president this year has kept the foreign policy part short. Perhaps he has realized that more and more of his compatriots are tired of the patriotic slogans. Instead, Putin generously promised money for almost all social areas. What is still missing is a clear business model. And a political vision that goes beyond a short-lived patriotic dizziness.