The then annexation of Crimea found much good in Russia. At the time, President Putin's polls were higher than ever. How are the Russians today?
All in all, the Russians are naturally satisfied that the Crimea is now returning from Russia to Russia. But what has changed is that Putin and his approval are no longer being pushed like this. There was a big increase after the annexation – or the reunification, as the Russians call it. However, this increase has evaporated again and Putin's approval ratings have fallen to pre-Crimea levels. They are currently at 60 to 64 percent. In 2015 they were at an incredible 86 percent.
If you asked the Russians if it was right to annex Crimea, what would they answer?
I think they still say "yes." Because many Russians still believe that there was actually no choice, otherwise the NATO soldiers would now be stationed locally. This has been the propaganda strategy for years and many Russians believe that, but today it is no longer good enough to dispel the internal problems of the country. It is no longer a consolation for the people who now have to pay for the economic crisis.
What does it look like locally in Crimea? Are there people today who regret the way they voted in the referendum five years ago?
There are now people who look a bit more sober. A good example is the Crimean Tatars. They suffered reunification. Many of them were suspected of extremism, they were interrogated by the intelligence service and classified as potential opponents. That is the only point. The second is that the Russian politicians who have come to Crimea are no less corrupt than their Ukrainian predecessors. People hoped it would improve. But there have been many corruption scandals in Crimea in recent years. So disillusion has spread.
As you said, Putin can no longer use Crimea to score politically. What would his strategy look like in the future?
The problem is that the foreign policy issue is no longer so well received by the Russians. You now notice this, for example, in the Venezuela crisis, in which Russia is strongly committed to President Maduro. Many people wonder: we Russians have no money, our wages have not increased in years, why do we help a dictator in Latin America? That is why the only thing Putin can do now is to focus more on domestic politics. He must try to tackle the problems now so that he can stop the decline in popularity.
The MDR also reports on this topic on TV:
MDR news 18.03.2019 | 7:30 pm