Vladimir Putin, Symbol of Russia’s Humiliation
Since Vladimir Putin came to power 20 years ago, Russia has lost its influence in Georgia, the Balkans, and Ukraine. Moscow shut down all of the Russian military bases aboard, except in Syria and NATO expanded to Russia’s borders.
In spite of these fatal losses, the Kremlin propagandists keep portraying Vladimir Putin as one of the greatest geopolitical geniuses of all time. In reality, however, the Russian president’s approval ratings recently dropped to a historic level. The main reason is that Russia’s trust in its president has drastically fallen due to controversial pension reform, as well as the declining economy. At the end of the last year, the Russian government announced its decision to raise the retirement age to just below the life expectancy of the average Russian man. According to new regulations, the Russian state pension age will be raised for men from 60 to 65 by 2028 and for women from 55 to 63 by 2034. According to statistics, the life expectancy for men at birth in Russia is 65.3 while for women it is 77 years.
President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin may have already lost the unfailing support of the Russian youths. It comes as no surprise that, according to a poll conducted in December 2018, 41 percent of young Russians say they intend to emigrate.
One of the main problems for the Russian leader is that he can no longer play the Crimea card at home for political gain. Even though the incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation in 2014 resulted in a sharp increase in the Russian president’s approval ratings, five years later the matter has been overshadowed by widespread economic hardships. In addition, Crimea can hardly compensate for the loss of Ukraine. While Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was in power, Russia held Ukraine in its geopolitical orbit. After the events in Kyiv’s Maidan in 2013-2014, Russia lost its influence in Ukraine. Presently, Russia controls Crimea, as well as eastern parts of the Donbas region, which is in total, only about 7 percent of Ukraine.
Putin also lost Georgia after the so-called Rose Revolution in Tbilisi in 2003. Five years later, Russia fought and won a short war with the former Soviet republic which lost control over two breakaway regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia recognized these entities as independent states, but Georgia remained under the Western sphere of influence. Still, Putin’s apologists tend to describe this as a huge victory. In their view, reestablishing control over Chechnya is another of Putin’s great achievement. However, before the conflict erupted, ethnic Russians comprised approximately 20 percent of Chechnya’s population. After Putin’s “victory” in 2000, the number of Russians in the Chechen Republic fell to less than two percent. Chechnya remains heavily subsidized by Moscow, with no hope of becoming economically self-sufficient in the current political climate.
Apart from the losses in the former Soviet Union, Russia, under Putin, has lost its influence in the Balkans as well. In 2003, Russian peace-keeping troops were ordered by the Kremlin to leave both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Ever since, most Balkan countries either joined the EU and NATO or have been actively negotiating membership. Russia, on the other hand, shut down its military bases in Azerbaijan, Cuba, Georgia, and Uzbekistan, while NATO came to the Russian borders after Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia joined the alliance in 2004.
According to some Russian analysts, Vladimir Putin bears the responsibility for the Kursk submarine disaster. The nuclear submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea after explosions on board on August 12, 2000, about three months into Putin’s first term. He was criticized for remaining on vacation in Sochi, only returning to the Kremlin five days after the sinking. It was a further four days before he traveled to the northern port of Murmansk, where the rescue operation was coordinated. As commander in chief of the armed forces, critics say, Putin was obligated to know about the fatal naval exercise, which was the largest in Russia’s post-Soviet history.
Russia faced many other tragedies and geopolitical humiliations in the past twenty years. It will likely face even more disasters in the coming years. But Putin doesn’t have to fear for his position. Since opposition in Russia barely exists, biology is the only limiting factor for his power.