Russian President Vladimir Putin at an election rally in Moscow on March 3, 2018
He is hated by Westerners, accused of annexing the lands of some and interfering in the elections of others. But in Russia, Vladimir Putin remains a beloved and supported president, certain to win on March 18 a new mandate.
Credited about 70% of voting intentions by the public institute VTSIOM, the president according to his critics consolidated his power by placing the media under control and reduced public freedoms during his 18 years in power.
His main opponent, Alexei Navalny, was declared ineligible until 2024 because of a judicial sentence, orchestrated by him by the Kremlin.
But for millions of Russians, Vladimir Putin is the man who brought stability back to the political and economic chaos of the 1990s, and restored the authority and role of Moscow in the international arena, lost after the humiliating fall of the USSR.
„Putin is a mirror and everyone sees what he wants in him,“ remarks the political analyst Konstantin Kalachev. „For some, he is the man who raised Russia on his knees, upgraded the army and the military industry, and for others he raised their standard of living and made sure their pensions were paid without delay „.
Abroad, it is the opposite: Vladimir Putin often appears on the front page of newspapers as the representative of absolute evil.
„The fact that he is considered the main enemy of the West is the recognition of his status as a leading politician,“ notes Kalatchev. „If they are afraid of you, they respect you.“
– ‚Strong President‘ –
Vladimir Putin’s reputation abroad has been tarnished by Russia’s role in the Ukrainian conflict, which has been subject to sanctions by the United States and the European Union since 2014.
Russia is also regularly singled out for its military support of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. And the revelation of a vast doping system of his athletes, leading to his exclusion of the Olympics-2018 did not help to raise the popularity of the Russian president.
President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on 1 March 2018
In the eyes of Vladimir Putin, all these accusations show in fact that the idea of a strong Russia embarrasses Westerners. It is precisely with the leitmotiv of a „strong president for a strong country“ that Vladimir Putin is campaigning to be re-elected on March 18th.
At the beginning of March, during a speech in front of the Parliament, he presented the new „invincible“ weapons of Russia, launching to the Westerners: „Listen to us now!“
The president plays the role of „the axis of evil“ around which Westerners „consolidate and mobilize,“ said with a complicit smile a Russian journalist who interviewed the president on television. „Imagine how they would manage without you!“
– No choice –
Except for a huge surprise, Vladimir Putin will get a fourth term on March 18, bringing him to power until 2024. His nearest rival, according to polls, is the Communist Party candidate, the millionaire Pavel Groudinine, who harvests nearly 8% voting intentions.
Putin „deftly exploits all the fears and complexes of the population,“ Kalatchev said, adding that the main fear of the Russians is a return to the instability of the 1990s. „People are afraid of losing what they own. and this fear is particularly strong in the province where life is difficult.
During the 2012 presidential election, Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister of President Dmitry Medvedev, campaigned promising to improve the lives of Russians. But in the end, his last term was marked by an economic recession and a decline in the standard of living.
The power of Russia, the largest in the world
For Alexei Navalny, the 70% of voting intentions for the Russian president can not be explained by a real support for his political program, but by the feeling that there is no real choice.
In the provinces, „they say (…) there is nobody else than Putin, I will vote for him!“, He said recently in an interview with AFP.
In Moscow, during a demonstration supporting the president, supporters of Vladimir Putin seemed to share the same feeling.
„I do not see any other candidate who can be our commander-in-chief,“ filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov told a crowd of 100,000 people. „It’s the only one, Putin is our president“