Russian President Vladimir Putin may have to endure the stern disapproval of U.S. President Barack Obama, and the occasional insult from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as a result of his invasion of Ukraine. But at home, his approval ratings have soared to nearly 70 percent, up from just above 60 percent in December. Over 70 percent of Russians support Putin’s tactics in the Crimea; fewer than one in five oppose his policy.
The Russian parliament is expected to support Crimean secession, the Wall Street Journal reports, and even some Russian opposition leaders are praising Putin. One quoted by the Journal claims: “If Putin returns Crimea to Russia without blood, he will go down in history as a great, and there’s nothing you can do about that.” Or, as Charles Krauthammer quipped Friday: “Catherine the Great took Crimea, Vlad (the Great?) won it back.”
Praise for “Putin the Great” has not been universal. Former international chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is also an important Russian opposition figure, wrote in Friday’s Journal that Putin’s domestic political gains are the whole point: “Without real elections or a free media, the only way a dictator can communicate with his subjects is through propaganda, and the only way he can validate his power is with regular shows of force.”
Although a U.S. Navy destroyer entered the Black Sea on Friday, and the west has extended economic aid Ukraine while applying some sanctions to Russia, the global response to Putin has been symbolic at best. The Crimean parliament has voted unanimously to schedule a referendum on secession Mar. 16. If Putin can endure mild pressure–and a few phone calls with Obama–until then, he will have won Crimea and boosted his power.