June 20. 2024. 1:00

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The Brief — Putin here to stay?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has undoubtedly made a huge mistake by launching a brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine. However, his personal rating in Russia remains high, which doesn’t augur for a major policy shift anytime soon.

In February 2023, more than 80% of Russians approved of Putin, according to stats compiled by the Levada Center, which remains credible despite the crackdown on independent institutes.

Thus, Putin’s rating remains as high as in February 2022 when he started the war. His popularity level decreased only in September, when it stood at 77%. The decline in that month was explained by the announcement of a partial mobilisation in the country.

After Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February 2022, Putin’s approval rating increased. His popularity hit the biggest peaks when Russia attacked Georgia in 2008, and when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. His ratings declined most during the COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020.

If one thing works well in Russia, this is propaganda and disinformation. Russians literally drown in fake narratives, believing that their motherland is under attack by the collective West. They massively approve of their leader, seen as a courageous Messiah, so different from his weak predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Only a small minority, believed to be in the range of 10%, oppose the war and see Putin as the wrong man to lead Russia. This minority seeks alternative sources of information, and some use VPN (virtual private networks) to access uncensored content.

But this minority is systematically silenced in elaborate ways.

Some opposition politicians have been murdered (Nemtsov), others had to seek exile (Khodorkovsky) or have been put in jail (Navalny, Kara-Murza), and critical media and journalists have been branded as “foreign agents”.

On 4 March, Russia’s parliament passed a law on the “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”, which provides for imprisonment for up to 15 years if it caused “serious consequences” or a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles (€18,000).

Russia has also tightened control over the internet.

Now Russian lawmakers are considering confiscating the property of Russian citizens abroad who speak out against Russia’s war in Ukraine or who donate to the Ukrainian army – a move aimed at silencing even those who escaped from Russia.

But the majority – almost 80% who support Putin – are not an amorphous group. Conformism has been entrenched since Soviet Russia, if not from Tsarist times.

The supreme leader gets utmost respect – until something happens, when all of a sudden, he dies and gets exposed as a monster (Nikolai II, Stalin).

Many Russians believe that the supreme leader knows better, and they don’t question or criticise his decisions. In this sense, Russia appears as a very different society from Ukraine and Belarus.

Although these nations were together in the USSR for more than 70 years, Ukrainians and Belarusians rebel against their leaders. Lukashenko is still officially in charge, but he stole the elections, and clearly, a majority of Belarusians strongly oppose him.

It is also interesting to note that according to available information, only one Russian diplomat defected after 24 February 2022. In comparison, the number of Belarusian diplomats who resigned is much larger, and many, if not most, Belarussian journalists abroad now work for the opposition media.

This only illustrates how different nations are and shows that the Soviet melting pot has not erased their differences.

Whether we like it or not, the concept of talking peace with Russia, but only when Putin is gone, doesn’t hold. Crowds of angry Russian people are unlikely to demand his resignation in front of the Kremlin walls anytime soon.

Waiting for an internal coup to replace him, or him dying from an incurable disease, is not a serious gamble either.

He may be officially declared a war criminal by the West, but at some point, other world leaders will need to sit at the same table with him. Or with his successor, who is unlikely to be much different.

Yes, the world is unfair, but we knew that already. Disliking this or complaining about it won’t change a thing – we’d better just be prepared.

The Roundup

Eurohold Bulgaria, a leading energy and financial group in Southeast Europe, has sent a complaint to the Bulgarian prosecution regarding what it said is “extortion and corruption of extraordinary proportions” harming its Romanian subsidiary, EURACTIV Bulgaria has learned.

EURACTIV takes a closer look at how France’s far-right views its environmental responsibilities and priorities. Nationalism, conservatism and localism shape its approach, according to experts.

With the news that Germany may abstain from a vote on ending the production of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, the fate of the long-negotiated law on CO2 standards for cars and vans is now uncertain.

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted on Wednesday (1 March) for a quick phasedown of F-gas refrigerants, in a move that drew criticism from the heat pump industry.

A French parliamentary ‘Uber Files’ investigative committee aims to shine a light on Uber’s lobbying practices in the French government and the reality of the economy’s ‘uberisation’, while workers’ representatives want to do away with self-employment and push for general reclassification.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged China on Thursday (2 March) not to send weapons to help Russia’s war in Ukraine and instead asked Beijing to exert pressure on Moscow to pull back its forces.

Don’t forget to check out our Economy Brief for a roundup of weekly news on the economy across Europe.

Look out for…

  • Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas in Athens, delivers lecture at National School of Defence.
  • Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič receives CEO of ENEL Francesco Starace.
  • Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides holds video conference call with Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko.