Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday that he will once again seek reelection, marking his fourth bid for the top office in his nation.
Putin is expected to secure reelection quite easily, despite a growing opposition movement within his nation. Between terms as president and Russian Prime Minister, his reelection will mean Putin’s reign of power will extend over a massive 24-year span, making him the longest sitting Russian leader since Joseph Stalin who retained power for 29 years.
Putin, a former KGB agent who rose to prominence via questionable means, has become a cultural icon both inside Russia and externally. Memes of the bare-chested world leader riding bears or looking generally disinterested in geopolitics have made their rounds on numerous U.S. based websites for years. Within Russia, many see him as the man that has restored national pride since the fall of the Soviet Union.
However, despite the man’s well-tailored public image that leans heavily on things like his black belt in judo and quiet but threatening charm, Vladimir Putin’s actions have also cultivated a different kind or reputation: that of a despotic war criminal, responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people.
Most of such accusations remain a degree or two removed from the Russian leader however, as the Russian government retains legal control over the nation’s media, permitting his total authority in controlling the narrative that gets funneled to the Russian citizenry. Outside the Russian state, the same type of perception manipulation campaigns employed by the Russian government in other political spheres are also used to portray the man in a positive light, and by relation, the government he heads.
Here is a brief (and far from exhaustive) list of some of the things Putin has been involved in that help solidify his position as one of the most influential leaders on the globe – as well as what could be considered a direct threat to American interests and the safety of those who oppose him.
- He has been implicated in the bombing of two Russian apartment buildings in 1999, which helped him justify the start of the second Chechen War as well as helping to solidify his bid for power.
- Putin’s regime has promoted, supplied, and aided terror groups in places like Ukraine, where thousands have lost their lives in skirmishes between pro-Russian and loyalist groups.
- Putin has continued to provide direct military support to the Bashar Al Assad’s Syrian regime, potentially going so far as to aid in hiding chemical weapons Assad has used on civilians.
- Under Vladimir Putin, the Russian government has become one of the most corrupt on the planet — leading many to suspect that Putin himself may now not only be the richest man on the planet, but richer than the top two official entries combined, with an estimated net worth of over $200 billion.
- Putin has been implicated in the assassination or disappearances of a number of democrats, journalists and opposition leaders within his nation, like Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, Sergei Magnitsky, Natalia Estemirova, Sergei Yushenkov, Paul Klebnikov, Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. Litvinenko, notably, was killed by being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210, available primarily to the Russian FSB (the successor to the KGB).
- Putin ordered the military annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, an act that continues to have reverberating effects in global politics and military posture, and likely will for years to come.
- Putin has provided tacit support for Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime, including increasing trade and oil supply shipments amid an international effort to isolate the nation and force Kim to relinquish his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Despite the ever-growing list of accusations levied against Putin, his strangle hold on the nation’s media has allowed him to retain a great deal of popularity among his people. It is also important to note that, under Putin’s leadership, the quality of life for many Russians who saw a great deal of suffering following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has improved since the early 90s – a point that can’t be overstated when attempting to ascertain how a man responsible for so many deaths manages to retain his position as among the world’s most popular leaders.
Primarily, however, Putin’s popularity can be summed up in one line: It’s Russia against the world. Russian politics have long relied on the idea that the West, primarily the United States, is “out to get” the people of Russia – a political strategy mirrored by Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea. Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechnyan Republic, said it best when chiming in on Putin’s announcement via Instagram: “It’s only him who is capable of resisting the massive, ruthless and unprecedented attack organized by our frenemies from the U.S. and Western Europe.”
It would seem that the international community’s efforts to hold Vladimir Putin accountable for the actions of his state have only helped to solidify his position and popularity within Russia and among its allies, which begs the question: will he ever willingly step down?
Image courtesy of the Associated Press