Axios reports that, in Russia, Vladimir Putin isn’t losing.
81% of Russians approved of the invasion as of March 30, and Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has climbed to 83%, according to Levada’s polling — though the fact that opposition to the war has been criminalized makes those numbers harder to interpret.
There’s a reason for the rally behind the Russian despot:
“Oh, what is this West doing to us?'” she recalls a cashier saying when she visited a town outside the city. “The sanctions just reassured people that the West is evil.”
The sanctions have only amplified the sentiment among most Russians that western aggression caused this conflict in the first place, says Denis Volkov, director of the Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster.
“For the majority, it’s not about Ukraine. It’s about Russia and the West fighting inside Ukraine,” Volkov says. In focus groups, Russians will complain that their lives are getting harder, while at the same time praising Putin for standing up to the U.S., he says.
And there’s a reason why Russians are apt to rally around Dear Leader:
Anything or anyone that doesn’t support the Kremlin line is being suppressed. Demonstrators and journalists face up to 15 years in prison for protesting the war or reporting truthfully on it. The protests that began after the invasion have largely died down.
Suppression of free expression is nothing new under Putin. For the past 15 years, Russia has been cracking down on independent media outlets and increasing the Kremlin’s control over media outlets. What little remained of the free press in Russia ended with the start of the Ukraine war. Because reporters face years in prison if they dare to report the truth on the ground in Ukraine, or anything else that is damning to Russia, folks who live in Russia have very little idea what’s happening in the outside world. They know only a manufactured narrative that the U.S. and the U.K. and the rest of the western world is oppressing them, and Putin is fighting back on their behalf.
This is why all of us should be very, very concerned when we hear American politicians demonizing the press. The American news media is a long, long way from perfect — but it’s still a long way ahead of Russia’s state-controlled press. And a free press remains one of the most vital tools of democracy.