According to TIME Magazine, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took office in 1999, 37 percent of Russians had no idea who he was. In under a year, however, the ex-KGB—the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency—agent’s approval ratings soared to a staggering 84 percent. American and Western European politicians and reporters can suggest all they want about the Russian leader, but at the end of the day it’s clear that he knows exactly how to make his nation exactly that—“his” nation.
Any student taking an international relations or political science course has most likely discussed Putin’s latest actions in the last few weeks—and most certainly in the last year. Even if the extent of someone’s political knowledge only comes from watching television at Mary Jemison Dining Hall, we can’t escape CNN’s coverage of Putin and Russia’s politics.
Putin oversaw Russia’s reemergence as a major player in the international sphere. His intervention in the Syrian conflict stands out as an example of his ambitious foreign policy. In intervening, the Russian prime minister has forced Western states to break tensions and perhaps even commend him for his intervention in Syria’s bloody civil war.
There are three main factions that lie within Syria’s civil war: President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Syrian rebels and the Islamic State. Some of these Syrian rebels have the support of the United States in fighting Assad’s tyrannical reign. Russia supports the Assad regime, which has led to a recurrence of tension between the U.S. and Russia.
One thing the two countries can agree on, however, is the danger IS poses to the region. Putin has offered Syria aid in the form of 28 military aircrafts and additional military support in order to remove the threat of the IS. If successful, Europe will most likely be more cooperative with Russia. The U.S. will be less quick to support Russia, however, as every move Putin makes in Russia jeopardizes American efforts in the region.
Putin’s approval rating in Russia remains high with seemingly every decision he makes. His ability to elicit Russian patriotism is truly remarkable. Today, 89 percent of Russians trust Putin to make the right international decisions. Though he may not be able to control the economy and sanctions placed on his nation, Putin is able to maintain his popularity through military command and patriotic power.
In the future, we may see our own country refuse to support Putin in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East while other Western states lift their economic sanctions against Russia. Either way, Putin will emerge victorious. If Putin is successful in neutralizing IS and sanctions against Russia are lifted, the Russian economy will strengthen and Putin will receive the bulk of the credit.
If the U.S. decides to confront Russia’s support of the Assad regime, Putin will be appear—from a domestic perspective—to be standing up to American manipulation of the Middle East. His popularity, of course, will continue to rise.
It seems Putin is strategically pushing Russia’s international power back onto the global scale, and he is not taking any losses.