In the most recent iteration of what is basically an annual poll, Levada asked respondents to select one answer to the following question: “What would you call the main achievement of Vladimir Putin during his years in power?”
Some 17 percent of those polled picked “Increasing combat capability and reform of the armed forces.” It was the top response in this year’s poll.
Below find the reaction to this response over time.
Positive reaction to this choice scuffled along for years. Just three percent of those polled picked it in the waning months of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s tenure as minister of defense. It jumped, however, to 8 percent in August 2014, following the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It reached 14 percent a year after Moscow intervened in the Syrian civil war.
External events greatly influence this particular Levada poll.
For instance, in early 2008, 21 percent of respondents said Putin’s greatest achievement was “Economic development of the country.” Two years later, following the recession of 2008-2009, only 12 percent could agree with this. And, seven years later, that number is still 12.
Even in mid-2009, 22 percent said Putin’s greatest trick was “Increasing the standard of living of citizens, growth of wages and pensions.” That number now stands at 8 percent.
Unfortunately, some responses seem eternal.
Typically only 1 percent or less of those polled pick “Defense of democracy and political freedoms of citizens” or “Improving relations between people of different nationalities in Russia.”
In this iteration of the poll, 8 percent indicated that they don’t see any achievements and 4 percent found it hard to say.
The 17 percent response on the military is good news for Putin. As for many regimes, it’s an easy place to score points with the average citizen. Other arenas are more complicated. But the Kremlin has successfully managed a turnaround in the perception of the armed forces.
The problem is events can erode high poll numbers. For the Russian military, they could include things like a large-scale attack on Russian forces in Syria, widespread arrears in military pay, a submarine sinking, a huge ammo depot fire, or the death of soldiers in a collapsing barracks.
In isolation, none is enough to dent a prevailing opinion strongly underwritten by the steady drumbeat of a Defense Ministry PR campaign. But, over time, they accumulate and can change attitudes. Like everything else, poll numbers that go up usually come down.