President’s popularity plummets as concerns over country’s economic woes grow
Russia’s trust in Vladimir Putin has dropped to at least a 13-year low, according to a recent survey by a state-owned pollster, as sluggish economic growth, falling disposable incomes and a rise in the retirement age have dented the president’s popularity. The fall in confidence extends a steady decline in Mr Putin’s ratings since the beginning of his fourth term last May, as economic woes overshadow a more aggressive foreign policy that propped up his popularity in recent years. Public trust in Mr Putin, who has led Russia since 2000, fell to 33.4 per cent this month to the lowest on record, according to the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center. That reflects a fall of more than 30 percentage points from the high Mr Putin enjoyed in 2015 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It was down from 57.2 per cent a year ago, when the president was gearing up for his re-election campaign. While the Kremlin’s suppression of opposition politicians means there are no real challengers to the president’s authority, the poll underlines how Mr Putin’s administration, which has considerable influence over Russia’s media, is not insulated from the country’s economic malaise which has seen tepid growth and tax increases squeeze household spending. “Our main goals are to improve the quality of life of our people, Russian citizens, and to ensure sustainable and rapid economic growth simultaneously with the changing of our economy’s structure,” Mr Putin told government ministers last week. Last year Mr Putin pushed through pension reforms which raised Russia’s retirement age, a hugely unpopular move which he said was needed to prop up the country’s finances. The government also increased the standard value added tax rate to 20 per cent on January 1, up from 18 per cent.
Disposable incomes have fallen in Russia for the past four years, according to state statistics, and were expected to be flat in 2018, officials have said. The country’s GDP has grown by about 1.5 per cent over the past few years, in the face of a western sanctions regime that has squeezed financing to some of Russia’s biggest companies and weakened the rouble. In a separate survey conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s sole independent pollster, 53 per cent of respondents said they wanted the government to resign, the first time a majority has supported its dismissal. Mr Putin’s low ratings are seen as reducing the likelihood that there will be an agreement with Japan in a territorial dispute over the Kuril islands dating from the second world war. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will on Tuesday meet Mr Putin in Moscow in a bid to restart stalled talks which he hopes will lead to Russia agreeing to return the islands to Japanese control. But Mr Putin will be keen to burnish his image as someone who defends Russian interests. Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that both sides must be “realistic.” “No one is going to back down from their national interests,” he said.