Russia’s trust in its President Vladimir Putin has fallen to its lowest level since 2006, falling more than 33 percent, according to a recent poll conducted by the Russian-state Public Opinion Research Center.
Confidence in Putin’s government fell 33.4 percent last week amid sluggish economic growth, a decline in disposable income, and a deeply unpopular rise in the retirement age.
The trust level was at 71 percent in July 2015 after Russia’s annexed Ukraine’s Crimea.
Another survey by the Moscow-based independent pollster the Levada Center in December 2018 showed that 53 percent of respondents disapprove of the Russian government.
However, Putin has an overall approval rating of about 63 percent, declining from 89 percent in June 2015, according to the Levada Center.
“We know the Kremlin takes these figures incredibly seriously, so we should pay attention to them,” Ben Noble, a Russian politics lecturer at University College London, told Al Jazeera.
When Putin came to power in the midst of economic turmoil in 1998, he promised Russians better living conditions and decent salaries, in exchange for freedom of expression – the social contract.
Mathieu Boulegue, a Russia and Eurasia research fellow at think-tank Chatham House, said: “The Russian system can no longer deliver the social contract that was implicitly offered to the population when Putin came to power.”
We know the Kremlin takes these figures incredibly seriously, so we should pay attention to them.
“Putin promised to make Russia great again [following the crisis],” said Boulegue. “To make it rise from the ashes of the Soviet Union and become a great power again by voicing Russia’s concerns on the international arena, Russia style.”
But the country’s involvement in the ongoing war in Syria, and the smouldering conflict in Ukraine has come at an enormous cost to the population’s living standards.
Since 2014, disposable income has decreased and is predicted to drop further this year, according to the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
After increasing by 1.7 percent last year, Russia’s gross domestic product is predicted to grow by 1.4 percent in 2019, according to a Reuters poll.
Russia’s foreign policy has come at an enormous political cost. Almost five years of US and European Union sanctions imposed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea have placed large businesses under increasing strain.
Hopes of the sanctions being lifted this year have dissipated since Russia seized three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea last November.
The European Union has extended its sanctions targeting Russia’s defence, energy and banking sectors until mid-2019, and there is currently a discussion in the US about imposing more sanctions.
According to Noble, while many Russians people previously associated problems with the politicians around Putin, people are now starting to associate hardships more closely with Putin because he has been the face of this policy.
Boulegue added the government would offer “small victories” and amplify them federally to show the population that things were changing.
“There will be small achievements abroad, with continued war-mongering rhetoric against the West. It’s the only thing Russia can offer because it can’t offer comprehensive change or reforms, and it certainly can’t offer systemic change,” said Boulegue.