Today the EU signed wide-ranging free trade deals with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. This isn’t going down well in Moscow. (As you may remember, a key cause of the unrest in Ukraine was that the previous government decided to drop its EU trade pact in favor of one with Russia.) The Kremlin is bracing for a fresh round of Western sanctions in retaliation for its perceived role in supporting separatist militias in eastern Ukraine. Since the showdown with Ukraine began, the increasingly isolated Russian economy has been struggling with stagflation.
But you wouldn’t get any sense of crisis by looking at president Vladimir Putin’s approval rating, which is just below its all-time peak:
A whopping 86% of Russians now approve of Putin’s leadership, according to the latest poll by the Levada Center (link in Russian). The president’s rating had sunk to near all-time lows before the fighting erupted in Ukraine late last year; it has shot up since, particularly after Russia annexed Crimea in March.
Two-thirds of Russians say that they are following the events in Ukraine closely, according to another poll published today (link in Russian). More than 90% of people said they rely on television for information about the crisis. The vast majority of them think that the largely state-controlled local media is covering the events in Ukraine objectively, unlike the mostly biased foreign media:
Despite this robust support, some see trouble ahead for Putin in the form of a severe credit crunch, as all but the bravest international investors shun Russian assets. But so far there is no evidence that the West’s brinksmanship with Russia has done anything but boost Putin’s popularity at home.