Man of the Year for the 15th year running. This happens against the backdrop of a tumbling ruble and increasingly stringent sanctions, which bode to really fuck the hell out of Russia's economy in a way they haven't seen since the Iron Curtain rusted through in 1989.
So what gives? Why would Vlad still be so popular?
Well, I would say a hefty portion is a damn fine well-managed propaganda set-up and notorious cult of personality combined with actually being a little bit of an IRL badass. But there is value in milking people's sense of ressentiment, and hardly any better time than economic difficulty to leverage it against a pocketful of dreams about "what might have been if not for the bastards."
Putin is notorious for putting the boot down on dissenters, and his demonizing of LGBT people and the increase in anti-Semitism in Russia suggest that increased economic disadvantages could very well lead to scapegoating of minorities--not blame for Putin himself. The truth be told, there is lemonade to be squeezed out of a batch of economic lemons--among them increased hostility to the West, which makes Russians support Putin because the West put on the sanctions, didn't they? And be defiant about whatever European shenanigans Putin is up to because--economics in the face of world-fuckery against their ability to sell oil. People are proud of their earnings and what they themselves built. Russians are proud of their post 1989 industrialization and the oil boom--why wouldn't they be? And here, in their viewpoint, come people looking to steal all that.
I don't really put it past Putin to weather the present difficulty or even escalate to draw more attention to what a dying superpower can still do with nukes, an army, and the ability to project uncertainty directed at himself, outward. He may very well lose no support, no matter how bad things get, with just the right kind of story.
I know that's kind of screwed-up. But that's how things can sometimes go. It's not to say his economy shouldn't still get trounced for all the eggs in one big petro-basket and a self-aggrandizing push into the Ukraine as if flexing a dystrophic muscle that still moves a little. It's not even to say we should let up on sanctions as if mercy would humble the likes of him. It's just to be prepared that with Russia, an economic war is beyond a regular siege-mentality. Russians all carry stories of bad winters that never seemed to end. You don't try to humble him by humbling them. (They don't even deserve it). You figure out how to fix the blame smack on him--where you want it and by rights it should be.
Am I saying I know for sure how this is done? Get out! I run a tiny little blog on the edge of Leftghanistan. I think he's not a genius, but he "gets" his territory. And I will easily admit that if people eat grass for Putin's sake that's more than US Americans would do for anyone who was ever our president. I just don't know if Russia would. Or if, indeed, that's exactly what he's thinking they'll do.