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Leonid Bershidsky

Putin’s Tough-Guy Act Is Getting Old

Russians want economic fairness, not a strong guiding hand, research shows.

Russians are losing faith.

Russians are losing faith.

Photographer: Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, he seemingly could do no wrong as far as most Russians were concerned. Now, however, his Teflon coating appears to be wearing thinner. This raises two important questions: What do Russians want and will they act to get it?

Political scientist Mikhail Dmitriev and sociologist Sergey Belanovsky are two of the best people to ask these questions. They’ve been studying Russian mass consciousness for signs of a protest mood since the beginning of this decade, and they predicted the middle class protests of 2011 and 2012, which were set off by a rigged parliamentary election. Though some of their later work could be described as unnecessarily alarmist, their analysis of the Russian mood is more nuanced than that offered by Russia’s few remaining professional pollsters. Dmitriev and Belanovsky get most of their insights from focus groups, which they hold in Moscow and in the Vladimir region, an economically depressed backwater in central Russia.