An increase in the retirement age blamed for drop in approval ratings for Russian president
As France clinched the World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday evening, the cameras panned to Vladimir Putin, seeming delighted in the official box together with Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
The Russian president has every reason to be happy: the general consensus is that Russia has hosted a successful World Cup and hundreds of thousands of foreigners are leaving with positive impressions of the country.
But a unusual thing is happening, as Russia basks in the light of a job well done: Putin's approval ratings are dropping among Russians.
A recent survey by a state-funded polling agency showed that confidence in the Russian president dropped from 77% to 63% since elections in March, with the biggest reason believed to be a controversial rise in the pension age, which was announced on the first day of the World Cup.
The World Cup has passed off with no major incidents off the field , no violence or hooliganism and many positive narratives of fans who travelled to Russia. On Friday, Infantino said this year's World Cup had been the best ever and thanked Russia for the organisation.” It is an incredible, astonishing World Cup. From the very beginning of the tournament, we have experienced incredible emotions from being here ,” he said.
Having been in power for the best part of two decades, Putin and Russia are often seen as interchangeable theories: what's good for one is good for the other. This time, though, that doesn't seem to be the case.
” One of the tasks of the tournament was to further link the concepts of' Putin' and' Russia' but instead it has started to move them in different directions ,” wrote political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov in a recent remark for Vedomosti newspaper.
Putin attended the opening match, but missed Russia's extraordinary win against Spain in Moscow and their narrow quarter-final defeat to Croatia in Sochi. Those games were instead witnessed by the unpopular and gaffe-prone prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev.
In March, Putin won another six-year term with an overwhelming 77% of the vote in the presidential elections. Despite the impressive figures, the public mood around election time was marked by apathy, with many saying they were voting for Putin because there was no alternative.
The pension change was announced on the opening day of the tournament and Putin himself has attempted to distance himself from the measure, but the polling figures indicate this has not been successful.
There were protests in a number of Russian cities in early July, organised by an remarkably broad alliance of political forces, including parliamentary opposition parties that are usually broadly loyal to the Kremlin. The organisers did not hold protests in World Cup host cities.
The retirement age will rise gradually from 55 to 63 for women and from 60 to 65 for men over a number of years. Economists say it is important to raise the age from norms that were set in the era of Joseph Stalin, but the move is extremely unpopular with Putin's supporters.
His approval ratings, while continuing to high by the standards of western democratic leaders, are his lowest since March 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and a wave of patriotic fervor boosted his popularity.
Kolesnikov pointed to another survey, by the independent Levada Centre, which asked Russians whether “things are going in the right direction” in the country. Only 46% said they agreed, again the lowest figure since the annexation of Crimea.” And there is no second Crimea option available, even if we storm the North Pole ,” wrote Kolesnikov.
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