Public image of Vladimir Putin
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Russian Federation
Ratings and polls
According to public opinion surveys conducted by NGO Levada Center, Putin's approval rating was 81% in June 2007, and the highest of any leader in the world, other than that of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who received a 93% public approval rating in September 1997. Putin's popularity rose from 31% in August 1999 to 80% in November 1999, never dropping below 65% during his first presidency. In January 2013, his approval rating fell to 62%, the lowest point since 2000 and a ten-point drop over two years. Observers see Putin's high approval ratings as a consequence of the significant improvements in living standards and Russia's reassertion of itself on the world scene that occurred during his tenure as President. One analysis attributed Putin's popularity, in part, to state-owned or state-controlled television.
A joint poll by World Public Opinion in the US and Levada Center  in Russia around June–July 2006 stated that "neither the Russian nor the American publics are convinced Russia is headed in an anti-democratic direction" and "Russians generally support Putin's concentration of political power and strongly support the re-nationalization of Russia's oil and gas industry." Russians generally support the political course of Putin and his team. A 2005 survey showed that three times as many Russians felt the country was "more democratic" under Putin than it was during the Yeltsin or Gorbachev years, and the same proportion thought human rights were better under Putin than Yeltsin.
According to a Pew survey conducted from March to May 2015, negative views of Vladimir Putin were held by three-quarters or more of western Europeans, North Americans, and Australians (81%), and a majority in the Middle East, with the most negative responses found in Spain (92%), Poland (87%), France (85%) and Ukraine (84%). Only three countries show over 50% of positive views of Putin: Russia (88%), Vietnam (70%) and China (54%).
On 4 December 2007, at Harvard University, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev credited Putin with having "pulled Russia out of chaos" and said he was "assured a place in history", despite Gorbachev's claim that the news media have been suppressed and that election rules run counter to the democratic ideals he has promoted". In December 2011, amid the protests following the 2011 Russian elections Gorbachev criticized Putin for a decision to seek the third term in the presidential elections and advised Putin to leave politics.
In the U.S. embassy cables, published by WikiLeaks in late 2010, Putin was called "alpha dog" and compared with Batman (while Dmitry Medvedev was compared with Batman's crime-fighting partner Robin). American diplomats said Putin's Russia had become "a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a "virtual mafia state." Putin called it "slanderous".
By western commentators and the Russian opposition, Putin has been described as a dictator. Putin biographer Masha Gessen has stated that "Putin is a dictator," comparing him to Alexander Lukashenko. Former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has described Putin as a "ruthless dictator" whose "days are numbered." U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Putin "a real threat to the stability and peace of the world."
In the fall of 2011, the anti-Putin opposition movement in Russia became more visible, with street protests against allegedly falsified parliamentary elections (in favor of Putin's party, United Russia) cropping up across major Russian cities. Following Putin's re-election in March 2012, the movement struggled to redefine its new course of action. In early September 2014 Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, linked Putin with the biblical figure Cain because Filaret believed that although Putin claimed to be their “brother” he was responsible for "shedding the brotherly blood" of Ukrainians during the War in Donbass. Filaret believed "Satan went into him, as into Judas Iscariot". The Dalai Lama criticized Putin's foreign policy practices, claiming it to be responsible for isolating Russia from the rest of the world. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project named Putin as the 2014 Person of the Year, recognizing "the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity."
According to Denis Volkov from Moscow Levada Center drawing any conclusions from Russian poll results or comparing them with Western polls is pointless as there's no real political competition in Russia. Unlike in democratic states the Russian voters aren't offered any "credible alternatives" and the public opinion is formed primarily with state-controlled media which promotes the ruling party and discredits any alternative candidates. This kind of illusion of democracy, choice only between "A and A" is part of "Russian consciousness" according to a nationalist publicist Alexander Prokhanov who considers the "elections between A and B" to be part of a "liberal" mindset.
Putin's name and image are widely used in advertisements and product branding. Among Putin-branded products are Putinka vodka, the PuTin brand of canned food, Gorbusha Putina caviar, and a collection of T-shirts with his image. In October 2016, the luxury company, Caviar, produced a limited series of iPhone 7s made from Damascus steel called Supremo Putin Damascus. It features a golden bas-relief portrait of Putin.
Putin tries to create an outdoor, sporty, tough guy public image, demonstrating his physical capabilities and taking part in unusual or dangerous acts, such as extreme sports and interaction with wild animals. For example, in 2007, the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published a huge photograph of a bare-chested Putin vacationing in the Siberian mountains under the headline: "Be Like Putin." Such photo ops are part of a public relations approach that, according to Wired, "deliberately cultivates the macho, take-charge superhero image". Some of the activities have been criticised for involving deception or being completely staged. Notable examples of Putin's macho adventures include:
- Flying military jets – Putin flew in a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter over Chechnya in 2000 and a Tu-160 supersonic heavy bomber on 16 August 2005 at MAKS Airshow.
- Martial arts – Putin demonstrated his martial art skills on a tatami at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo on 5 September 2000 and has subsequently made further demonstrations.
- Adventures in the wild – On his trip to Tuva in August 2007, Putin was riding horses, rafting, fishing and swimming in a cold Siberian river (doing all that mostly bare-chested). In August 2009 Putin repeated the experience. In 2008 Putin visited the Ussuri national park, where he sedated an Amur tiger with a tranquiliser gun and then helped measure its teeth and fit it with a tracker. Claims were made later that the tiger was actually from the Khabarovsk Zoo and that it died soon after the stunt, but the suspected tiger named by the Khabarovsk Zoo workers was found in late 2009 in Zelenogorsk, while the claims of a stunt were denied by the scientists who organized the "safari". In April 2010 Putin traveled to Franz Josef Land in the Russian Arctic, where he tranquilized a polar bear and attached a satellite tag to it. In late August 2010 Putin shot darts from a crossbow at a gray whale off Kamchatka Peninsula coast as part of an eco-tracking effort, while balancing on a rubber boat in the sea. Putin also attempted to help endangered Siberian cranes begin their migration routes by leading them through the air in a motorized hang glider. Initially, the birds did not follow him. Putin blamed this outcome on strong winds.
- Descending in a deepwater submersible – On 1 August 2009 Putin descended 1395 m to the bottom of Lake Baikal, the world's deepest lake, on a MIR submersible accompanied by deepwater explorer Anatoly Sagalevich (who had been among the team which had reached the bottom at the North Pole in the Arktika 2007 expedition). From the bottom of Baikal Putin spoke to journalists via hydrophone.
- Riding a motorbike – In July 2010 Putin appeared at a bikers festival in Sevastopol riding a Harley-Davidson tricycle; the high council of Russian bikers movements unanimously voted him into a Hells Angel rank with the nickname of Abaddon. Putin's associations with motorcycle gangs led to him being accidentally placed on a blacklist of banned people in Finland.
- Firefighting from the air – In August 2010, Russian TV broadcast a video of Putin co-piloting a firefighting plane Beriev Be-200 to dump water on a raging fire during the 2010 Russian wildfires.
- Driving a race car – Putin tested a Formula 1 car on 7 November 2010 in Saint Petersburg, reaching a maximum speed of 240 km per hour.
- Scuba diving – Putin took part in scuba diving at the archaeological site of the ancient Greek colony of Phanagoria in the Taman Bay on 11 August 2011. During the dive he "discovered" two amphorae and emerged from the sea exclaiming to television cameras "Treasure!" In October 2011, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told media: "Putin did not find the amphorae on the sea bed that had been lying there for thousands of years [...] They were found during an [archaeological] expedition several weeks or days beforehand. Of course they were then left there [for him to find] or placed there. It is a completely normal thing to do."
- Fishing – In July 2013 Putin was pictured in Tuva, Siberia, holding up a large pike that he 'caught' and which the Kremlin claimed weighed 21 kg, a very large amount for that species. Many media outlets and internet users questioned whether the fish could have weighed that much. Some bloggers also pointed out that Putin's fishing trip wasn't on the official schedule and that he was photographed wearing clothing identical to that worn during a previous trip to the region.
Singing and painting
On 11 December 2010, at a concert organized for a children's charity in Saint Petersburg, Putin sang "Blueberry Hill" with Maceo Parker's jazz band and played a little piano of it and of the Russian patriotic song "С чего начинается Родина" from his favourite spy movie The Shield and the Sword. After that he took part in singing of a Russian song about cosmonauts, "Grass by the Home". The concert was attended by various Hollywood and European stars such as Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, Alain Delon, and Gérard Depardieu. Putin also played or sang "С чего начинается Родина" on a number of other occasions, such as a meeting with the Russian spies deported from the U.S., including Anna Chapman. Another melody which Putin is known to play on the piano is the Anthem of Saint Petersburg, his native city.
Putin's painting "Узор на заиндевевшем окне" (A Pattern on a Hoarfrost-Encrusted Window), which he had painted during the Christmas Fair on 26 December 2008, became the top lot at the charity auction in Saint Petersburg and sold for 37 million rubles. The picture was made for a series of other paintings by famous Russians. The painters were required to illustrate one of the letters of the Russian alphabet with a subject connected to Nikolay Gogol's novel Christmas Eve (the 200th anniversary from Gogol's birth was celebrated in 2008). Putin's picture depicted a hoarfrost pattern (Russian: Узор, illustrating the Cyrillic letter У) on a window with curtains sewn with traditional Ukrainian ornaments. The creation of the painting coincided with the 2009 Russia–Ukraine gas dispute, which left a number of European states without Russian gas and amid January frosts.
In popular culture
A Russian movie called A Kiss not for Press was premiered in 2008 on DVD. The movie is said to be based on biography of Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila. Dobby, a house elf from Harry Potter film series, has been found to look like Putin, and so was also Daniel Craig in his role of James Bond (he was the first blond actor to play James Bond).
There are a large number of songs about Putin. Some of the more popular include:
- Такого, как Путин – "[I Want] A Man Like Putin" by Singing Together
- Гороскоп (Путин, не ссы!) – "Horoscope (Putin, Don't Piss!)" by Uma2rman
- ВВП – "VVP" by a Tajik singer Tolibjon Kurbankhanov (Толибджон Курбанханов)
- Our Madhouse is Voting for Putin by Rabfak band (Рабфак).
- Vladimir - a song by a Polish bard Maleńczuk. The singer said that he planned to release it before the Sochi Olympics, but the Russian annexation of Crimea contributed greatly to the promotion of the song. 
Putin also is a subject of Russian jokes and chastushki, such as the popular "[Before Putin] There Was No Orgasm" featured in the comedy film The Day of Elections. There is a meta-joke that, since the coming of Putin to power, all the classic jokes about a smart yet rude boy called Вовочка (Vovochka, diminutive from Vladimir) have suddenly become political jokes.
Putin features in the colouring book for children Vova and Dima (presented on his 59th birthday), where he and Dmitry Medvedev are drawn as good-behaving little boys, and in the Superputin online comics series, where Putin and Medvedev are portrayed first as superheroes, and then as a troll and an orc in the World of Warcraft.
In 2014, Putin earned a popular nickname of "dickhead" or "fuckface" ("хуйло" in Russian and Ukrainian) following the spread of the very popular chant of football hooligans in Ukraine. On 14 June 2014, Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia cited the chant in front of the cameras during an anti-Russian rally at Russia's Embassy in Kyiv 
Putin has produced a large number of popular aphorisms and catch-phrases, known as putinisms. Many of them were first made during his annual Q&A conferences, where Putin answered questions from journalists and other people in the studio, as well as from Russians throughout the country, who either phoned in or spoke from studios and outdoor sites across Russia. Putin is known for his often tough and sharp language. The examples of most popular putinisms include:
- To bump off in a toilet – One of the earliest "putinisms", made in September 1999, when he promised to destroy terrorists wherever they were found, including in toilets. In 2010, Putin also promised to pluck out the remaining terrorists from the bottom of a sewer (выковырять со дна канализации).
- Comrade Wolf - Vladimir Putin's remark, describing the policies of the United States, many non-Russians found cryptic (Russia's neighbors tend to think this an example of psychological projection by Putin, reflecting instead his own behavior). The phrase comes from the following Russian joke:
- Rabinovich is walking through the forest with a sheep, when both of them stumble into a pit. A few minutes later, a wolf also falls into the pit. The sheep gets nervous and starts bleating. "What's with all the baaahh, baaahh?" Rabinovich asks. "Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat."
- It sank. (Она утонула.) – Putin's short answer to a question from Larry King in September 2000 asking what happened to the Russian submarine K-141 Kursk. Many criticized Putin for the cynicism perceived in this answer.
- Ploughed like a slave on a galley (Пахал, как раб на галерах) – (The Russian verb пахать also has the general meaning of "to do hard work".) This is how Putin described his work as President of Russia from 2000 to 2008 during a Q&A conference in February 2008. Not only did the phrase itself became popular, but a wrong hearing of it—как раб ("like a slave") in Russian sounds almost identical to как краб ("like a crab")—led to the appearance of a popular Internet nickname for Putin, "Crabbe" (Russian: Крабе), while Dmitry Medvedev was (for some reason) similarly nicknamed Shmele (Russian: Шмеле, a non-existent vocative form of шмель, meaning "bumblebee").
- Ears of a dead ass (От мертвого осла уши) – A quote from a popular Soviet novel The Little Golden Calf, that was, according to Putin, what Latvia would receive instead of the western Pytalovsky District of Russia claimed by Latvia in a territorial dispute stemming from the Soviet border redrawing. On 27 March 2007 Russia and Latvia signed the treaty on state border, in which Latvia renounced its territorial claims.
- At the very least, a civil servant should have a head. (Как минимум государственный деятель должен иметь голову.) – Putin's response to Hillary Clinton's claim that Putin has no soul. He also recommended that international relations be built without emotion and instead on the basis of the fundamental interests of the states involved.
- Return my pen. (Ручку верните.) – A phrase said by Putin to the industrial oligarch Oleg Deripaska, after Deripaska was forced by Putin to sign, using Putin's pen, an agreement aimed at resolving a socioeconomic crisis in the monograd of Pikalyovo on 4 June 2009, which had escalated after the different owners of the aluminum oxide plant and connected enterprises in the town did not pay their workers' salaries and were unable to negotiate the terms on which the local industrial complex would work. Putin came to the scene personally to conduct the negotiations.
- Shearing a pig (Стричь поросенка) – On 25 June 2013, Vladimir Putin revealed the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden was indeed in a Moscow airport, ending a global guessing game over the US fugitive's whereabouts. Putin lashed out at US accusations that Russia was harbouring a fugitive, saying "I'd rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it's like shearing a pig—lots of screams but little wool".
- Russia is not the kind of a country that extradites human rights activists. (Россия не та страна которая выдаёт борцов за права человека.) – This comment on Snowden during the Q&A session with CNBC at the SPIEF on 23 May 2014 was followed by a storm of laughter and applause. Kommersant described the reaction as follows: "A tempest of elation and applause erupted, and a howl of laughter and weeping hung over the hall" ("Поднялась просто буря восторга, аплодисментов, над залом застрял стон из хохота и плача"), and commented that not everybody grasped the full meaning of the utterance.
References and notes
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It's wrong to compare directly the ratings of Russian and foreign politicians. In democratic countries, politics is based on competition and the constant contestation between different candidates and platforms. The Russian political system, on the other hand, is based on the absence of a credible alternative. Accordingly, public approval doesn't indicate the country's assessment of concrete political decisions, but a general acceptance of the course chosen by those in power.
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