When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Generation Putin, Taking The Temperature Of Russian Youth

Ahead of next year's presidential election, where Vladimir Putin will seek a fourth term, young people in Russia are divided over the country's future.

Rubble bauble
Rubble bauble
Maria Bashmakova

SAINT PETERSBURG — Street protests in Russia over the past year have turned very much into a youth movement. But the increasing presence of university activists, and even high school students, seems to fly in the face of the belief that the young generation is widely considered to be apolitical and consumerism-oriented.

In light of this apparent contradiction, and ahead of next spring's presidential election, Kommersant has sought to better understand today's youth, and attempt to predict whether they will support President Vladimir Putin"s campaign for a fourth term.

Kommersant commissioned the Public Opinion Foundation to study 18-25 year-olds in its recent weekly survey of electoral preferences, and the results turned out to be quite similar to polls of the whole population. In November, the national survey showed 68% of the entire population supported Putin, compared to 66% of young people.

Putin's popularity among the youth is generally confirmed by the Higher School of Economics' survey results. Among 6,000 students from 109 universities, 47% are ready to vote for Putin in the upcoming presidential election. Alexei Navalny comes in second with only 7% of potential votes, while 12% do not intend to vote at all, with 15% undecided.

According to Higher School of Economics' researcher Valeriya Kasamara, a significant portion of young people sympathize with Putin "because he is the president who has been in power for as long as they can remember." Navalny, by contrast, is seen as a threat to stability and is particularly criticized by voters outside the capital.

Attitudes toward street protests are rather skeptical: 72% say that such anti-government demonstrations is not an efficient way of influencing the authorities, though 34% of respondents consider a mass protest across the country possible, and 14% are ready to take to the streets.

I feel close to the USSR, though it is hard to explain why.

While Putin remains "a national hero" to many, deputies of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament, are considered the least trustworthy according to 66% of respondents, followed by local deputies, mayors and governors (61%). Journalists and TV presenters come third with 56% considering them unreliable. Curiously enough, television maintains a relatively high level of trust as a source of information, with 42% of students trusting it.

Russians in the 18-to-25 year-old strata are the first generation that did not live in the Soviet Union. Marking 100 years after the October Revolution, sociologists note that many students have a vague image of Soviet history, though they do have clearer knowledge of a few individual figures, like Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The latter is associated with tyranny, victory in World War II, and the "efficient management" assigned to him by many history books. Lenin remains a "great revolutionary" in the eyes of today's youth.

"I feel close to the USSR, though it is hard to explain why. Somehow I like everything — photos, fashion, songs of those years. The era is perceived as something inherent even to our generation", says 23-year-old Kaleria. Another young Russian girl Alexandra knows the USSR by her grandmother's tales and history classes, and associates it with "debt," "hard work at plants,", "space conquest", "war", "waiting in line" and "world's best educational system."

While interest in the Soviet past remains, it is now in decline, Valeria Kasamara from the Russian Public Opinion Research center explains, noting the decline has accelerated since 2014: "Before that, there was nostalgia. The country seemed to be moving forward with its head turned back to the past," she says.

While letting go of the Soviet past, Russian youth does not seem to have a clear idea on what the country's new unifying national ideology could be. A 23-year-old St. Petersburg State University's graduate name Alexandra admits that when given such a task, her group of friends has "failed miserably."

The concept of traditional values ​​for students is vague. A sociologist Yana Krupets remembers how young respondents named "traditional Russian birch trees' a national value to her once.

"For me, traditional values ​​are in our history, culture, characteristic rituals like bathhouses or Orthodox holidays, or Soviet movies only dear and comprehensible to a Russian soul," says 20-year-old Galina.

Victor, 22, who identifies himself as a "social democrat, says traditional values lie in the "family institution," based on "marriage, heterosexual love, caring for children, virginity, fidelity, patriotism and heroism."

According to other recent surveys, a significant number of Russian students are having doubts on whether to stay in Russia or to leave the country for good. Among the reasons for emigration, students cite the Orthodox Church's growing influence on everyday life, lack of career opportunities, fears associated with the growth of nationalism and the likelihood of inter-ethnic conflicts.

Then there was the November study by a Russian social design center that found a significant number of young people "love their country but, should anything happen, would leave at once."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

That Man In Mariupol: Is Putin Using A Body Double To Avoid Public Appearances?

Putin really is meeting with Xi in Moscow — we know that. But there are credible experts saying that the person who showed up in Mariupol the day before was someone else — the latest report that the Russian president uses a doppelganger for meetings and appearances.

screen grab of Putin in a dark down jacket

During the visit to Mariupol, the Presidential office only released screen grabs of a video

Russian President Press Office/TASS via ZUMA
Anna Akage

Have no doubt, the Vladimir Putin we’re seeing alongside Xi Jinping this week is the real Vladimir Putin. But it’s a question that is being asked after a range of credible experts have accused the Russian president of sending a body double for a high-profile visit this past weekend in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Reports and conspiracy theories have circulated in the past about the Russian leader using a stand-in because of health or security issues. But the reaction to the Kremlin leader's trip to Mariupol is the first time that multiple credible sources — including those who’ve spent time with him in the past — have cast doubt on the identity of the man who showed up in the southeastern Ukrainian city that Russia took over last spring after a months-long siege.

Russian opposition politician Gennady Gudkov is among those who confidently claim that a Putin look-alike, or rather one of his look-alikes, was in the Ukrainian city.

"Now that there is a war going on, I don't rule out the possibility that someone strongly resembling or disguised as Putin is playing his role," Gudkov said.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest