Despite further collapses in crude prices and a sinking Russian economy, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has skyrocketed. Similarly, US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has only seen his popularity grow as he creates one controversy after another with his often-boorish overreactions to what he feels are wrongs made against him, i.e. he is a victim. Looking at North Korea, the leadership of the isolated authoritarian regime has managed to retain enough support to stay in power through decades of destitution and tyrannical rule.
In contrast, Lebanon is facing a potential collapse of its government over garbage pickup. The defining difference between these and other examples revolves around who is blamed. In the case of Lebanon, the People blame their own government, because they are directly responsible for basic services like garbage pickup. Recalling the Arab Spring Revolutions, there were many attempts throughout the region to blame the United States for the civil unrest, yet those attempts failed to quiet protester outrage for the simple reason that unresponsive governments chose to suppress, instead of address, the grievances of protesters.
Like Russia, Syria and Iran have Western sanctions to thank for much of their economic woes. Like the Soviet Union, the authoritarian governments of Syria and Iran cannot disavow their responsibility for the states of their nations due to their unquestioned control over their public policies. Where the result has been a civil war in Syria, Iran was able to suppress the bloody Green revolution in 2009 and start adopting small changes that allowed for the acceptance of the Iranian Nuclear Deal. In the case of North Korea, the country is so isolated, so stagnated that blame for the nation’s problems can still be placed on the outside world.
That said, the more North Korea interacts with the world, the more the prosperity of the outside world becomes apparent and the more blame will be placed on government scapegoats. Recognizing the budding “Latin Spring” protests in South America, socialist programs used to suppress dissent can no longer be sustained due to economic hardships. Because socialist governments tend not to have sustainable economies that provide people the chance to support themselves, government is to blame for deteriorating living standards. People will tolerate a lot of stagnation, neglect, and abuse, but loss makes them aware of their grievances.
Increased support for Putin has been an unintended consequence of Western sanctions, which would likely be plummeting due to falling oil prices and widespread corruption. This does not, however, mean the West was wrong to confront Russia over the Ukraine Crisis nor does it mean sanctions should be lifted to garner public support. The Russian People may be circling the wagons in defense of their own, but they understand Putin has lied and done wrongs against them. What the Russian People need to see is that the West is not actually targeting Russians. What they need to see is that the West is providing Putin a reasonable way to resolve the conflict, but he does not want to make the choice to do so.
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