He has always shown himself as the strong man, the emotionless man flying the flag for macho behaviours, and not being a macho à la Silvio Berlusconi, even though the two are friends. Whereas Berlusconi spent his premiership fighting corruption allegations as well as accusations of frolicking with prostitutes, Putin is the austere Russian president riding shirtless on a horse, going down submarines, being a judo expert and barely cracking a smile. He has been shown to smirk, however.
In 2007, while the German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid him a visit at his summer residence in Sochi, Vladimir Putin brought his Labrador into the meeting room. It has been alleged that he did it to play at once again being the “manly man” and intimidate Merkel, especially as it is no secret that the German Chancellor is famously scared of dogs after one bit her in 1995. But in an interview he gave a few days ago to the German newspaper, Bild, it was a “nice thing he wanted to do. When I found out that she doesn’t like dogs, of course, I apologised.”
Scared or not, Angela Merkel was not intimated. The New Yorker reported that she later told journalists, “I understand why he has to do this – to prove he’s a man. … He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”
This being the macho attitude which the Russian president displays so well. And in a society that has “much stricter limits in their perceptions about gender roles. What’s a man, what’s a woman,” according to Gender studies scholar Elena Zdravomyslova, some Russians at least appreciate the macho behaviour of their leader.
According to a poll released in February of last year, 86% of the respondents approve of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president. But it isn’t just his desire to be thought of as a man that gives him such a high rating.
The statistics speak for themselves. According to the Federal State Statistics Service of the Russian Federation, Russia’s gross national product per capita increased from 49,800 Roubles to 461,300 Roubles from 2000 to 2013. He gave birth to the Russian middle class with more Russians travelling outside Russia. Social welfare also improved. However, for some Russians, it goes beyond the economy or the welfare. A 30-year-old professional woman wrote in the survey:
“The world has been looking at is as a third world country throughout the 1990s but today we are a force to be reckoned with.”
And the sense of pride their president has given them is enough for a lot of Russians.