12/06/2006 - Is Vladimir Putin a new breed of postmodern, post-communist populist or an old-style dictator in democratic clothing? It's a question currently being debated with even more urgency as the investigation widens into the bizarre poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Soviet spy and outspoken critic of the Russian president.
Despite shared concerns about terrorism, Putin is increasingly denounced in the West as a power-hungry autocrat. For much of the year, the Bush Administration as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Western leaders have decried what they see as ongoing efforts by Putin to consolidate power and roll back democratic reforms.
But in Russia, Putin continues to be extraordinarily popular - even among Russians who express democratic leanings, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center and others. Overall, three in four Russians (75%) expressed confidence in Putin to do the right thing in world affairs, according to a Pew Global Attitudes Survey conducted in April of this year. Surveys conducted this year by Russian pollsters put his overall job approval just as high. Moreover, large majorities - more than six in 10 - in each of the country's major political parties expressed confidence in Putin, the Pew survey found. Putin retains broad popularity despite continuing economic troubles and the ongoing confrontation with rebels in Chechnya.
Read the full backgrounder The Putin Popularity Score on the Pew Research Center Web site.