Playing with Putin

On Oct. 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his birthday by playing hockey with an all-star Russian NHL team. He scored seven goals and earned a trophy of the highest order for his immense contribution to hockey.

His defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, hockey legend Pavel Bure and other famous Russian hockey players made up his all-star team.

It is not surprising he scored seven goals. If the Russian president were charging at you, would you block a shot?

In any case, the important detail here is that all over Russia, citizens cheered as their strong leader conquered the ice and emerged victorious.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Putin playing a game of hockey with his government pals on his birthday. But there is a subtle evil in a leader who is deliberately putting up a front of strength and impenetrability.

This is not the first time Putin went to questionable lengths to strengthen his public image.

In 2009, Putin went horseback riding, shirtless, in Southern Siberia. He wore cool shades, and was adorned semi-militarily.

Among other things, Putin has also forged iron, arm-wrestled, driven race cars and chased whales, all in the public eye.

Putin’s macho image-building is reminiscent of other dictators.

It is the same strategy Kim Jong-un is using at this very moment. If the people believe their leader and their country are strong, then the people will not necessarily listen to outside sources, who would consider the situation otherwise.

A leader merging with his people is not negative. On the contrary, creating a public image of a leader who mingles with the locals and sometimes jokes on television is often key to gaining the trust of the people.

For example, when President Obama went on Jimmy Kimmel and read mean tweets, the public reacted approvingly to this appearance, and – especially on the social networks – the president became more relatable.

Logically, if an economy is failing, the people begin to blame the leadership which is, in most cases, where the problem lies anyway.

In this instance, the sanctions placed on Russia since Putin’s invasion of Crimea have done their damage, and continue to influence Russia’s economy. Although the sanctions may not be the primary reason for the slow downfall of the Russian economy, the Russian media and the Kremlin are undoubtedly using the sanctions as a scapegoat for the current economic instability.

“Although sanctions have hurt, much of Russia’s current economic weakness has to do with the 48 percent drop in the price of oil since June, analysts say … Sanctions, the West’s primary tool to try to sway Kremlin policies, have become a punching bag,” according to an article by The Washington Post.

However, if the people believe their leader is flawless, then they believe their country’s current economic situation is perfectly fine – thus the reason Putin is fabricating a façade.

Additionally, a grandiose public parade of the nation’s finest military developments only amplifies a leader’s hold on the people’s perception of the truth.

There can be no simple solution with any dictator, and although the people of Russia may not want to admit it, Putin is becoming a dictator. His actions and public manifestations place him on the dictator hall of fame, even if he and his media disagree. Putin’s term as president will not be ending any time soon, and the people of Russia and the surrounding regions will continue to suffer oppression until something is done.