In Russia, the old saying goes, the czar is always right. Whether an imperial Romanov, a Soviet commissar or President Vladimir Putin, no matter how harsh the regime, Russians have traditionally viewed their leaders as virtually infallible. Contrary to the logic that oppression breeds discontent, Russians have endured some of the worst despots in history, yet they have a near-apocalyptic fear of change of power. The end of a regime promises not hope but a cataclysm.

Throughout Russian history, the population has supported its leaders regardless of the policies they implement, often despite them. This explains the Russian people’s enduring devotion to a “strong hand” ruler, and their equal distrust of pluralist democracy. In addition, when the “other” — for example, the United States or European Union — lectures the Kremlin on its oppressive politics, Russians band together even more tightly behind their ruler. As we are seeing with Putin today.

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