Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: ALEXEI DRUZHINI/KREMLIN/REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: ALEXEI DRUZHINI/KREMLIN/REUTERS

Moscow — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has fallen to a record low amid widening economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic and the slump in oil prices, Russia’s main export earner, an opinion poll showed.

Support for Putin fell to 59% in April from 63% the month before, the worst result since he came to power in 2000, according to the poll published on Wednesday by the independent Moscow-based Levada Centre. Its phone survey of 1,608 people was conducted from April 24-27 and had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

“Putin is facing a very difficult and unprecedented situation,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “This economic crisis has hit much faster and harder than ones in the past.”

Russia’s economy is forecast to contract by 5.5% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund. The unemployment rate could double to 10% even though companies are trying to avoid layoffs by reducing pay, government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported on Tuesday, citing the vice-rector of the state-run Financial Academy, Alexander Safonov.

Russian authorities on Wednesday set out a three-stage plan for gradually lifting the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, without specifying any timetable.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that industry and the construction sector could restart work from May 12, though he kept in place other restrictions that have shuttered all but essential business and confined most of the city’s 12-million inhabitants to their homes since March 30.

Putin said Sobyanin’s plan was acceptable.

Another April 24-27 poll released by Levada on Wednesday showed that fewer than half of respondents — 47% — are prepared to support constitutional changes that would allow Putin to stay in power potentially to 2036 by skirting a ban on serving more than two presidential terms. Legislators have approved the revised constitution but the pandemic forced Putin to postpone a popular vote to endorse the changes scheduled for April 22.

State pollster Russian Public Opinion Research Centre in a March 12 survey — two days after Putin endorsed the move to allow him to stay on when his current term expires in 2024 — put backing for the constitutional changes at 64%.

The polling institution, whose most recent poll on April 17 showed 50% of respondents favoured the reform of the country’s basic law, said on Wednesday that the March 12 results had shown support of 46%. It cited a “technical mistake” for the wrong information posted earlier on its website.

Th authorities may have to resort to fraud to ensure the referendum passes when the vote is eventually held, which will undermine Putin’s legitimacy, said Carnegie’s Kolesnikov.

Bloomberg