During the MSNBC/NBC town hall forum on Wednesday night in which both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were questioned by veterans on topics ranging from Clinton’s email scandal to Trump’s charitable giving, Trump suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a better leader than President Obama. Trump said, “The man has very strong control over a country. Now It’s a very different system and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he’s been a leader. Far more than our president has been a leader.”
The natural reaction is this quote may be that of course the system matters. In judging the effectiveness or “control” a leader has over a country it is imperative to consider the constraints under which that leader is operating. Russia is classified as an “open anocracy“, a government regime featuring inherent qualities of political instability and ineffectiveness, as well as an incoherent mix of democratic and autocratic traits and practices. Additionally, Freedom House classifies Russia as “Not Free“, meaning Russian citizens do not possess freedom in their political rights or civil liberties. President Putin operates in a very different domestic environment that does President Obama. Their ability to “control” is almost incomparable.
However, granting Trump’s premise that the type of system does not matter, how effective of a leader has Putin been?
Since Putin took office as Russian President in May of 2012 Russia’s GDP has plummeted and GDP per capita has fallen by almost 4%. This decline is partially due to international sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine. Despite these domestic difficulties President Putin has been able to retain control over Russia due to his cult of personality, murders of opposition politicians and uncooperative journalists as well as the management of mass protests, sometimes through the use of deadly force. He has also vehemently opposed the incursion of foreign interests into Russian politics by refusing to attend international summits.
In short, President Putin has been able to solidify Russia’s sphere of influence and his own power at home via the use of force and as a result has damaged Russia’s international reputation and the well-being of Russian citizens.
Donald Trump may also like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.