Vladimir Putin stokes Russian nationalism, dreams of empire and a sense of victimization brought on by the “humiliating” collapse of the Soviet Union. He plays on the imagination of young people who have no personal memories of these things. At the same time he arouses the support of an older generation which remembers what it thinks of as the stability of the USSR. Between them is a growing middle class which, despite economic ups and downs, is generally much better off under post-Soviet Union Russia than before.
It is these people who provide the crowds that regularly protest the increasingly autocratic rule of the Putin regime which stifles free speech and assembly. While he diverts attention abroad (Crimea) and continues to threaten Ukraine — all to activate nationalistic patriotism — his regime condones widespread corruption.