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President Vladimir Putin has learned much from the autocratic tactics of his predecessors, whereas the Russian people seem to have learned nothing.In an opinion poll at the end of 2014, 68 percent of respondents said that Putin should be "Man of the Year". Even as Russia's economy collapses – with the ruble having lost more than half of its value against the dollar since June, interest rates rising to 17 percent, and inflation reaching double digits – Putin retains an 85 percent approval rating.Putin, an ex-KGB officer, possesses a dictator's shrewdness. He knows that centuries of tight government control have made Russians obedient. Just a few months ago, Putin assured everyone that Russia's economy would weather the European and American sanctions easily. Likewise, during the 1998 financial meltdown, Russian oligarchs lost big – and most never recovered. Today's Russians hope that Putin, who blindsided his opponents with his annexation of Crimea, might have another daring trick up his sleeve – one that will stabilize financial markets and revive the oil prices on which Russia's economy depends.Of course, Russians know enough to worry that Putin has run out of ideas.
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