President Vladimir Putin during a lunch with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow at the Bocharov Ruchei residence. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's annexation of Crimea propelled President Vladimir Putin's popularity to stratospheric highs — up to 80% — where it hovered for years. Now, economic stagnation and unpopular policies such as a value-added tax hike and, critically, pension reform have dragged his ratings back down. Recent polling shows his approval down to the neighborhood of 60%.

Why it matters: Putin is still a popular leader by international standards, though his approval has dropped back to pre-Crimea levels — a time when he faced serious political protest. Unlike in 2012, however, Putin will find it difficult to pin the economic sources of the decline on a foreign plot, and, absent the right opportunity abroad, will struggle to divert the Russian populace's increasing dissatisfaction with its stagnant fortunes.

Aaron Schwartzbaum founded and writes a column for BMB Russia, a daily news brief from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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