Abstract: This article analyses the changing themes of Vladimir Putin’s populist messaging during his almost 20 years at the apex of Russian politics. To reveal shifts in Putin’s populist rhetoric, the article examines Russian media framing of his four presidential-election campaigns and of Russia’s relations with China and the United States (U.S.). Public opinion data is used to assess the impact of Putin’s populist propaganda. The article begins by assessing to what degree Putin can be considered a populist politician, concluding that while his rhetoric is populist his rule is largely not. The article further finds that Putin has maintained his populist appeal by turning his ire from domestic economic elites to international political enemies, specifically by positioning himself as the main challenger to U.S. hegemony in the global system. Putin’s control of the Russian media, co-opting of opposition populist causes and geopolitical victories in Syria and Crimea have helped him maintain his populist connection with Russian voters. But, the article concludes, growing access to anti-Kremlin online media, the pain of economic sanctions, botched social welfare reforms, and the presence of effective opposition movements are causing Putin’s populism to lose its lustre.
Keywords: international relations; populism; Russia; Russian media; Russian politics; Vladimir Putin