Western observers often use the term “Putin Russia” when discussing events in Russian politics, economics, society and culture. It became a kind of "meme". It is usually used in an attempt to hint at the authoritarianism of the political regime in Russia - relatively soft, according to the author, under President Vladimir Putin. Raising the theme of Putin’s authoritarianism in his work, preferably at the beginning of any passage, is simply necessary if you want to see your work published. The phrase “Putin's Russia” often aims for the reader to make a conclusion like “Russia of Putin”, “Russia controlled by Putin”, “Putin controls Russia”, “Putin controls a part of (big) Russian life”, or even - it’s best “Putin controls everything in Russia.” However, the real dynamics of the development of relations between Putin and “his” Russia are completely opposite - this is “Putin - Russian”.
Putin, like most Russians today, is largely a product of the late Soviets and the post-Soviet experience of Russia. This includes all those who were born before 1980 a year or so, bearing in mind that they experienced the demise of the Soviets. For these Russians, the forming political experience was the collapse and collapse of the Soviets. In one way or another, the political, economic, social, cultural, and civilizational preferences of this generation of Russians reflect the preferences of Putin, and Putin himself reflects the views of Russia and Russians. We can ignore this phenomenon or the aspect of Russian Putin and consider Russia as a kind of warped state with unnatural subordination to Putin - created by Putin and his surroundings. But it would be better to recognize to what degree Putin really represents Russia and the main views of its population and to build a policy accordingly.
The main core of Putin’s meme is that the Kremlin controls all the Russian media and thus shapes the views of Russians in favor of Putin’s needs and preferences. I have participated in discussions many times and talked about how misleading this exaggeration is. In addition to the fact that far from all television in Russia controls the regime, the Internet remains almost completely free, and there are many independent radio stations and print media outlets. Moreover, in the state, “Putin's” media, there is a significant pluralism of opinions, including, for example, on state television, the main source News for most Russians. In fact, on various political talk shows on state channels, you can regularly see Americans opposed to Putin and other foreigners living in Moscow who openly express their dissatisfaction with Putin, Russian politics, and even Russia as a whole.
We can “destroy” the misunderstanding about Putin’s Russia meme, as well as the picture of the mythical full and comprehensive influence of television and state-owned media in general on public opinion by simply comparing Russian public opinion with Putin’s views on the eve of his coming to power. At that time - the end of 1990-x - when in Russia there was still no Putin in power, nor state-controlled media. To explore and test the myths about “Putin's Russia” and “state television society,” I will analyze Putin’s public opinion on three key foreign policy issues - NATO expansion, Ukraine and Syria - at the end of 1990 and later. I could refer to the consistency or lack of such between Putin and Russia on domestic issues, but this is another time. Now I will demonstrate that the “Russian Putin” meme is no less, and probably a much more obvious feature of today's Russia, than the “Putin Russia”.
NATO enlargement, “Putin Russia” and Russian Putin
The continuation of the expansion of NATO and the Yugoslav wars formed the overwhelming majority of NATO opponents in Russian public opinion. By March, 1999, 69% of Russians, according to VTsIOM polls, to one degree or another believed that Russia should be wary of countries joining NATO, and only 31% did not think so.  By June 1999, the VTsIOM found out that 73% of Russian citizens had a negative attitude towards NATO, 27% had a positive attitude.  This was especially true of the expansion of NATO to the former Soviet republics.
NATO’s reputation for Russians melted away with each round of expansion, especially after the bombings by the Yugoslav Alliance. For example, in April, 1996, a poll by VTsIOM showed that 55% of respondents were against NATO membership of the Baltic states, Ukraine and “other” former Soviet republics, and now independent states, 19% approved, and 26% expressed indifference. [ 3] As the Yugoslav crisis deepened, the West began discussing NATO’s participation in this war, and NATO was preparing to accept the Visegrad Troika as an alliance at the April summit of 1997, Russia in a repeat poll by VTsIOM showed that now 61% were against, 17% were in favor of and 21 % - indifferent.  A month after the start of the bombing of Yugoslavia, another VTsIOM poll showed that 64% were against, 19% were in favor, and 17% were indifferent.  By the time Putin came to power, the 2001 survey of the year demonstrated that the vast majority of Russians, 75%, were increasingly convinced that NATO was pursuing American national interests, and not member countries (25%). 
As the acquisitions of NATO and the Roadmaps of the NATO admission process in 2000 increased, an overwhelming negative attitude toward NATO developed in Russia. According to VTsIOM polls from November 2001 to November 2011, for the most part, the positive attitude towards NATO and, consequently, towards the United States and the West, which remained in the 1990, has disappeared. In November, 2001 and November, 2011, in VTsIOM polls, respondents were asked to choose Russian policy options regarding NATO; 16% and 4%, respectively, supported efforts to join the alliance, 36% and 43% chose to try to improve relations with him, and 16% and 29% supported the creation of an alternative alliance.  Similarly, surveys conducted from 2005 to 2009 showed that the percentage of Russians supporting the creation of a counter-alliance more than doubled - from 16% to 39%, and the share of those who supported cooperation with NATO fell from 52% to 33%.  Moreover, the share of those Russians who considered NATO a threat to Russia's national security doubled from “only” 21% in 2003 to 41% compared to 2009  In 2009 - 2011. approximately 60% of Russians with minor variations (59% - 62%) considered NATO expansion to the East a threat to Russia's national security. 
A rare case, when Putin went against Russia's opinion (and his own), took place a month after the inauguration, when he suddenly changed his tone and said that perhaps Russia would one day join NATO. In fact, the VTsIOM poll showed that only 30% approved Putin’s statement, 31% expressed bewilderment, 21% was furious and 19% was indifferent.  This turns the beloved western expression “Putin's Russia” upside down. Putin’s views on the expansion of NATO are well known.
Less well known is the consistency between Putin’s habitual opposition to NATO expansion and the opinion of his predecessor, expressed in very similar words. Now it has long been forgotten that the Russians and Yeltsin personally began to oppose the expansion of NATO a long time ago, this concerned the former Soviet republics. The first open clash over NATO happened on December 1 on 1994, when the Russian foreign minister went to Brussels to sign the Partnership for Peace agreement with the alliance, but refused to sign it in protest against the NATO communique made public the day before with the expansion policy NATO. December 5 Yeltsin again protested against the attempt of the “one and only capital” - that is, Washington - to solve “the fates of all the continents and the world community as a whole” and warned against pushing Europe towards the “cold world”.  Yeltsin’s words sounded exactly like the words of his successor after a decade of continuing NATO expansion, and this demonstrates that the deterioration of US-Russian relations is caused by much more expansion than by Putin’s Russia.
Indeed, Putin seemed to follow his predecessor when 10 February 2007 came to the podium of the annual Munich Security Policy Conference and criticized NATO’s expansion, international unipolarity and American one-sidedness: “We are witnessing more and more departure from the basic principles of international law. In addition, the rights of one state dominate in individual regulations, and indeed in the entire system of international laws. The United States everywhere transcend its national borders - in economics, politics, even in the humanitarian sphere ... And this, of course, is very dangerous ... Russia is a country with historywhich goes back a thousand years, and it almost always enjoyed the privilege of pursuing an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today. ” 
This demonstrates the continuity, coherence and relative ubiquity of Russia's opinion that the expansion of NATO does not bring anything good to the national interests and security of the country.
Russia's seeming expansion by NATO is more likely to relate to the traditional Russian sense of dignity and the ability to go on the defensive, regroup and take revenge, like a wounded bear in winter. President Bill Clinton’s famous mockery of the “Russian arm” of Assistant Secretary of State for Russia and the CIS, Strobe Talbot, during a private 1996 meeting in April during the Moscow summit demonstrates excellent awareness and concern that Washington and Brussels’s tough pressure in favor of NATO’s eastward plans created a very great tension between the liberal camp of President Yeltsin and the tough opposition: "We have not always played well with these people, we still did not understand how to say yes to them in order to balance How much and how often we want them to say yes to us. We continue to say to old Boris “Okay, this is what you will get next - more shit in the face.” It is very difficult for him, considering what he is set up against and what he has to deal with ... We need to remember that Yeltsin cannot do more than he will endure ... I have some kind of internal policy - nonsense, which I can not do as I would like, I do there what I do not like. But he is much harder than me. " 
Putin decided to stop accepting the one-sidedness of Washington — that is, “more crap in the face” —to much dissatisfaction with the West. In relation to NATO, we are now dealing not only with Russian Putin, but with “NATO-Russia Russia”.
Ukraine and "Putin Russia"
Putin as a whole reflected Russia's public opinion back in the 1994 year — that is, during the democratic period, when Putin was the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak for international relations — he warned a group of foreign specialists in Russia about 25 millions of ethnic Russians left abroad after the collapse of the Soviet Union: "For us, their fate is a matter of life and death." Ten years later, as president of Russia, Putin made a similar statement, only slightly softer, in response to the 2004 Orange Revolution: “We want to avoid a split between east and west of Ukraine. Russians in Ukraine deserve a safe future. We cannot return to the Russian Empire. But even if they wanted - it would be impossible. " ... "We are not against changes in the post-Soviet space. But we want to be sure that these changes will not lead to chaos. ” 
Russian society clearly considers Ukraine to be close, part of a broad ethnic Russian or Slavic culture. Although there is evidence of the identity of Russians as a Eurasian and / or European country, as already noted above, there is little or no information about the views of the average Russian regarding the relations of Ukrainians with any Eurasian civilization. The study of opinions shows that the majority of Russians consider Ukrainians to be "brotherly people", Russian brothers. So, in the 1998 year, almost two years before Putin came to power, 89% of Russians fully or for the most part supported the idea of a “Slavic Union”, including Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. 
The regions of Ukraine, dominated by Russians with a long historical legacy, such as the 300-year history of the Crimea as a territory of Russia, definitely play a role. So, according to public opinion polls, since 1990's, Russians have always overwhelmingly expressed support for the return of Crimea to Russia. In May 1998, for example, 77% supported the return of Crimea to Russia (in 2002, 80%, in 2008, 85%, in March, 2014, 79%).  In 1994, Russians in the same amount supported 25 of millions of ethnic Russians in other post-Soviet states , with the largest diaspora in Ukraine, in particular, in the southern and eastern regions, mostly in the Crimea and the Donbas.
Even at the height of the current Ukrainian civil war, 63% Russians retain extremely positive (13%) or simply positive (50%) attitudes towards Ukrainian citizens, although this is lower than in 2006 - 81% and in 2009 - 75%. The differences lie mainly between Orthodox Christians, ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking populations of Crimea and Donbass (Donetsk and Lugansk) and more ethnically Ukrainian and Uniate Catholic central and, especially, western Ukraine. Regarding Donbass, although a small minority supports the entry of Donetsk and Lugansk into Russia, most Russians support the Donbass rebels and treat their population better than the rest of Ukraine, remembering, in particular, that the western provinces of Ukraine are more or less hotbeds and home of Ukrainian ultranationalism , neo-fascism and hatred of Russia and the “Muscovites” (Muscovites, read Russian). In 2014, 80% expressed good or very good attitude towards the residents of Donbass, in 2015, 79%. Conversely, only 53% and 55% were positive towards the residents of central and western Ukraine.  Russians expressed unanimous support for the Donbass rebels and various assistance to them, but rejected the annexation of Donbass, preferring the independent state of Donbass (41%) and its autonomy within Ukraine (21%) to the Russian annexation (15%) or the non-autonomous status of Donbass as part of Of Ukraine (7%). 
Putin's Intervention in Syria
I have already touched on linking Russian public opinion with Putin’s interference in Syria. To sum up briefly, at the end of September 2015, a survey by the Levada Center showed no strong support for Putin’s military intervention in Syria regarding public opinion support regarding NATO and Ukraine: 39% approved Putin’s policy (11% - fully, 28% - for the most part parts), 11% did not approve (8% - for the most part did not approve, 3% - definitely did not approve) and 33% did not express interest. 
Levada Center conducted another survey of October 23-26 and found out that 53% of respondents now approve of Russia's policy in Syria, and a month earlier it was 39%. The number of those who did not approve doubled and increased from 11% to 22%.  It is worth noting that in the years of “complete control over the media”, a similar discrepancy appeared between Putin’s policy and public opinion in Russia.
For some, the Putin Russia meme is very convenient. He draws a totalitarian or rigidly authoritarian "fascist Russia", which is under the complete control of Putin. And this reveals the eternal disease of US foreign policy and the District of Columbia’s political community, which personifies regimes and countries; This model appeared rather strangely at the end of the Cold War, when attention was focused on demonizing or idealizing Mikhail Gorbachev. In Yeltsin’s time, some analysts cautioned against repeating this error, but this did not happen. And now this approach has taken root and turned into a "hatred" for Putin on the part of America.
This is consistent with the US orientation toward regime change through the promotion of democracy. The focus of discussions in American politics toward Russia is almost entirely focused on Putin. When will he fall? He is about to fall. He is mortally ill. He disappeared, where is he? He is mad. He is a strategist. He has a goal - “to restore the USSR” and so on and so forth. As long as such fundamental mistakes of Washington in assessing Putin’s personality and his views on the world, in assessing the regime of Russia and the goals of Russian foreign policy will continue, we will be wrong about Russia. Unfortunately, it is very likely that this will continue for many years, and several more US administrations, exposing us all to danger, will follow this approach.
Sources used by the author:
 “43. Est 'li osnovaniya u Rossii opasat'sya stran Zapada, vkhodyashchikh v blok NATO ?, ”VTsIOM, 30 March 1999, Link, last accessed 12 October 2015.
 “82_B. Kakoe znachenie immet dlya vas slovo: NATO ?, ”VTsIOM, 15 June 1999, Link, last accessed on 15 October 2015.
 “Kak by vy otneslis' k vstupleniyu v NATO byvshikh respublik SSSR - stran Baltii, Ukrainy i drugikh,” VTsIOM, 15 April 1996, Link.
 “Kak by vy otneslis' k vstupleniyu v NATO byvshikh respublik SSSR - stran Baltii, Ukrainy i drugikh,” VTsIOM, 10 February 1997, Link.
 “Kak by vy otneslis' k vstupleniyu v NATO byvshikh respublik SSSR - stran Baltii, Ukrainy i drugikh,” VTsIOM, 20 March 1997, Link.
 “50. Odni schitayut, chto NATO vedet samstoyatel'nuyu politiku v interesakh vsekh stran al'yansa; drugie - chto ono yavlyaetsya v osnovnom provodnikom interesov SShA. Kakaya iz etikh dvukh tochek zreniya kazhetsya vam bolee vernoi ?, ”VTsIOM, 15 March 2001, Link.
 The fourth option is available in the two polls. In the 2001 survey, the 32 percent chose. In the 2011 percent version, the 23 percent chose. “46. Chto iz perechislennogo, po vashemu mneniyu, bol'she otvechaet interesam Rossii: Vstuplenie Rossii v NATO, ”VTsIOM, 15 November 2001, Link and Rossiya i NATO: Realnost 'i perspektivy vzaimodeistviya (Moscow: VTsIOM, 2011), Link, P. 12.
 Rossiya i NATO: Realnost 'i perspektivy vzaimodeistviya, p. 13.
 Rossiya i NATO: Realnost 'i perspektivy vzaimodeistviya, p. 9.
 Rossiya i NATO: Realnost 'i perspektivy vzaimodeistviya, p. 10.
 “67A. Kak vy lichno otnosites 'k zayavleniyu Vladimira Putina o tom, chto Rossiya v budushem mozhet vstupit' v NATO: s odobreniem, s nedoumeniem, s osuzhdeniem, ili sravnitelmno bezrazlichno ?, ”VTsIIITI Link, last accessed on 12 October 2015.
 Coit D. Blacker, “Russia and the West,” in Michael Mandelbaum, ed., The New Russian Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: Council of Foreign Relations, 1998), pp. 167-93, at pp. 179-80.
 “Vystuplenie prezidenta Rossii Vladimira Putina na Myunkhenskoi konferentstii po voprosam politiki bezopasnosti 10 fevralya 2007 goda,” Izvestia, 12 February 2007, Link. For a video of the speech, see “Vystuplenie V. Putina na Myunkhenskoi konferentstii (2007g.),” Youtube, 10 February 2007,.
 Strobe Talbott, The Russian Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (New York: Random House, 2003), pp. 201-2.
 Michael Stuermer, Putin and the Rise of Russia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008), pp. 43 and 50.
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 Volkov, “Rossiiskaya sotsiologiya ukrainskogo konflikta: vmeshivat'sya ne nado, no all pravil'no sdelali”.
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 “Voina v Sirii: Vnimanie otsenki IGIL,” Levada Center, 28 September 2015, Link.
 “Russians Increasingly Polarized by Syria Intervention,” The Moscow Times, 29, October 2015, Link.