Russians Name Putin as Second Greatest World Figure Ever, Behind Only Stalin

Levada Center poll sees Russian president continue his ascent, up from fifth in 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow,  June 26, 2017.
Alexei Druzhinin/AP

Russians have voted President Vladimir Putin as the second greatest figure in world history, behind only Joseph Stalin, according to a new poll.

The survey by Russian research agency the Levada Center asked 1,600 Russians to list their top 10 “most outstanding people of all time and all nations,” as part of a periodic poll it conducts.

Some 38 percent believed Stalin was the greatest historical figure, with Putin sharing second place four percentage points behind, alongside the Romantic poet-novelist Alexander Pushkin.

While Stalin also topped the same poll five years ago, his popularity has actually slipped four percentage points, down from 42 percent. In contrast, Putin rose from fifth in the 2012 poll, leaving Vladimir Lenin and Peter the Great in his wake.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russians dominated the top 20 list created by their peers. Only three non-Russians made the list: French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (14th), theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (16th) and mathematician-astronomer Isaac Newton (19th).

Although Stalin remains a controversial figure internationally, the dictator is still accorded hero status in his native Russia thanks to helping defeat Germany in World War II. Modern Russians are seemingly happy to overlook the millions of fellow countrymen he executed or sent to prison camps during his dictatorship (which lasted until his death in 1953).

A man holding a portrait of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during a Victory Day parade in Almaty, Kazakhstan, May 9, 2017.
SHAMIL ZHUMATOV/REUTERS

Other notable Russians included cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (sixth), who was the first man in space; “War and Peace” author Leo Tolstoy (seventh); Dmitri Mendeleev (13th), who developed the periodic table of elements; and former President Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and was 20th (and last) on the list, with 6 percent.

The Washington Post noted the Levada Center is not a sycophantic organization concerned with cozying up to Putin. The American paper said the center was given Russia’s “foreign agent” label in 2016, suggesting the state doesn’t approve of its presentation of public opinion.

The poll has been running since 1989, but 2012 was Stalin’s first time heading the list.

Former KGB officer and prime minister Putin first appeared on the list in 2003, and has been a rising star ever since. Few would bet against the Russian president topping the poll in 2022.

Denis Volkov, a sociologist at the Levada Center, told the Washington Post that Putin’s popularity stemmed from his “rescuing Russia from the economic ruin of the 1990s. For many people, that is a monumental accomplishment.”