Christopher Read, professor of 20th-Century European History at the University of Warwick is a typical representative of the the useful idiot school of thought. In his latest article he smears Boris Yeltsin - the only leader in the history of Russia who (despite his shortcomings) permitted almost complete freedom of speech and religion - and praises the current corrupt and criminal dictator Vladimir Putin, who has made Russia a mafia state:
At first, it appeared that Putin would have to be, like Yeltsin, a puppet of the oligarchs and the Kremlin kleptocracy. However, he soon proved to have a political strength of his own and, in a first major arm wrestle in 2004, he arrested and prosecuted the richest and most powerful oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at that time number 16 on the Forbes world rich list. --
Putin's style has certainly been authoritarian, but to see oligarchs as human rights victims is to stretch the definition.
Other elements of his popularity have been a more assertive international stance in which Russia shows independence in the face of American and western opposition -- currently manifesting in the crisis in Syria, one of Russia's oldest allies -- and a relatively successful economic policy which saw a period of growth, falling unemployment and rise in real wages, sometimes achieved by increasing state intervention in the economy, including the re-nationalization of factories and industries.
Obviously, none of this was popular in the West, since they curtailed Western influence over the country, limited business opportunities and, supposedly, revived Soviet-era ghosts. The response of the Russian population, apart from its oligarchs and intellectuals, has been much more favorable and, even though they are slipping, Putin's poll ratings remain very high.
It has often been said that the pattern of governing a vast country like Russia is that if the center is weak, chaos ensues. On the other hand, if the center is strong, state construction and tyranny ensue. Russians as a whole seem to prefer the latter to the former. Even so, Putin is no tyrant.