Russia: Can Economic Difficulties Weaken the Political System? Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 123, Ifri, August 2021
Year after year, Russian liberal politicians and experts have been promising radical changes in Russia’s economics and politics, which, they believed, would lead to the collapse of the Putin regime.
Domestic protests, Western sanctions, oil price fluctuations and public discontent caused by a drop in living standards are only some of the causes that could lead to such a development. However, neither the Covid-19 pandemic, instability in the global energy markets nor massive street protests earlier this year managed to undermine the foundations of the Russian political system. The reasons for their failing to do so were obvious: the Russian economy is far from being the disaster that foreign observers like to portray; people are willing to survive by relying on themselves alone; and the protests in Putin’s Russia are more a way to express personal opinion than a tool to achieve the goals of masses of dissatisfied citizens. The last two decades indicate that neither political liberties nor opportunities for business are primary values for Russians. Russian society does not reject the apparent tightening of the regime, it does not demand that living standards be maintained, and it does not close its ranks in response to repression of dissenters. Meanwhile, Western economic sanctions have made almost no impact on government bureaucracy, since these days it prefers to concentrate its business domestically while reducing its contacts with the outside world to a minimum.
Let’s be frank: Russia is not a “slightly distorted” version of a Western nation. Its “uniqueness” is too profound for developing policy based on expectations that one day Russia becomes a “normal country”. Instead, Moscow’s negative impact on Western nations and their allies should be strictly limited while Russia is left to go on its own path until it reaches an economic dead end and finally realizes the need for changes—as happened to the USSR due to its economic and technological failures.
Vladislav Inozemtsev, PhD, is a Russian economist, and founder and director of the Moscow-based Centre for Research on Post-Industrial Societies since 1996.