Will Russia survive under Vladimir Putin?
In an interview with the Russian and foreign media on January 19, 2014, Vladimir Putin remarked:
“Sometimes it is necessary to be lonely in order to prove that you are right”.
But has Putin’s self-righteousness actually been efficacious for Russia?
The alteration of the foreign policy decision-making structure by Putin allowed him to emerge as the central decision-maker ever since he stepped into power. Policy matters were assigned to secondary actors composed of an informal circle of loyal associates to Putin. The inner circle of Putin loyalists are power hungry and in such a system, the effectiveness of policy is lost. Corruption is enhanced because a self-seeking servile flatterer is valued above earnest governance. The internal cracks due to venality and weakness of the system have been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian conflict, led by a person who believes that his actions will eventually lead to success, is fracturing the system. The reality is presenting a diverging scenario.
Sanctions imposed by the West due to the crisis in Ukraine, along with plummeting oil prices, has affected Russia with its first GDP contraction since the global financial crisis. Resource-rich Russia largely depends on the sale of oil for its revenues but the slump in energy markets has adversely affected the country’s market and economic outlook. The Ruble has been falling steadily with no signs of recovery and a record low of 80 per dollar was observed in mid-December 2014. As the condition worsens, Putin fails to provide a specific plan for restructuring the economy.
In January 2010, a customs union was established by Russia along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which was later transformed into the Eurasian Economic Union in 2014, which integrated the Customs Union into the legal framework of the EEU. The main purpose of EEU was to enhance economic integration with the former Soviet states. These states would benefit from access to state procurement, lifting of migration quotas and access to Russian oil and gas.
While the creation of Eurasian Customs Union was an important step to enhance financial growth, its effectiveness has been stalled by the decision to place sanctions against western goods. This decision was in response to Putin’s autarchic version of nationalism based on enhancing economic self-sufficiency aligned with Western sanctions. Voices raised by members of the EEU against this decision, not only indicate the rising internal conflict within the union but also present a challenging scenario for the EEU members in the long term. This isolationism will lead the EEU to become less innovative and competitive as their freedom on product selection becomes restricted.
The recent Munich Security Conference is a testimony of an isolationist approach, strictly being followed by Russian officials. The lack of engagement by Russia’s foreign minister with the audience, and guarded stance about the Ukrainian issue was in stark contrast with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s candid discussion. Even before the Ukrainian crisis commenced, Germany assisted Russia in modernising its economy with the help of German expertise. But Putin has not reciprocated the favour, nor has he strengthened ties with Germany.
The absence of dialogue and minimal participation of Russian officials at international conferences has led to an enhanced trust deficit between the two countries. And lack of trust is not only confined to the region or the West, the views of Russian citizens have changed significantly as well.
If the president’s popularity is assessed, the premise of his success was on garnering enormous public support in the past 15 years. Whether it was due to the military reforms or infrastructural development to improve the lifestyle of the ordinary Russian man, Putin was perceived in a positive light. However, the conflict in Ukraine and the economic collapse has not only tarnished Putin’s image but also revealed the lack of strategic depth in his policies.
In the future, Russia will be crippled by unrest in its non-Russian regions. Apart from the 60% Russian population in Crimea, there is a population of Crimean Tatars who are Muslims and are being radicalised due to oppressive Russian rule. The recent terrorist attacks in Chechnya and the ongoing violence in Dagestan and Ingushetia all present grave challenges to the stability of Russia.
All signs indicate that the regime will collapse like a house of cards as the leader stands alone amidst anarchy and chaos.