Today’s media coverage is marked by the story of a self-assertive and aggressive Russia. The contrast is great to the weak and shaky country Russia appeared as at the beginning of the 2000s when today’s strong man in Russian politics, Vladimir Putin first came to power. Russia’s history has since been, for better or worse, closely linked to Putin.
- What are the characteristics of today’s Russian government?
- How strong is President Putin in his own country?
- How strong is President Putin in his own country?
- How does Russia seek to position itself internationally?
2: From lame to controlled democracy
When Putin entered the political scene as Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister in the autumn of 1999, he was still a relatively undescribed magazine. Through two presidential terms (2000-04 and 2004-08), a break as Prime Minister again (2008-12), and from 2012 again as President, he has positioned himself as Russia’s undisputed leader.
Putin’s strong position can be partly explained by a lack of credible alternatives , and partly by a real support for Putin’s policies among the broad sections of the population. Lack of alternatives: In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was in almost constant conflict with a parliament dominated by opposition parties. Since the turn of the millennium, Putin has spearheaded a systematic centralization of power and influence in most areas of society. Today, most important political decisions are again made by a small circle around the president of the Kremlin. Putin’s support party United Russiahas dominated party politics for the past ten years. It has had a clear majority both in the National Assembly (State Duma) and in most regional parliaments. The State Duma has thus to a large extent become a sand-spreading body , an institution that claps through the Kremlin’s political initiative.
At the same time, independent oppositions have had fewer and fewer opportunities to challenge the regime. What exists of political opposition is often divided into pro-system and anti-system opposition . The former are allowed to participate in political life as long as they follow the rules of the Kremlin. The anti-system opposition, which includes the pro-Western liberal parties, but also Russian nationalists, is systematically prevented – through legislation and more informal control mechanisms – from being able to participate in elections. Among other things, signature lists that are needed to be able to stand for election are often rejected.
According to MICROEDU, Russia is therefore often referred to as a ” ruled democrat in”. This means that elections of president and parliament are held regularly, but that the outcome of the elections is largely given in advance . This is not primarily due to electoral fraud, but the guidelines the authorities set for which candidates or parties are allowed to run. Others completely write off the significance of the elections and describe Russia as an authoritarian regime .
The key to understanding this development is Putin. He has proven to be incredibly durable as a political leader. During his first term in office, he built up his own power base and has since been unassailable. According to independent monthly polls, support for Putin’s political line has never fallen below 60%. For a long time, this was explained by the fact that Putin provided economic growth and prosperity for the broad sections of the population.
3: Economic growth and increasing prosperity
The 1990s are remembered by many Russians as an economic disaster . From 1989 to 1998, GDP fell by 45%, and people’s savings were wiped out by galloping inflation. The bottom was reached in the summer of 1998. At that time, Russia was no longer able to service its debt and had to abandon attempts to stabilize the currency.
In retrospect, however, it turned out that the acute crisis in 1998 had a positive effect. The depreciation of the Russian currency (ruble) caused import prices to skyrocket. It gave a boost to many domestic producers. In parallel, prices rose in the international energy market, which benefited the oil and gas nation Russia. As early as 1999 – the year Putin first became prime minister and then acting president – the economy grew by 6.4%. Then followed eight years of strong and sustained growth. In 2008, GDP was almost twice as high as in 1998.
The growth came easily. From the crisis year 1998 to the peak year 2008, the oil price increased tenfold . After a decade of cuts and closures, there was also significantly underutilized industrial capacity. But the Putin administration also contributed, especially in the beginning, with important reforms and a sound fiscal policy (cf. state budget). Putin ruled successfully. After the move to Medvedev in 2008, however, Russia was brutally overtaken by the financial crisis : in 2009, the economy shrank by almost 8%. Although the country already experienced new growth the following year, the “boom” from the years before 2008 was over.
Overall, however, the Putin era has contributed to the emergence of a viable middle class and a sharp reduction in the new poverty that gripped the 1990s. While the 1990s are often portrayed as a period in which a few very quickly became extremely rich (the so-called oligarchs ), now wider sections of the population have experienced increased prosperity. From 2000 to 2013, for example, households’ real income quadrupled. At the same time, the proportion living on incomes below the official poverty line fell from 30% to around 10%. However, it is not a given that Putin will continue to be able to mobilize political support through economic progress (see below).