So far there has been a lot of talk about modernization, but few concrete results. The heyday of the 2000s became a sleeping pad . In recent years, the government has prioritized economic and social stability over necessary but unpopular reforms. Most agree that reforms are required, but in the current situation with both economic and foreign policy unrest, such a process will be extra demanding. With the prospect of cautious growth – the World Bank has recently raised its expectations of the Russian economy to 0.6% growth in 2016 – there is a danger that the government will once again choose to push the problems ahead.
7: Russia in a more polarized world
According to MEDICINELEARNERS, the conflict in Ukraine, with Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and support for the rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk, has plunged Europe into an unparalleled crisis since the end of the Cold War. If we look slightly away from the Ukraine conflict itself (see HHD 4-2015), there are three factors in particular that will dominate Russia’s relations with the outside world in the future:
- Relations with the West, especially the United States and the European Union. The relationship is characterized by strong mutual distrust of the other party’s intentions. On the Western side, many believe that Russia and Crimea have broken the world community’s rules of the game for international behavior. In Moscow, on the other hand, many believe that the West has established a set of rules for itself and another for everyone else (cf. the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya ) – ie a provocative double standard. The fronts are irreconcilable, and there is reason to fear that the cooling could be prolonged; in the West, it has been signaled by some that relations will not be able to normalize until Putin resigns.
- The development of the Eurasian Economic Union(EEU), an integration project Putin has invested a lot of personal prestige in. The goal is to bring together as many former Soviet states as possible in a kind of “eastern EU”. The Union entered into force on 1 January 2015. It is based on an existing customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. In addition, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have chosen to join the project. The failure of Ukraine to do so, however, is seen as a sharp setback (and as a cause of the current conflict). Russia emphasizes that the EEU is based on free trade and shares many of the EU’s basic economic principles. Critics see the project as more political than economic, and believe the EEU is first and foremost an instrument for strengthening Russian influence over the countries in the region.
- Russia’s relations with China- a relationship that is of great and growing importance. Western sanctions have further fueled plans for a Russian turn to the east (a Russian counterpart to the corresponding US (pivot) against Asia). Moscow and Beijing see that they can benefit from each other: Russia has energy resources and other raw materials China demands, and the Chinese market can provide new growth in evacuation-threatened and economically underutilized areas in eastern Siberia. In foreign policy, countries also share dissatisfaction with the way the United States manages its world leadership. Not everyone is convinced that Russia and China really have a “strategic partnership”. Although most of the country is in Asia, most Russians live in the European part of Russia. Lack of trust and conflicting interests stand in the way of further approach.
8: Putin – in a quarter of a century?
Where does Russia stand today? If Western leaders had hoped that the sanctions regime would provoke a regime change, it seems they have misjudged. After a year of economic sanctions, Putin was able to record record support at home (89%). Systematic tightening of the possibilities for mobilizing alternatives – cf. increased control of political parties, civil society and the media – offers little chance of a Russian “color revolution” (similar to the Georgian in 2003 or the Ukrainian in 2004). Following constitutional changes under President Medvedev, Putin has now been elected for a six-year term. The next election is in 2018, and as of today, there is little indication that Putin, if he stands, will not be elected for a new six-year term. In that case, in 2024 he will have been in power in the world’s largest state for a quarter of a century.
Europe in change
This article is part of the series “Europe in change” which addresses conditions and developments in Europe and the EU. This also means Norway’s relations with Europe and the EU, among other things as it appears in EEA co-operation. To a large extent, the articles will be in addition to the usual 24 articles in a year of Where does it happen ?.
The series “Europe in Change” is a collaboration between the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the NDLA (Norwegian Digital Learning Arena).
Russia in numbers
- Area: approx. 17 million km2 = 17% of the world’s land area
- Population 2015: approx. 142 mill.
- From west to east: 11250 km, or 11 time zones