Staunton, December 1 – Russians have been so focused on events in Ukraine and now Syria that they have forgotten the most important thing: their future and that of their country is not connected with what is going on in those countries but what is taking place or not taking place in their own, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.
In a Snob.ru commentary, the Moscow economist says that eventually Russia will leave Syria and Ukraine “with or without Crimea and the Donbas” will continue its path to Europe. When that happens, he suggests, Russians will ask what they should have been focusing on in 2014 and 2015 (snob.ru/selected/entry/101468).
“The future of Russia is not connected either with Ukraine or even more with Syria,” he argues. “having lost the status of a global power” because of the failure of the communist regime and having gained “a breathing space” because of high prices for oil, Russia could have used that time to figure out how it could develop when oil prices inevitably fell.
Had Russians done so, had they been “oriented toward real and not false goals, the discussion would have had a completely different tone and theme,” Inozemtsev suggests. Instead, the Russian government has focused on foreign affairs and acted as if everything is fine at home.
The Kremlin has even suggested that “everything is normal” despite the collapse of oil prices to 40 US dollars a barrel. But in doing so, the Moscow economist says, it has ignored that the price is likely to fall further, that the current cutbacks harm not only the current generation but future ones, and that its promised modernization program hasn’t happened.
And addressing those problems, Inozemtsev argues, is far more important than “the fates of ‘the Russian world’ or the chances for Bashar Asad’s survival.”
The standard of living in Russia is falling, although many still remember that it rose in the first decade of the 2000s and believe that spending on arms will be a solution. “However, history teaches that the memory of the Russian people is exceptionally short.” Twenty-five years ago, Russians took down the statue of Dzherzhinsky; now, they want to put it back.
Thus, the successes of a decade ago will also be forgotten, especially if incomes continue to contract at the rate of 10 percent a year, and also will be forgotten the so-called “Putin consensus.” At the very least, it will not attract any new supporters from the population however the war on terror goes.
And ever more frequently Russians will have occasion to recall what has often been the case in their past: when economic difficulties during periods of real or imagined foreign dangers lead to catastrophic social cataclysms.” That being the case, he says, Russians should not be so concerned about what is happening in Kyiv and Damascus. They should worry about what is happening at home.
And there are so many problems: Will Russians be able to fly from Vladivostok to Moscw if Transaero is driven into bankruptcy? Will small businesses be able to survive and provide jobs if they are taxed excessively and oppressed by the government? Will pensioners put up with further cuts to their already miserable existences?
In addition, how will Russians move about if the roads aren’t repaired? And “what prospects are opening (or more precisely closing) before the country’s middle class as a result of all the new prohibitions on travel and what threatens the tourism branch and international air carriers?”
There are dozens of such questions, Inozemtsev says, and behind each of them “stand hundreds of enterprises and companies and touches the interests of hundreds of thousands of people.” But today, the Kremlin is ignoring them and hoping that others will ignore them as well because of their focus on Ukraine and Syria.
Indeed, he argues, one can say that “the main goal of the authorities who have sparked foreign policy hysteria consists in distracting the attention of the people from the domestic agenda.” After all, for the authorities, it is “simpler and more effective” to struggle for “’the Russian world’” in Ukraine than to build at home and “more convenient” to bomb Syria than to find the murderers hiding out in Chechnya.
Up to now, however, there is no indication that anything has changed or will change. Instead, the situation is deteriorating. There is less money for medical care, and “people are now dying from heart problems while in line at polyclinics,” an inexcusable situation that appears likely to get worse given that the Kremlin cares not about the people but only about itself.
“The entire population (which it is difficult to call a people) is refleting not about its own pipelines and roads: it is interested only in how much oil the Islamic State is delivering to Turkey from whom we are refusing to buy fruit,” Inozemtsev says.
Over the next several weeks, Vladimir Putin will be questioned about some of these things, albeit in a very police way, Inozemtsev says. But if he does nothing to change the situation and there seems little reason to expect that, then these questions will be posed in “a much less polite form.”
That will happen, the Moscow analyst says, “when the people (and already not the population) understands what it should have been thinking about five or ten years ago.”