Staunton, December 17 – Vladimir Putin is more interested in the political than the economic consequences of an end to the sanctions regime, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. That is, he wants to escape from his current political isolation internationally and likely doesn’t believe that an end to sanctions will lead to the rapid recovery of the Russian economy.
In the course of a wide-ranging interview on Ekho Moskvy yesterday, the Moscow economist says that it is still unclear whether sanctions will be lifted anytime soon but that it is important to understand both why Putin wants them to be and why he may see even a certain benefit to his regime if they aren’t (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalnovash/1892640-echo/).
For Putin, Inosemtsev argues, ending the sanctions regime so that his personal international isolation will be reduced and so that he can meet again regularly with world leaders is “many times more important” to him than any contribution that the elimination of sanctions might have for the Russian economy.
But at the same time, there are at least three reasons why Putin may not be all that interested in an end to Western sanctions right now, he says. First of all, he can see that the West is unlikely to keep all of them in place for more than another year or two and debates about lifting them can work to his advantage in Europe.
Second, to maintain his support at home, Putin needs to be able to point to the existence of foreign enemies in order to excuse himself and his regime from the problems Russians now face and nothing does that better than foreign hostility expressed in the form of sanctions which Russians can actually feel.
And third, it is far from clear that sanctions have played the primary role in reducing Russian imports. Since 2013, Russian imports from Europe which has imposed sanctions have fallen “approximately 48 percent” but Russian imports from China which hasn’t and which Moscow views as its “chief ally” have declined “approximately 43 percent.”
Thus, Inozemtsev continues, “if sanctions will be lifted, that will not mean that Russia will begin to import an insane quantity of European goods” because “the decline in the intensity of economic exchange between Russia and the West is rooted not in sanctions but in the difficult economic situation of Russia itself.”
But what an end to Western sanctions would mean, the Moscow commentator says, is that Putin would be able “to renew personal contacts with Western leaders at a quite serious and constant basis. For Putin, it is very important politically and emotionally to have contact not via telephone but directly at meetings and summits.”
Therefore, Inozemtsev concludes, “the lifting of sanctions for Putin is viewed as a precondition for the return of Russia to serious international politics,” for meetings with US presidents and German chancellors, rather than as the basis for Russian economic growth, something that isn’t likely to happen without major structural changes.