Staunton, May 24 – In the current situation, the Kremlin leaders would be far better advised to follow the recommendations of many experts and use the country’s reserve funds to cushion the impact of the crisis on the people and restart the economy. But “because they are what they are,” they aren’t likely to change course even if Russians go into the streets.
Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin says that unfortunately, the Kremlin doesn’t want to follow the advice of those like the Boston Consulting Group and will thus alternate between lockdowns and loosening up rather than taking a tough line now that would allow for a longer opening up in the future (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/05/22/1844868.html).
There is little likelihood that there will be a vaccine before early 2021, he says. And “consequently, until the end of this year,” the economy is going to be in trouble both because of official requirements for self-isolation and the fears of ordinary people that they could become infected if they went back to work.
There are three reasons why the Kremlin leadership will not adopt a tough line now so that it will be in a position to open up for longer in the future and why it will not provide those without employment at present with the kind of aid that will prevent a social disaster in the Russian Federation.
First of all, Shelin says, the Kremlin leadership “passionately wants to be able to function without new lockdowns.” It is already acting as if “everything bad is already in the past” and that it can without any serious problems “return to its accustomed fantasies” about national projects and the like.
Second, “the chief victims of the ‘big’ stoppage of the economy just passed and the possible ‘small’ stoppages in the future are small enterprises, their employees and also those who are self-employed or informally occupied.” These groups taken together include “tens of millions of people.”
Their fate doesn’t agitate our leaders, the Rosbalt commentator says, “who are seriously concerned only by how that part of the economy which is dear to it works – major state and magnate enterprises and construction projects.” At all costs, the Kremlin elite “categorically does not want” these to be slowed or stopped.
As a result, he continues, “instead of short but radical lockdowns” that will slow the pandemic and allow the economy to recover over all, they are certain to prefer and to implement brief lockdowns by sectors which will be far less effective in overcoming the coronavirus or in helping the economy to recover.
And third, the Kremlin has no interest in spending money from the country’s reserve funds on the population. It wants to use those to defend itself and its allies; and if others suffer because of its unwillingness to provide aid, that is a matter of supreme indifference to the powers that be.
For all these reasons, Shelin argues, “our powers instinctively reject the recommendations of the Russian branch of the international consulting company. They are prepared to go along their own special path” despite all the negative consequences it will have for the Russian people and their long-term economic wellbeing.
The real questions are two: Are Russian citizens prepared to accept this? And do they have enough leverage to force the regime to change course? There is plenty of evidence that Russians would prefer a different set of policies, but there are also clear signs that they do not have enough power to influence what the Kremlin plans to do.
Polls show how angry they are, but the regime’s response to these surveys is to ignore them as far as its basic policy preferences are concerned. Those won’t change unless and until the Russian people find new ways to bring far more pressure on the Kremlin than they have managed to do anytime recently.