Staunton, May 28 – Since the oil boom ended, Vladimir Putin has operated on the assumption that Russians will put up with a low standard of living in order to see their country return to the first ranks of world powers with other countries fearing it because of its awesome military power and its willingness to use it against weaker neighbors.
But that bases for that assumption are fraying given the economic problems Russians now face: Nearly half of them have only enough money for food and clothing (newizv.ru/news/society/28-05-2019/tsifra-dnya-48-2-rossiyskih-semey-deneg-hvataet-tolko-na-edu-i-odezhdu), more than 80 percent are having to economize (romir.ru/studies/rossiyane-vernulis-k-jestkoy-ekonomii), and most are drinking just as much but turning to ever cheaper kinds (babr24.com/msk/?IDE=189304).
Moreover, and perhaps equally important, ever more analysts are pointing out that while the consumer sector of the Russian economy has always been smaller than in Western countries, widespread poverty by lowering demand from it will make any recovery extremely problematic (publizist.ru/blogs/112342/31276/-).
As a result, new surveys show that Russians who five years ago defined being a superpower in terms of having superior weapons now say that that status belongs only to countries which have well-off populations, a situation that Putin’s Russia cannot now claim (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=9709 and politsovet.ru/62842-rossiyane-svyazyvayut-status-sverhderzhavy-ne-s-oruzhiem-a-s-blagosostoyaniem.html).
To put things bluntly, as does the headline of a new Rosbalt commentary, Russians no longer want to be “proud” of their country’s military power but “naked” as far as how they have to live at home. Instead, they would like to see Moscow devote more attention to their clothing than to its missiles (rosbalt.ru/russia/2019/05/28/1783665.html).
But as the commentators the news agency survey suggest, this demand is not yet focused and organized and consequently it is unlikely to have any immediate impact on Kremlin policy. Instead, the regime is likely to continue on its current course, taking more money away from the population and spending it on arms.
That will work until it doesn’t, they say; and when it doesn’t, the entire arrangement could end with a popular explosion, the Russian “bunt” that many talk so much about and that the country has suffered from many times in the past, one that might change things for a time but that would be unlikely to fundamentally alter the situation.