Saturday, January 18, 2020

New Russian Government Must Press for Serious Policy Changes, Sonin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Political analysts are focusing on the ways in which the replacement of the Medvedev government with a new one will make it possible for Vladimir Putin to remain in power. That is clearly what the shift is about. “But economists must direct attention” to the need for certain economic changes regardless, Konstantin Sonin says.

            The Russian economist who teaches at the University of Chicago argues that “it is obvious that there are shot and medium-term economic motives without any political subtext” in what is going on,” given that the regime had long come to terms with stagnation and wasn’t about to do anything to change it (
            “If I were an economic advisor to the new prime minister,” Sonin continues, “I would say the following now: Serious economic reforms … are the prerogative of President Putin.” These include reforms of the law enforcement system, and they aren’t going to be made in the near term by the government or ever be considered part of “’the economic bloc.’”

            “But there are tasks which can be worked on now, and there are arguments which can be advanced now,” he suggests.

            First of all, the present course toward isolation in international trade is leading to “a dead end.” It is enriching the owners of some enterprises at the expense of tens of millions of Russians because “’countersanctions’” are hurting “the most defenseless.” They must thus be “lifted immediately,” and the government must work to expand foreign trade.

            Second, “the wealth of the country is created by entrepreneurs and works, not by bureaucrats and law enforcement bodies. It is possible to be a rich country with a weak army, but one cannot be a poor country with a strong one. That doesn’t happen.”

            Therefore, “the current stagnation is a much greater threat for the security of the country than any activity of foreign enemies.  The prime minister must say that the development of business and raising the well-being of the citizens is the main task of the government,” the economist continues.

            To that end, he says, political repression, “which is demoralizing both entrepreneurs and workers” must be stopped. Military spending must be reduced: “this is a political task of the government. Without this, there won’t be any security, foreign or domestic.”

            And third, Sonin suggests, “the struggle with corruption must begin with the government.” There must not be any major corrupt officials in the upper reaches of the government. There can be “former entrepreneurs and rich people of course,” but not corrupt ones. Reports about corruption sapped the reputation and authority of the Medvedev government.

            Whether the new government will have the wit and will to say and do these things remains uncertain. But if it doesn’t, then Russia’s current economic malaise will only get worse with serious negative consequences not only for the social and political system but also for the security of the country, Sonin argues.

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