What is the Political Consequences of the Economic Crisis in Russia.
Political Crisis in Russia.
In the post-Soviet period, Russians have faced numerous difficulties. The 1992 "shock therapy," the August 1998 default, and the worldwide crisis of 2008–2009 all had political ramifications. The current economic slowdown, on the other hand, is structural, long-term, and unfolding against the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic, limiting the effectiveness of government tools in dealing with the problem.
The economy's simultaneous decrease of supply and demand, combined with the spring 2020 oil price shock, had many economic ramifications for residents. The drop in average disposable income accelerated in the second quarter, hitting 8.2 percent; unemployment reached 6.3 percent in October 2020 (an eight-year high); and annual inflation topped 4.9 percent, exceeding the Russian Central Bank's objective of 4 percent.
The Russian economy does not appear to be promising for the country's population, with GDP expected to fall by 3.6 percent and expectations of a gloomy recovery (according to reports from the IMF, World Bank, and the Russia-based Economic Expert Group).
Despite the apparent poor economic trends, Russians are hesitant to politically penalise the government. Vladimir Putin's approval rating hit a new low of 59 percent in May 2020, much below his long-term average of 74 percent, before rebounding to 69 percent in September.
Meanwhile, the ruling United Russia party, whose approval rating hovered just above 30% in 2020, solidified its hold on the State Duma in regional elections and by-elections. To put it another way, Russian political elites appear to have avoided political accountability and weathered the political fallout from the economic crisis relatively effectively.
The Economic Crisis and the Public-No government is immune to the effects of a recession. The pandemic aggravated Russia's economy's pre-existing challenges. The collapse of the global oil trade in the spring of 2020 hit structural dependence on hydrocarbon exports, sharply cutting revenues. This put significant pressure on the ruble, which fell against international currencies, hitting 76 rubles per dollar in early December 2020, compared to 64 a year earlier.
The government responded to the crisis by providing a 4 percent fiscal stimulus to chosen people, businesses, and government agencies. The preservation of public coffers took precedence above the unconditional flow of money to citizens, as many affluent countries had done. In comparison to 2008–2009, total monetary aid to the economy was lower. Nonetheless, the Russian economy avoided the worst effects thanks to a combination of accumulated monetary reserves, a low share of private spending in the economy, and anticrisis efforts.
Between February and April 2020, popular optimism, as measured by the percentage of people who believe the country is heading in the right path, fell eleven percentage points (from 53 percent to 42 percent). By August, it had almost fully recovered. The public's faith in political institutions remained largely maintained. The percentages of positive and negative responses to domestic policy were nearly comparable, at around 30% on average.
Finally, despite worsening economic conditions, rising discontent, and concerns about the future, Russians were unwilling to criticise the government. One plausible objection is that they do not link government performance to economic conditions. While some researchers (including Daniel Treisman, Quintin Beazer, and Ora John Reuter) have discovered evidence of such a link, the subject of attribution of blame is rarely asked in public opinion polls.
In Crisis Situations, Attribution of Responsibility— For the Levada Center, we commissioned a poll and two focus group sessions to discover if it is true that Russians do not ascribe responsibility for crisis management to the government. The study was conducted on June 27–28, 2020. It is representative of people over the age of eighteen and utilised standard stratified sampling to cover at least fifty places.
To begin with some descriptives, over half of the respondents (48.5 percent) said the economy was in "average" shape during the pandemic; 37% said it was "poor" or "very bad," and only roughly 10% thought it was in "good" shape. The crisis had worsened but not undermined household economic situations for half of the sample (53 percent). One-third of respondents said the economic crisis had no effect at all, while 15% said it had a significant impact.
How effective are the government's response to the economic crisis? Undoubtedly, the president has the support of the Russian people: 44 percent rated him as "very effective," while only 20% rated him as "very effective." In this regard, the federal government lags behind the president, with 48 percent of respondents rating it favourably and 25% negatively. The ruling party, mayors, and the State Duma all garnered the most negative feedback (41 percent, 38 percent, and 35 percent, respectively). Except for mayors, everyone in the executive branch is praised for how they handled the situation.
Similarly, the vast majority of respondents believed Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the current problem, with only 5% saying he had no responsibility and 81% saying he did. The mayors and United Russia were held responsible for the problem the least. In short, the majority of Russians believed that the president was accountable and effective in dealing with the crisis, and that the federal government was similarly responsible and competent. Russians viewed subnational CEOs as less accountable but also less effective, whilst legislative powers were viewed as responsible but ineffective.
Responding to the Crisis with Political Means--Are Russians prepared to defend their living standards in a crisis? About half of the respondents (49%) checked at least one item on the action plan, and even more (55%) deemed at least one step to be effective. The most often checked alternatives were signing a petition and contacting officials, with the latter being seen as the most effective. Following that was voting for the opposition and attending approved rallies. Only 7% of people asked stated they would participate in dangerous actions like unauthorised protests, and even fewer think risky actions were effective.
The current crackdown on Alexey Navalny's team's public protests is likely to erode popular support for such acts. Indeed, according to Levada Center polls, the percentage of people willing to join collective activities with economic demands fell by six percentage points between November 2020 and January 2021. (from 23 percent to 17 percent). However, the overall likelihood of protests increased from 25% to 43%, owing to rising inflation and unemployment.
Complex processes like the recent economic collapse have difficult political ramifications, especially when they occur with other extraordinary events like the epidemic in a volatile international environment. Furthermore, short-term results may differ from long-term repercussions. The Russian authorities have fared well so far in the 2020–2021 storm, but Russian society is far from calm. The rising costs of certain types of acts (such as greater fines and jail time) may encourage people to move to a less costly repertoire, such as voting for the opposition.
Tensions over electoral outcomes are anticipated to rise in light of the approaching parliamentary elections, the systemic opposition's flat ratings, and the Kremlin's concern with electoral manipulation. Similarly, the economic situation will not be remedied anytime soon, exacerbating public sentiment. This isn't the first time the dictatorship has had to deal with such a confluence of circumstances. However, it is unclear whether previous formulas will be effective again.