- Jul 17, 2020
- Reaction score
- Springfield MO
- Political Leaning
The origins of the war in Ukraine lie in Russian economic stagnation, corruption and the president’s dwindling popularityGood article on how Putin used Crimea and is using Ukraine as a dog and pony show to try to bolster his increasing unpopularity due to economic problems, and his need for increased repression against his own citizens.
“The fact that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine at huge economic cost to Russia does not mean the economy does not matter to him. On the contrary, economic performance — or, rather, underperformance — played a key role in his decision. As he could no longer deliver income growth, or at least convince Russians the economy is doing better than it could otherwise, he tried to replay the 2014 Crimea scenario. This might have worked, but he miscalculated.
Putin’s aggression has brought material devastation and human tragedy to Ukrainians. But the war has also destroyed Russia’s economy. In 2022, the country’s gross domestic product will shrink by at least 11 per cent — the worst recession since the early 1990s.
However, as Putin’s centralisation of power promoted corruption and stifled competition, his economic model lost steam. After the recovery from the global financial crisis, Russian GDP growth slowed almost to zero. As incomes stopped growing, Putin’s popularity declined substantially as well. According to the independent Levada Center, Putin’s approval rating fell from a peak of 88 per cent in September 2008 to the low 60s in late 2013.
Putin’s corrupt model protected his proxies at the expense of ordinary Russians. In 2019, Russian GDP was 6 per cent above its pre-Crimea level, but real incomes of Russian households were 7 per cent below their 2013 peak.
Putin tried to convince Russians that their stagnating living standards were better than any potential alternative. However, this narrative was increasingly hard to spin as younger Russians evaded propaganda and circumvented censorship through social media. By April 2020, Putin’s approval fell to a historically low 59 per cent.
Running out of options, Putin returned to his 2014 recipe — hoping that a short victorious war would once again raise his popularity despite the lack of economic success. This time, however, he gravely miscalculated. He overestimated his military strength, under-appreciated Ukrainians’ courage and will to defend their country, and did not expect the unity and resolve of the western response. Dictators are prone to making such mistakes, especially those who, like Putin, eliminate critics, suppress independent media and stifle debate in and outside the system.
The consequences of Putin’s aggression are catastrophic for Russia’s economy and deadly for Russian politics. Before the war, he was a spin dictator, pretending to be a democrat and relying on money and manipulation of information. Once he saw that 2022 is not 2014, he moved to Przeworski’s third pillar: fear. A week after the war started, he closed down the few remaining independent media and introduced wartime censorship.
Borrowing from Adolf Hitler, he now refers to antiwar protesters as “national traitors” and threatens to “spit them out like a fly”. Putin’s regime has completed its reversion from a 21st-century spin dictatorship to a 20th-century dictatorship based on fear. Unfortunately, this is what Russia will look like until he is gone.”
Subscribe to read | Financial Times
News, analysis and comment from the Financial Times, the worldʼs leading global business publication