Russia under Putin 4.0: Stagnation and discontent

23-10-2019

The March 2018 presidential elections were a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin. Since then, however, an unpopular decision to raise the retirement age by five years has cost him some of his support and triggered a wave of protests. In summer 2019, Moscow saw the biggest anti-government rallies for several years over the authorities' decision to exclude independent, 'non-system' opposition candidates from local elections. Even though the decision was upheld, Putin allies struggled to hold onto their city council majority; they have also done less well than usual in other recent elections. Protests and electoral setbacks are linked to growing discontent – not only due to the pension reform but also to grinding poverty and inequality. Contrasting with the wealth of oligarchs, millions of Russians struggle to make ends meet as incomes register their fifth consecutive year of decline. Despite emerging from recession in 2016, the economy continues to stagnate. At the start of his presidency, Putin announced ambitious targets and massive investments to re-ignite growth, but these seem unlikely to bring more than modest improvements. Growing discontent is not expected to threaten Putin and his United Russia party's grip on power, given that Russians see no real alternatives. In the longer term, United Russia will probably hold onto its parliamentary majority in the next national elections in 2021, while Putin will see out his fourth, and probably final, presidency until its expiry in 2024. Even after that, there is a strong possibility that Putin, or at least a close ally, will remain in charge. In the past, confrontation with the West has helped to distract attention from the country's domestic problems and shore up support for Putin. However, given the need to boost the economy, the Kremlin may be considering options for improved relations in order to get Ukraine-related sanctions lifted, although it is still too early to say whether this will actually happen.

The March 2018 presidential elections were a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin. Since then, however, an unpopular decision to raise the retirement age by five years has cost him some of his support and triggered a wave of protests. In summer 2019, Moscow saw the biggest anti-government rallies for several years over the authorities' decision to exclude independent, 'non-system' opposition candidates from local elections. Even though the decision was upheld, Putin allies struggled to hold onto their city council majority; they have also done less well than usual in other recent elections. Protests and electoral setbacks are linked to growing discontent – not only due to the pension reform but also to grinding poverty and inequality. Contrasting with the wealth of oligarchs, millions of Russians struggle to make ends meet as incomes register their fifth consecutive year of decline. Despite emerging from recession in 2016, the economy continues to stagnate. At the start of his presidency, Putin announced ambitious targets and massive investments to re-ignite growth, but these seem unlikely to bring more than modest improvements. Growing discontent is not expected to threaten Putin and his United Russia party's grip on power, given that Russians see no real alternatives. In the longer term, United Russia will probably hold onto its parliamentary majority in the next national elections in 2021, while Putin will see out his fourth, and probably final, presidency until its expiry in 2024. Even after that, there is a strong possibility that Putin, or at least a close ally, will remain in charge. In the past, confrontation with the West has helped to distract attention from the country's domestic problems and shore up support for Putin. However, given the need to boost the economy, the Kremlin may be considering options for improved relations in order to get Ukraine-related sanctions lifted, although it is still too early to say whether this will actually happen.