By Isaac Simon
Vladimir Putin’s victory in Russia’s presidential election last week should come as a surprise to no one. His obsession with global power, for both Russia and himself, has lead to a reign which will likely continue into the next decade.
Putin has undoubtedly been Russia’s strongest individual since the dawn of the millennia. Yet his intentions of reshaping Russia as part of a new world older bears striking comparison to that of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s expansion into Ukraine, along with their involvement in the United States’ election system, is a testament to its breach of sovereignty. But for Putin, his ignorance is masked in cleverness and marked with disdain for Western powers that try to dampen his authority.
In the weeks leading up to the Russian elections, Putin spoke with regret about the fall of the Soviet Union. When speaking at a forum in Kaliningrad Putin suggested he could “reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union if he could.”
If Putin’s pronouncement suggests that he lacks the capability, his national aspirations certainly mirror the hopes and dreams of the Russian people. According to polling results conducted by the Levada Center from November 2017, over 50 percent of Russians regret the fall of the Soviet Union.
Not only had “Soviet sentiment” been positive in every poll by a majority of Russians since polling began in 1992, such approval reached an apex in 2000 when Putin became president. One could see this position as a textbook example of Putin speaking for the people.
In 2005, he said that the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. is “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” As the longest tenured Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin, Putin’s unveiling of Russia’s new weapons program in his State of the Nation address earlier this month advertised military capabilities capable of striking Florida and marked a new low in Russia-U.S relations.
There is a considerable correlation between U.S.-led sanctions and the state of Russia’s economy. Twenty million Russians live below the poverty line.
During Putin’s first term as president, Russia’s economy experienced an economic boom with average growth of 7 percent annually. Such growth teetered off around 2010, but was able to capitalize on low oil prices which resulted from the 2008 recession.
Russia’s biggest problem stems from its dependency on imported oil. Transitional economic graphs illuminate this dependence on oil, and suggests how the country’s success moves with the price per barrel. Thirty-two percent of Russians are employed by its industry sector.
However, it is a country which still heavily relies on imported oil. Historically speaking, crude oil profits account for half of the government’s revenue.
This over-dependency on imported oil proves costly to an economy that is still trying to rebound from its two-year recession in 2015. Russia’s second and fourth quarter GDP growth in 2015 dipped by 3 percent. It has since bounced back from this slump, increasing by 2.5 during, “the second quarter of 2017.” Growth is expected to remain stagnant through 2020 with varying GDP growth of 1.3 percent and 1.7 percent.
However, Putin does not have a promising plan for stimulating growth in the region. Stagnant industry, coupled with unpredictable oil prices, has put Russia in a bind. This is partly why Putin has put significant emphasis on foreign policy.
As previously mentioned, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine led to geopolitical unrest in the region essentially “isolating” Russia as a global power.
But its presence in Syria, with its continual support of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad in its ongoing Civil war against the Syrian rebels, has put the U.S. in an impossible negotiation position. Russia’s suspected position of the “former Russian spy Sergei Skripal” in London is the latest example of Putin exercising authoritarian control.
Cyberattacks by Russian hackers have become commonplace in this country. Whether it be social media bots or cyber thieves, all behavior condoned by the Kremlin, the U.S. has made it clear that they are unprepared for the kind of attacks that lie ahead.
Putin’s hope for recreating a soviet style economy and a “Eurasian economic union” is rather apparent. Putin’s insistence on land acquisition is similar to Stalin’s invasion of Eastern Poland during World War II. The sanctions the U.S levied upon several Russian enterprises this month is likely to further isolate Putin’s wish for economic prosperity.
Given the prospects of a trade war between the U.S. and China, it is unclear how Russia can capitalize on such foreign fragility. And yet, as his people continue to depend on him, Putin’s regional power continues to mount.