Maria Lipman,Visiting Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations
Jadwiga Rogoża, Senior Fellow, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW)
Jens Siegert, Head of the Moscow Office, Heinrich Böll Foundation
The exacerbating economic crisis in Russia has deepened concerns about the country’s unpredictability which were nurtured by its aggression against Ukraine and domestic political developments including a conservative and nationalistic backlash in the recent years. At the public debate organized Heinrich-Böll-Foundation and European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) with experts offering first-hand knowledge about Russia the most recent developments in the country were discussed and how they translate into foreign policy.
Maria Lipman, Visiting Fellow at ECFR, indicated 2 trends present nowadays in Russia. The first one refers to the so-called “consensus of emergency” – the widespread mood in the society which is mobilized by the conflict over Ukraine. Russians back Putin who is the only leader capable to protect them. The other trend relates to economic malaise. The economy has been struck by the drop in oil prices. The Russia’s credit rating is very likely to deteriorate. Already in 2012 the economic model, based on energy export, supported by Putin stopped to generate any further growth.
The economic changes go in pair with the conservative turn in the political system which has become more authoritarian. The current measures are to ensure that the regime prevails. The whole system has tilted towards strengthening the security and law enforcement sector. Recently not only media are under political pressure and censorship, but also the Internet, which so far has remained a relatively free area. Undoubtedly, Russia will remain on anti-modernization path. In the foreign affairs, it seems that following the intervention in Libya, Russia cannot trust the West any more, as it sees this move as a blow to its sovereignty
Jawiga Rogoża, OSW expert, agreed that conservatism is a way to preserve current government. This means top-down approach, more state control, personalized and centralized model of governance, use of oppressive measures against opposition and so-called ‘nationalization of elites’ – strict control of finances and foreign ties of the most wealthy Russians. Putin also refers to traditional family model and orthodox church values. However, this approach is purely instrumental. In this model Russia should draw values from inward, as all other is the extreme.
In the opinion of Jens Siegert, Head of the Moscow Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the annexation of Crimea strictly follows situation in the country. This act was possible due to existence of the hybrid regime in Russia, which tends to do two paradoxical things. On one hand it acts as democracy, and on the other it needs to wrestle its muscles to show its power. By showing off its power the regime can stay in charge of the country. This is why the history and subject of sovereignty are so important for Putin, who tries to reinforce the Russian empire, he always needs to present himself as a winner. The Russian TV and other media controlled or influenced by state are used to build an image of Putin as the only source of stability and truth whereas the West is portrayed as being hypocritical, lying, evil and posing a threat to Russia. That is the reason why he is so popular. But nobody would think that the 80% of the Russian society supporting him would ever for example go to the streets to actively stand on Putin’s side. Putin’s aim is to stay in power to reinforce the Russian empire.