MADRID, Spain – On March 18, the elections for the presidency of Russia took place. As we have become use to since the year 2000, the surprise is minimal on the victory of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin who as a favorite candidate has an advantage of up to 60 points in the polls with the second rival in contention, the candidate of the Communist Party Pavel Grudinin or the candidate Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of Antaloy Sobchak, former mayor of St. Petersburg, in which Vladimir Putin was deputy mayor.
Being one of the world leaders best valued, it is imperative to ask ourselves the question of why a leader, after 18 years of office, continues with an enviable strength over any western leader who would strive for half his popularity, even in the middle of his first term. In this particular case, we retract the events that have taken place since Putin’s last re-election in 2012, in which his support was quite minor, touching 63% of the total number of voters. It is therefore important to analyse that it has caused a leadership that seemed slightly weakened to have regained the support of its compatriots up to record levels.
A “special” anniversary
It is not a chance date to call these elections on March 18, anyone with a minimum of interest in foreign policy will have noticed: four years ago, on March 16, the referendum of annexation to Russia was held in Crimea and Sevastopol.
The context was very negative for Russia, after a violent change of government, branded by some international analysts as a coup, supported by the West in Ukraine, a state that had traditionally been close to Russia, changed to a government with very Western tendencies. Suddenly, all of Ukraine became hostile to Russia.
The situation was polarized between a part of the population very hostile to Russia, usually central and western Ukraine. And another went out to protest against that change of violent government that they considered illegitimate. Especially in the Crimea, which had been part of Russia until 1959, when the Ukrainian but Soviet leader Khrushchev included it in Ukraine. The Russian sentiment was very pronounced. A study of the Razumkov Center found that more than 70% of the Crimeans wanted to be reunited with Russia. It was not very difficult to spur the population more after a government emerged from the coup with neo-Nazis of Sbovoda and Pravij Sector patrolling streets.
Russia punched on the table, sends troops to the peninsula and in only a matter of days occupied all of Crimea to scenes of jubilation for all; well almost all, barring those from the Tatar minority and Ukrainian nationalists. The Ukrainian government became mute. Russia had pummelled the table, without hesitation, direct and clear. Putin projected an external image of strength and would not tolerate more unforeseen changes in its borders. The Russians saw it, saw how their country once again stood up against NATO and regained some of the lost glory.
More surprises in foreign policy
The Ukrainian case is special for Russia, but it does not stop there. The Russian citizens have seen in recent years how a clever Russian foreign policy paid off by making the federation a leading actor, recovering part of the influence that the USSR once had.
In Syria, Russia decided in 2015 to give another sovereign punch on the table, after a desperate request from the Syrian government, which saw it progressively losing meter by meter of its territory, especially after the disastrous capture of Palmira, Quaranteen and Maheen by ISIS, which placed the terrorist group on the verge of dividing Syria in two, and keeping note with the disastrous consequences that would have had. Until then they were the strongest actor in the race, the US-led international coalition had barely managed to stop them in the north, but they were advancing relentlessly; the victories in Palmyra against Syria and the victories in Ramadi and Baiji in Iraq hinted that the jihadist group was unstoppable.
Russia again took action in September 2015, although in this case exclusively in Syria, and took dozens of fighter-bombers to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda. In November 2015, just two months later, the Syrian army broke the siege on Kweires near Aleppo city, a base where 1,000 soldiers were trapped for 2 years and 11 months. And the fence broke in just a few weeks, something that until now was impossible to conceive. Something had changed, Russia was there.
The successes in December 2016 of crushing the jihadists in the decisive battle of Aleppo city or the end of the ISIS-imspored siege of Deir Ezzor in September 2017 corroborate the change in trend.
As for Turkey, we have seen since this country happened to shoot down a Russian fighter in Syria because of the hatred they professed, has actually led to an increasingly close relationship between Ankara and Moscow, with extensive trade agreements and with the sale by Russia of the jewel in the crown in terms of anti-aircraft defense, the S-400. All this with the clear idea of dividing NATO, quarrels that we can directly appreciate these days in the Afrin campaign and that show us and show the Russian citizens, the correctness of Russian politics again.
In Iraq, Russia entered quietly but forcefully, with help in the form of military equipment; Russia has replaced the US as the manager of Iraq’s oil and gas fields, all without raising their voices and with a hysterical USA when they see that their disastrous policy in the Middle East collapses under its own weight.
And in the same way, without making a noise, but as he has accustomed us in a forceful and clear way, Russia has entered the Balkans again. Cooperation pacts with Croatia, Serbia, support for the Serb Republic in Bosnia, gestures with Orbán, Hungarian prime minister and Bulgaria … besides a smaller number of small events, but which denote that Russia is back on its feet, and that is slowly changing the status quo, making nervous the great victims of this: Europe and the USA.
We consider more a priori minor successes but that show again that Russia is again “big” at the Geopolitical level:
• The reopening of the Russian base in Cuba, and the landing of Russian investments in this country.
• Reopening of a naval base in Vietnam.
• Agreement to build and use a Russian base in Port Sudan.
Shadows: Economy and Domestic Policy
This whole series of “achievements” has an unequivocal goal at the national level. In addition to strengthening like-minded entrepreneurs, a common practice in Russia, they try to mask the enormous deficiencies that Russia has at an economic or domestic security level.
Thus, since the crisis of 2008, in which the Russian economy slowed down enormously, Russia has continued to depend on exports of raw materials, without seeking investments in key sectors such as heavy industry.
The country, on the margins of Moscow and St. Petersburg, is mostly a relic of Soviet-era industries, which nobody wants or is interested in modernizing, something that is noticeable in the market, since they cannot even compete in light industry with other industries that matter, and even surpassing tariffs, are cheaper than many of the obsolete Russian industries.
If we add to this the enormous fluctuation in the prices of raw materials, in 2014 we found the perfect storm, so Saudi Arabia declared war on the rest of the oil producers, and attacked the price of it, sinking it from the approximate $110 a bareel to $28 in 2016. For a country so dependent on exports the blow was devastating, the ruble, went from changing in relation 40/1 with the euro to a relationship that even exceeded 100/1. Everything a disaster. The population lost a lot of purchasing power, and for a country that a good part of its quality consumer goods had to import them, it turned out to be a blow.
If we add to this the countermeasures of Russia for the sanctions imposed from the West by the invasion of Crimea, in which they mostly affected the importation of food products from Europe, generally, for example, cheaper to import than meat of Australian kangaroo, generated a devastating effect on the citizenship, which was impoverished remarkably while the prices did not stop rising.
As for the interior, Russia is a chaos, where corruption is rampant and mafias run by oligarchs, both affinities to Putin, and opposition have created serious security problems.
If we include some regional leaders who behave like caudillos of their own territories, we have the perfect climate for insecurity. The best example of this is Ramzan Kadyrov, Lord of Chechnya, who acts as a feudal lord, committing excesses that are sometimes allowed by the federal government in exchange for significantly containing the Islamist threat.
Being an opponent in Russia is a very high-risk sport. Anyone who dares to denounce the excesses of the government has greatly reduced its range of action. In some cases, with arrests (Navalni) in other cases with life (Nemtsov), as well as many other opponents to which the government silences or pressures with more indirect measures, such as the Levada center, which it calls “foreign agents” for receiving external financing.
But it’s not all the government’s fault. The opposition faces the legacy of Russia’s cooperation with the US in the Yeltsin era, a slab that can hardly be removed in the coming years. In addition to his inability to perform an accurate analysis of Russian society and how to contact it. Their Western values frighten the reactionary and conservative Russian society, which is also whipped, again by an active policy of the government in promoting the traditional values of the Orthodox Church.
Conclusion: A flight forward
We can see the successes of Russia as a great advance for the country, but the reality is that they are cosmetic if we appreciate them together with the country’s superlative economic problems, which the government does not want to deal with in depth, while the different power groups they fight among themselves and for maintaining the status quo.
If Russia does not face serious measures in terms of economy there will be no improvement in foreign policy to save the nefarious economy that continues to maintain the country. It is sad to see how nobody emphasizes this aspect while government, parliamentary “opposition” and extra-parliamentary opposition are fighting over other issues that pale beside it. What will Putin now that he’s won the elections? More of the same, a race forward, covering errors and bad policies with successes in foreign policy that do not contribute much to the economy of citizens?
Translated from Descrifrando la Guerra.