Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 09, 2016

The politics of economics

Maybe Putin is not all-powerful, but by this analysis, he might get all the blame for economic problems.

Putin Took Credit for the Boom. Now There’s a Bust.
Today, the economic troubles that Mr. Putin [made] a big show of solving are back, only worse and involving far more intractable problems than just the “trivial greed” of tycoons…

Russia’s current crisis, though largely caused by market forces beyond the Kremlin’s control, notably a slump in the prices of oil and gas, has pushed Mr. Putin into a corner. After years of taking credit for a booming economy, which also had little to do with his actions, and casting himself as a can-do leader capable of untying the toughest economic and political knots, he faces a crisis that has exposed the stark limits of his power and prowess.

A recent rebound in oil prices has lifted hopes in the Kremlin that the worst of Russia’s economic storm has passed, but it has also highlighted just how much Mr. Putin’s fortunes depend on unpredictable and uncontrollable outside forces…

[T]hroughout his 16 years in power, whether as president or prime minister, Mr. Putin has presented an image of an omniscient and omnipresent leader interested in and capable of addressing his country’s most microscopic concerns…

On a nationally televised call-in show last month, Mr. Putin displayed omnivorous interest in the concerns of ordinary people. At the same time, he dropped his customary swagger in response to a flood of questions about the economy, acknowledging that this year there would be yet more contraction, instead of growth as he predicted on the same show last year.

“It is difficult to say exactly where the bottom lies,” he conceded. Russia, Mr. Putin said, “is going through a gray period.” …

The downturn seems to be taking a toll on Mr. Putin’s standing, or at least faith in his policies, as Russians’ fascination and delight with his foreign ventures wanes and pocketbook issues increasingly dominate public worries. Around half of those polled this year by the independent Levada Center said they thought Russia was moving in the “right direction,” compared with 64 percent last summer.

All the same, Mr. Putin remains hugely popular, with 73 percent of those polled in March saying they trusted the president. This is down from 83 percent in the same month last year but still far above what any Western leader can muster…

With low global energy prices and Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict crimping Russia’s prospects of recovery, the economy has hit a wall. It simply cannot compete with China, the United States or even the European nations that Russian state media constantly portray as fading has-beens. The easy and popular fixes the Kremlin used in the past to resuscitate the economy — or at least placate the public — have all been exhausted…

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