Putin’s Economic Crisis
Much of the dialogue surrounding Russia’s sudden withdrawal from Syria portrays Vladimir Putin as a scheming mastermind who defeated the Obama administration in an Syrian proxy war. While Putin attempts to make a show of Russian military strength, he can’t afford the muscle show in Syria anymore. Putin is broke.
We’ve all seen the shirtless pictures of Putin riding on horses and hunting. These images, along with the Russian military, are part of a massive propaganda campaign to restore a sense of national pride in Russia. Putin’s efforts to increase nationalism stem from his attempt to retain control of the masses and loyalty from his supporters while the economy crashes. The state of the insecure economy is nothing new to Russia, but after several years of economic turmoil, this drop in oil prices could greatly diminish Putin’s popularity.
The Russian economy, which relies heavily on the petroleum industry, has been in shambles since 2015. International sanctions, a drop in the price of oil, and structural instability of the market decimated the economy. Russia’s GDP shrank by about 5%, and on top of that, the price of crude oil plummeted again to a low of USD 30 a barrel in February. The government gets nearly half of its revenue from oil and natural gas, and right now, the budget assumes the price of oil is USD 50 a barrel. If the price of oil does not rise soon, Russia’s GDP growth will take another hit this year.
Though Putin’s popularity remains shockingly high throughout years of recession, as a result of numerous propaganda campaigns, it is starting to fall as Russians watch their money funnel into a war in Syria and a failing economic system. Putin made a risky play in Syria; he chose to risk further ruining the economy in hopes of solidifying Russian influence in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad is Putin’s last ally in the Middle East, and if rebel fighters overthrew Assad, Putin would face the consequences. Russia’s influence has faded since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and another perceived “loss” of Syria to the Americans cannot bode well for Putin in Russia. In addition to facing the anger of the populace, Putin also has to face the Kremlin and explain his failure, which could ultimately result in his impeachment. Rather than risk this, Putin chose to fight in Syria, and it happened to pay off. He did effectively eliminate most of the rebels with his bombing campaign and reinforce Assad’s regime, but his underlying weakness shows in the sudden withdraw from Syria. Putin had to leave, because he cannot afford to stay.
Russia is not a military superpower. Reinforcing Russia’s military might and influence worldwide is only a short term fix to boost Putin’s dying popularity. People will not be satisfied with Putin if he does fix the economy, because at the end of the day, Russian nationalism won’t put food on the table.
- Jessica Steele