Putin’s self-destructing economy

This second period is usually depicted as two crises and one recovery, but it is more accurate to treat it as one long period without growth. As Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has admitted, Russia had not truly exited the previous crisis before it found itself in the midst of a new one. Viewed in this way, the rise and standstill periods appear complementary, with each running eight or nine years. And with the Russian economy now totally subjugated to politics, and the latter becoming more illiberal, there is little hope for recovery, even if sanctions are lifted and oil prices return to more normal levels.

Russia has weathered crises before, but neither in 1998 nor in 2008 did so many foreign companies abandon their investments. With its “counter-sanctions” against the European Union, tension with Turkey and proclamations that international treaties are overridden by ever-changing Russian law, the government has discouraged domestic and international investors from expanding. In the past year, more than 20 Western corporations, including Opel, Adobe Systems and Stockmann, have terminated their Russian businesses; around 30 production facilities owned by foreigners have been closed. Net emigration from Russia rose from 35,000 people a year from 2008 to 2010 to more than 400,000, by preliminary estimates, in 2015. I do not see any signs that all these trends might change.

If I’m right, and if the Russian economy contracts in 2016 as it did in 2015, it may well be that we have witnessed not another crisis but the start of a prolonged downturn — something akin to what took place in Venezuela from the second half of the 2000s. If so, the standstill phase will move not into a revival but a free fall that may last years — well into Putin’s fourth term (or fifth, depending on how you count) beginning in 2018.