May 14, 2018

From the Presidential Elections in Russia to V. Putin's Inauguration

The main political event in Russia at the beginning of May was the next official re-introduction of V. Putin as the head of the Russian state as part of his inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2018. Despite the rather short period of time since the presidential election in the country on March 18, 2018 (held on the 4th anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Crimea), the developments in the Russian Federation allow us to sum up the first results of the actual beginning of the next stage of Putin's staying in power.

This issue arouses a special interest after V. Putin's inaugural speech, in which he traditionally emphasized the “revival of Russia” and its ability to “address the challenges of time”. At this, he signed a new “May Decree” on national goals and strategic objectives of the Russian Federation through to 2024. Like Putin's previous decree of similar content, issued in May 2012, however, and has never been implemented, the document has a purely populist character of socio-economic orientation.

Unfortunately, a significant part of Russian citizens could not understand the true nature of Putin's regime and all the consequences of his ruling the Russian Federation. For example, according to sociological surveys, the main achievements of Putin's authorities are “returning to Russia the status of a great and respectable state” (47 % of respondents), stabilization of the situation in the North Caucasus (38 %), and retention of the country from collapse (27 %).

At the same time, unlike in previous years, nobody any longer mentions plans for the expansion of the “Russian world”, which were the main ideological basis for Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. By the way, V. Putin himself does not mention either the “Russian world” or Ukraine, or the “protection of Russian compatriots abroad”, which, several years ago, were the priorities of his foreign policy.

Today, in Russia nobody any longer mentions plans for the expansion of the “Russian world”

And the reason for such changes is the failure of such a policy, due to which Russia not only has not become a really “great and respectable” state, but on the contrary has become bogged down in internal and external problems. To date, all of them have reached a qualitatively new level, which is exactly what can be considered the main outcome of those fifty days from the reelection of V. Putin as the President of the Russian Federation until his inauguration. What have these seven weeks shown?

 

Firstly, the failure of Moscow's attempts to influence the West's politics with the help of nuclear blackmail. This is evidenced by the USA and NATO's reaction to Putin's address to the RF Federal Assembly on March 1, with open threats about Russia's readiness to use nuclear weapons against its opponents. Contrary to similar threats that were supported by large-scale exercises of all components of the Russian nuclear triad, the USA has exacerbated its pressure on Russia, let alone has not changed its attitude to it. Thus, under the “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, at the beginning of April 2018, the United States introduced a new package of personal sanctions against V. Putin's friends and associates, who are the backbone of his power and control the bulk of the Russian economy. As a result of this, as well as the collapse of the Russian stock market, the 50 richest Russians in total lost over 11.7 billion US dollars. And exactly in a month — on May 9, 2018, new sanctions were imposed by the United States against a number of Russian defense structures involved in violating the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As a result of sanctions, in one day the 50 richest Russians in total lost over 11.7 billion US dollars
As a result of sanctions, in one day the 50 richest Russians in total
lost over 11.7 billion US dollars

Moreover, Washington's frank answer to Moscow's nuclear blackmail was the USA and its allies' missile strikes on B. Assad's chemical weapons sites in Syria on April 14, 2018. Thus, the United States threw down a direct challenge to the Kremlin and reaffirmed the USA's role as a leading center of power in the world, capable of defending its own interests without regard to Russia with its nuclear ambitions. Instead, despite the possession of nuclear weapons, Russia has shown complete groundlessness of its claims to the role of a “great world power”, capable of countering the USA as an equal.

 

Secondly, the consolidation of Russia in the category of “malicious actors” and further growth of its international isolation. Another indication of such a trend was the coordinated decision of about 30 countries about the expulsion of Russian “diplomats”, and in fact — the spies, in response to the poisoning by Russian special services of the former Russian GRU officer, S. Skripal, in the British city of Salisbury. All in all, more than 150 Russian diplomats were expelled in March 2018, and the Russian consulate in the American city of Seattle was closed — an event unprecedented in character, which showed the seriousness of the world's perceiving Moscow's global actions to undermine international security and to violate the sovereignty of other countries. At this, the USA, NATO and the leading EU countries have actually recognized Russia as their main enemy.

A response to the poisoning in Salisbury was the coordinated decision of about 30 countries about the expulsion of Russian “diplomats”
A response to the poisoning in Salisbury was the coordinated decision
of about 30 countries about the expulsion of Russian “diplomats”

In its turn, on April 24, 2018, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in the resolution “On the State of Emergency…”, which deals with the cases of suspension of certain articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (today, this option has been activated by three countries — Ukraine after Russia's aggression, France after terrorist attacks and Turkey after the attempted coup), recognized the “Russia's effective control” of the uncontrolled by Kyiv territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. So, the PACE has in fact recognized the fact of their occupation by Moscow and made it responsible for the situation in the so-called “DPR” and “LPR”.

 

Thirdly, the existence and further deepening of the systemic crisis in the Russian economy and other vital for the country spheres. According to the “Rosstat”' estimates, published in early May, despite the significant growth of world oil prices, the GDP growth in Russia has not made more than 0.4 % (that is, within the statistical error). However, even this figure has been achieved solely by stimulating the growth of domestic trade by increase in lending to the population and businessmen. To date, the total volume of loans has already reached 11 trillion rubles without any guarantees of their return due to the fall of real incomes of both, ordinary citizens and businessmen. Of course, this creates problems with the return of Russia's external borrowings (taken under state guarantees), which are used exactly to provide domestic loans. According to the forecast by the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, already in 1.5–2 years this situation will become catastrophic.

The GDP growth in Russia An increase in lending in Russia
The GDP growth and an increase in lending in Russia

An indicator of the systemic crisis in Russia is also the growing number of all sorts of emergencies, including tragic ones. In particular, the loudest of them were the fire in the “Winter Cherry” shopping center in the city of Kemerovo on March 26, 2018 (over 60 people died, mostly children) and the “rubbish” crisis in Moscow region, which caused a conflict between local authorities and the Kremlin.

 

Against this background, recently, NATO and the EU have taken a number of demonstrative steps to support Ukraine, which is virtually the main outpost of the West in curbing the neo-imperial policy of Russia. First of all, we mean the actual recognition of Ukraine's right to NATO and the EU membership, which was previously a major problem in its relations with Western partners.

For example, April 18–19, 2018, for the first time a meeting of the NATO Military Committee at the level of military representatives was held in Ukraine, where the strategic directions of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO were considered and clarified, as well as practical issues of strengthening of the Ukrainian Army. As usual, NATO meetings are held in member countries or candidate countries for membership in the Organization. Thus, this was another challenge to Russia, which considers the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO as a “red line” and a critical threat to its interests and security.

In turn, in the context of Ukraine's European integration, illustrative was the meeting of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, held on April 18–19, 2018. The meeting adopted a resolution, in which for the first time was recognized Ukraine's right to raise the question of acquiring EU membership (in accordance with Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty) if it meets the relevant criteria.

 

Under these circumstances, the Kremlin's only tools to create an impression of Russia's being a “great world state” were only massive “fake” propaganda and demonstration of military force within the framework of a military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2018. More than 30 thousand servicemen, 160 pieces of military equipment, 75 helicopters and aircraft participated in the event. For the first time were shown “Terminator” tank support combat vehicle, unmanned aerial vehicles, multipurpose robotic systems, Su-57 multifunctional fighters, and the so-called hypersonic missile system “Kinzhal” (“Dagger”), which is said to have no analogues in the world.

However, despite Putin's statement in his address to the RF Federal Assembly, even by military power Russia cannot equate with the USA, let alone overcome it. This was demonstrated by the United States, which deployed for the operation in Syria USS “Harry S. Truman” Carrier Strike Group (since May 3, this year, including a cruiser, four guided- missile destroyers and at least two submarines, all in all up to 60 strike aircrafts and 250 cruise missiles), which, by its strike potential, actually overpowers the entire Russian Navy.

Even by military power Russia cannot equate with the USA, let alone overcome it

And even more so, on the eve of Putin's inauguration, the US leadership decided to reactivate the US Navy Second Fleet with a zone of responsibility in the North Atlantic. In the times of the latest “Cold War”, this fleet was intended for actions against the USSR, and will now perform similar tasks in the confrontation between the United States and the Russian Federation.

 

Despite the fact that V. Putin is supported by the majority of the Russian population, these trends already have a very significant impact on public opinion. If nothing else, almost 90 % of Russian citizens advocate the need for profound changes in the country, which is a strong signal to the Russian rulers.

 

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