Boston College Expert: Russian Economy
office of news & public affairs
Political Science Associate Professor of the Practice
(617) 792-3800 (cell)
Christensen’s expertise is in Russian domestic politics, with a particular interest in social movements and civil society; the comparative study of social movements; and globalization and its implications for democracy and civil society development. He is currently working on a book project titled Semi-Peripheral Globalization, Social Movements, and the State in Post-Communist Russia. He is also the author of Russia’s Workers in Transition: Labor, Management, and the State Under Gorbachev and Yeltsin (Northern Illinois University Press).
Russia’s economy, skewed towards its energy sector and deep reserves, may be likened to a stool resting on just two legs. Now that the ruble is plunging amidst record-low oil prices, that stool may soon topple over, forcing uncomfortable political implications and scenarios for President Vladimir Putin.
"The lack of balance and broad-based modernization of the Russian economy in the wake of the Soviet collapse is something that we have known about for a very long time," says Boston College Political Science Associate Professor of the Practice Paul Christensen, Ph.D. “The Russian leadership has also known that economic stability in Russia depended on the price of oil remaining above a benchmark point.”
With the price of oil dropping by the day, and the ruble losing more than half its value as a result, Christensen says widespread social unrest with protests are unlikely, as is a fundamental break within the Russian elite who would seek to oust Putin.
“You have to keep in mind that Putin's system has created a situation in which the political, intelligence, and economic elites are deeply and directly welded to the state and to Putin himself, and short of a full-blown state crisis or collapse, are unlikely to defect,” says Christensen, an expert on Russian domestic politics who has worked and studied in Russia numerous times over the years. “The most likely scenario, at least in the short to medium term, is that Putin and the Russian state elites will respond by heightening nationalistic rhetoric, blaming the U.S. and Europe for trying to undermine Russian state sovereignty; tightening the screws on dissent within Russia as needed; and more aggressively courting economic links with non-Western countries - the recent trip to India and economic agreements with China are cases in point.”
With the White House indicating President Obama will sign congressional legislation that increases sanctions on Russia, the economic problems there may only deteriorate, and that is expected to create ripple effects.
“First, a major crisis in Russia could well have a serious negative impact on the global economy as a whole--Europe first, but the threat of contagion is always there,” says Christensen. “Second, an economic crisis in Russia is likely to make Russia more assertive and confrontational politically rather than less, making it less likely for Russia to agree to compromises in Ukraine for example--quite the opposite of the avowed purpose of Obama's Russia ‘policy,’ unsurprisingly.
“Third, a true economic crisis is going to hurt ordinary Russians first and foremost, which we should care about out of a sense of basic human decency, particularly as the Russian winter is well underway. Additionally, insofar as Russians believe Putin's arguments about the West's role in undermining Russia, this is only going to increase anti-American sentiment in the country, which will continue to have a negative effect on our relations long after Putin is no longer on the scene.”
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