Despite Russia's economic woes, the re-election of President Vladimir Putin seems certain. His supporters in the media help push the narrative that things would be much worse without him, says DW's Miodrag Soric.
Castles in the sky cost nothing to build, but the upkeep can be expensive. Vladimir Putin has promised Russian voters in this year's presidential election more money for education and health care, higher wages, economic growth, a more rigorous fight against corruption and better infrastructure. He is essentially repeating past election promises on which he has failed to deliver. In interviews and press conferences he has promised everything under the sun. But will things really change after he wins a fourth term?
The re-Sovietization of Russia
Hardly. The government will just tinker along as it has in the past, costing the state billions of rubles. Economic reforms remain a dream. In reality, the re-Sovietization — in other words, the nationalization of the economy — continues. Three-quarters of Russia's gross domestic product is generated by state-controlled companies and that number is rising, fueling inefficiency, excessive bureaucracy and a lack of competition.
The banking sector exemplifies this trend. Russia's central bank has taken over a number of financial institutions, and it continues to finance those that have been poorly managed — always at taxpayer expense. In industries that the state has classified as extremely important to national security, foreign participation is no longer allowed. It is no wonder that a growing number of foreign companies are turning their backs on the Russian market.
Russia's growth has been weak for years. The economy has essentially been stagnate since 2013. To turn that around, the state must allow more competition, fight creeping bureaucracy and corruption, and allow the courts to do their job without outside influence. But those changes remain a pipe dream, because they would put Putin's power at risk. After all, many of his political allies, friends and supporters feed off the state.
Leading opposition politician Alexei Navalny's popularity among young Russians stems from the fact that he publicly and fearlessly denounces the corruption of the country's political class. In truth, the self-important Navalny is hardly an alternative to the current government. Attacking graft is not an economic plan. But Navalny has at least brought the issue of corruption, and all that comes with it, to the forefront of the public discourse among Russia's youth.
The influence of state-controlled media
Russians will ultimately re-elect Putin in the March 18 vote, despite the struggling economy and its poor prospects for improvement. As state-controlled media tell the Russian electorate, the alternatives to Putin would mean chaos. They raise fears that upsetting the status quo could return the country to the upheavil of the 1990s. Right now, words count more than action. But sooner or later, Russia will have to address its troubled economy.