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Except for the Coffee Shop Crowd, Putin's Support for 2015 Is Solid

There's a simple reason for it: people remember the chaos, the crime and the poverty before he appeared


This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at openDemocracy


Protecting budget revenues, in rouble terms, also means that the government is able to raise payments to pensioners and to most workers paid out of the public purse.

That is over 20% of the national workforce, and that expands to a much larger share of the population with dependents and extended families.

President Putin confirmed in his recent press conference that pensions will rise in line with the headline rate of inflation in 2015, and I expect the majority of public sector workers will get the same.

This would not be possible if the rouble had been supported at a higher level against the US dollar as the federal budget would be facing a very large deficit in 2015 instead of a relatively modest hit.

The politics

Pensioners and public sector workers form a large part of President Putin’s still solid support base.

The promised inflation-matching increases will protect most from the economic ravages to come. It will also protect Putin’s approval rating.

Not at the recent record high levels for sure, but nearer the long run average, above 60%. In this regard, talk that says the president’s position is vulnerable is misplaced.

No question, there will be loud grumblings in the Moscow coffee shops (and in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod …).

Opposition numbers will likely swell over the next six months as the economy slides and the middle class bears the brunt of the decline.

It is also reasonable to assume that some oligarchs and business leaders are less than happy with current events and trends.

But, while that might be enough to destabilise a government or leader in most countries of the world, we are still a very long way from that being a realistic prospect in Russia.

President Putin is genuinely popular amongst the majority for some very basic reasons: people remember the chaos, the crime and the poverty in the years before he appeared.

They remember how irrelevant Russia had become in the world and they recall how little hope there was for the future. I saw it first hand in 1998 and 1999.

Yes, the economy and lifestyles have greatly improved with the help of $3 trillion worth of hydrocarbon earnings amassed since 2000 but, for all that, Putin is the leader associated with the transformation of living conditions and the renewed pride of people in their country.


Hence, Putin’s emphasis that this crisis is only a blip and that even though it may last for two years, growth resumption is then inevitable.

That is a key message because, despite his reluctance to declare it, Vladimir Putin otherwise gives the appearance of having every intention of staying in the Kremlin until May 2024.

To that end, ensuring his core support base is protected from the economic decline is the number one priority.

Allowing the rouble to slide ensures that remains possible.


Chris Weafer is the co-founder of Macro Advisory, and former Chief Strategist at Sberbank CIB. He served for four years as Chief Strategist with Uralsib Financial Corporation and for five years with Alfa Bank.


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