Russia’s Bad Equilibrium

MOSCOW – After more than two years of economic contraction, Russia seems to have achieved some semblance of stability. Though economic growth is expected to reach only about 1% in 2017, the fear of economic destabilization that has permeated the country since its 2014 invasion of Crimea – which was met with crippling sanctions from the West – has all but evaporated. The combination of foreign-policy optimism, creature comforts, and domestic repression seems to be a potent elixir.

Just as in Leonid Brezhnev’s time, foreign policy is overshadowing Russia’s domestic politics. Unlike then, however, Russia’s prospects are looking up. US President Donald Trump has made clear his desire to improve relations with the Kremlin, and will reportedly meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.

The French presidential election, set for April, may also go Russia’s way. Both the center-right candidate, François Fillon, and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, are ardent friends of Putin, though centrist Emmanuel Macron, who is not, also stands a chance.

Russia’s own presidential election, set to take place in March 2018, appears much less momentous, because no change is expected, with Putin being reelected and Dmitri Medvedev staying on as prime minister. That appears to be acceptable to most Russians, at least to comfortable Muscovites.