The economy may become archaic. Losing the critical moment of the crisis to “smoothly” introduce painful structural and modernizing reforms may have far fetching consequences for the country’s future. The ruling authorities most likely will not come up with the economic strategy of diversification that decreases the dependency on raw materials export and cures the reliance on oil. The missed opportunity will historically mark 2016 as the year that converted Russia into a “boring country”, and make its name synonymous to the offensive “banana republic” term.
Massive anti-government rallies may erupt in 2016. Collapsing incomes, growing inflation and poverty rates may further nourish public discontent against government policy and culminate into anti-government rallies, similar to the Bolotnaya Square protests in Moscow in 2011. The State Duma elections are scheduled for 2016 and the situation may become strikingly similar to 2011, when massive allegations of voting fraud brought thousands of angry people to the streets of Moscow and other major Russian cities. This time the authorities may try to enact the populist measures and increase social benefits prior to the elections in order to secure votes for the ruling “United Russia” party and avoid any protests. Amid Russia’s current economic turbulence, it is unlikely that even such measures would sufficiently soothe the growing public disappointments and stop the future demonstrators.
Corruption scandals may further fuel anti-government sentiments. Levada Center, the country’s single independent polling organization, indicated that omnipresent corruption bothers 29% of Russians. Interestingly enough, more Russians are now concerned about corruption rather than military conflict in Ukraine. The recent anti-corruption YouTube film about the prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika, sons’ alleged connections with the organized criminal gang of serial murders was watched by more than 4 million Russians. Overall, the anti-corruption sentiments will likely continue to grow in 2016 and find broader approval among the general public. Corruption will be associated with the government’s inefficiency and may add more votes to opposition parties and sparks for the protesters.
Communists may take over the Russian Duma. The Communist Party of Russia may win a large number of seats during the scheduled elections. This year, Russians may be more inclined to leftist and socialist slogans as a part of the public response to the deteriorating economic and social situation in the country. Furthermore, the Communists Party has a lengthy legacy of being the only real opposition force, against “United Russia”, with a sounding number of supporters. If the Russian Communist Party wins, it will put the agenda of structural reforms on a shelf and instead introduce destructive ideas of total government control over the private sector.
Wars will keep influencing Russia’s domestic affairs. The recent involvement into a costly military venture in Syria may last for an unknown period of time, perhaps until “Syrian forces reach the Euphrates River”, and will unlikely end in 2016. The risk of deploying Russian troops to Syria is increasing rapidly and if this happens, it would add additional pressure on the country’s crippling budget, which may set public opinion against the current foreign policy. In tandem, the “frozen conflict” in Ukraine may rekindle. The violation of the Minsk Agreements will imminently lead to additional international sanctions on the weakened Russian economy and affect the course of domestic affairs.
The upcoming year may be a turning a point in the country’s history. Deteriorating living standards and upcoming elections may cause a Thermidorian reaction of public unrest in 2016; leading us back to the proverbial struggle of “Fridge vs. TV”. As the majority of Russians will persist in blaming the West for Russia’s problems, the decreasing volumes of food in fridges will push many to reconsider the TV’s anti-Western blame game. Russians may turn away from external factors to explain daily misfortunes and start questioning their own government. In effect, the winner of this “Fridge vs. TV” battle will determine Russia’s future in 2016 and impact the many years to come.
*The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not represent those of The Political Analysis.