King’s experts: Dr. Sam Greene shines light on Russia crisis

Professor Sam GreeneImage: Professor Sam Green, Director of the King's Russia Institute

King’s has made it a priority to cultivate a more expansive understanding of the mechanisms that drive change in a globalized world through the work and research of its six Global Institutes. Since it was established in 2012, the Russia Institute has become a widely valued resource and hub for discussion and debate, connecting Russian and global audiences in the cultural and creative sectors, education, business and government.

It has never been timelier to look closely at Russia, at its role in the world and at its prospects for the future. In the midst of geopolitical conflict and economic turmoil, Russia stands on the threshold of dramatic change, as the Director of the King’s Russia Institute, Dr. Sam Greene, elucidates the near-impossible mission of deconstructing the institutional framework and incentives with which Vladimir Putin is operating.

Can you describe how the economic crisis in Russia has affected public support for Putin?

Support remains strong for Putin and the foreign policy course in and around Ukraine – part of that obviously is determined by the fact that there are only three key television channels, all government-controlled. Even with the internet, there’s a very dominant and powerful message. While it is true that Russians have lived through harder times, the reality is that Putin delivered 14 years of increased living standards, incomes and prosperity and for the first time since he came to power, Russians are seeing their incomes decrease and prospects diminish – and that will eventually put real pressure on him.

How effective are the sanctions from the West, or do they just demonstrate to Russians that the EU and US are enemies?

It is important to remember that the economic sanctions are not targeted at the Russian population but at the very top of the political hierarchy. Their goal is to try to put some distance between the Russian ruling elite and Putin’s Kremlin. Although broader problems in the Russian economy with falling oil prices and devaluing currency are made worse by the sanctions, it has not been the aim of European or American policy to create hardship for Russian people. Western governments understand that Russian citizens are as much hostage in this situation as the Ukrainian people.

Ukraine was the big flashpoint in 2014, but what has the impact been on other neighbouring countries?

Putin is pursuing a specific goal in Ukraine, which he may or may not be able to achieve. As other parts of the former Soviet Union have moved closer to Europe, particularly Georgia and Moldova, there has been serious political and economic pressure from Moscow, but I don’t see any indication that this will turn into military pressure. However, it is clear that Russia cares very much about its influence in its backyard and has demonstrated in Ukraine the lengths it is willing to go to back up that influence.

What do you think Putin ultimately wants and sees as his long-term vision?

Putin’s goal at the moment is survival; he has to make sure that he can still govern the country six months down the road. He doesn’t have the luxury of long-term planning. I don’t think that he or anybody else in power sees a future that involves a return to the Soviet Union. Russia depends very much on trade and access to international capital markets, and Russian people have become avid consumers of international culture and accustomed to being able to travel, so there is really nothing to be gained from cutting that off. The question is if and how Putin can begin to change the conversation into a more positive one.

>> Find out more about the King's Russia Institute.

 Article published: April, 2015




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