So long, 2020: Another year passes & despite Western predictions, warnings & wishful thinking, Russia fails to collapse… again
30 Dec, 2020 10:07 / Updated 1 hour ago
FILE PHOTO. © Sputnik / Evgeny Odinokov
By Paul Robinson, a professor at the University of Ottawa. He writes about Russian and Soviet history, military history, and military ethics, and is author of the Irrussianality blogRussia is often portrayed as a giant with feet of clay. If pushed hard enough, the assumption is that it will collapse. Yet, the experience of 2020 suggests that its foundations are stronger than many people imagine.
The Russian capacity for hardship is legendary. So too is the country’s ability to deal with, and overcome, adversity. From the Time of Troubles through the revolutions of 1917, the Civil War, Stalinist repression, the Second World War, the collapse of communism, and the economic and social travails of the 1990s, Russia has displayed a remarkable resilience.
“We cannot escape suffering,” wrote the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, once upon a time; “it is our fate and we must come to terms with it.”ALSO ON RT.COMRussia reveals it has world’s 3rd-highest overall Covid-19 deaths after US & Brazil, per capita numbers similar to rest of Europe
The year 2020 has been no exception. Covid-19, economic recession, internal protests, international sanctions, and war and revolution on the country’s periphery have combined to give Russia its own version of what Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in a different context called an “annus horribilis.”
Almost inevitably, the problems of 2020 led many commentators to forecast economic disaster and rising political discontent. Thus, back in the spring, the WSJ claimed that “the coronavirus could imperil Putin’s presidency.”
“The situation in Russia is bad and likely to get worse,”predicted the Spectator.
And yet, at the end of it all, Russia and its government look likely to emerge from 2020 looking quite strong. Somehow or other, they’ve absorbed whatever’s been thrown at them, and come out, if not unscathed, at least relatively intact.
Russia has indeed suffered badly in 2020. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova declared this week that official figures for deaths from Covid-19 were probably wrong by a factor of three. The real death toll is around 186,000, the third largest in the world. This puts Russia’s per capita death rate at around the same level as the worst-hit Western European states, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Spain.ALSO ON RT.COMDo lockdowns reduce Covid-19 deaths? Russia’s experience says perhaps not, as economy defies catastrophic trends seen elsewhere
Covid-19 arrived in Russia relatively late, but the government can be accused of repeating many of the mistakes of other European countries, reacting too slowly and then relaxing its lockdown before the first wave of the virus was fully under control. The government’s performance has been somewhat so-so – not the worst in the world, but also far from the best.
The cost of Covid-19 is economic as well as human. Russia’s GDP is expected to fall by about four percent this year. Coming after a decade of sluggish growth, this recession was the last thing that Russians needed. They have good reason to be dissatisfied with their economic lot.READ MOREWho will be Russia’s next president? Veteran nationalist Zhirinovsky names eight possible candidates to eventually succeed Putin
From the point of view of domestic politics, the main event this year was the revision of the Russian Constitution. The process began when President Vladimir Putin gave a speech promising to amend the constitution in a way that would pass some power from the president to the parliament. By the time the process was over, something very different had happened. Power, if anything, was centralized even further, while a last-minute change gave Putin the right to run again for office in 2024.
Arguably, this was a missed opportunity to tweak the Russian political system in a more democratic direction. Instead, a series of measures, such as the labelling for the first time of individuals as ‘foreign agents’, have added to the impression that the Russian state has become increasingly oppressive.
Meanwhile, on the external front, Russia has come under increasing pressure from foreign powers. The US has withdrawn from key arms control treaties and has imposed a series of economic sanctions against Moscow. These include sanctions designed to derail the construction of the North Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany.
Turkey has also caused the Kremlin problems, getting in its way in Syria, and backing Azerbaijan in its successful war against Russia’s ally in the Caucasus, Armenia. Mass protests against another Russian ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and a revolution in Kyrgyzstan, added to the sense of instability in Russia’s near abroad.
All in all, therefore, 2020 was not a great year for Moscow. Nevertheless, the predictions of the doom-mongers have proven to be mistaken.
For although the Russian economy has suffered from the pandemic, it has coped better than that of most other European countries. The four-percent fall in Russia’s GDP compares with eight to nine percent in much of the continent, and over 10 percent in the UK. The Russian state is ending the year with a budget surplus and nearly $200 billion tucked away in its reserve fund. Russian GDP is expected to grow around three percent in 2021, meaning that Russians begin the year relatively confident that things are about to get better.ALSO ON RT.COMPutin ready to take Russian-made Covid-19 vaccine as regulators approve extension of Sputnik V rollout to all age groups – Kremlin
The Covid-19 crisis has passed without any obvious signs of popular discontent, with the approval ratings of both Putin and his government remaining largely unaffected by events. The major street protests of 2020 were in the Siberian city of Khabarovsk, in connection with the arrest of regional Governor Sergey Furgal. But they have failed to spread elsewhere, suggesting that Russians’ grievances are primarily local rather than national. There seems little reason to suppose that the people are in a protesting mood.READ MORE: Diplomatic war with Moscow a bad idea after all? ‘Understaffed & overstretched’ US Embassy gets rebuke from Russia after complaint
Indeed, Russia’s rulers won a number of political victories this year. These include a large majority in the national vote to confirm the constitutional amendments, and a better-than-expected performance for the pro-Putin ‘United Russia’ in local elections. The party can anticipate winning a comfortable majority in the parliamentary elections slated for September 2021. Considering the shocks it has endured, politically speaking, Russia looks remarkably stable.
Its international position is also stronger than one might have supposed given the forces aligned against it. It seems that North Stream 2 will finally be completed in the new year, giving Moscow a major victory over the Americans. And while the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan at first appeared to undermine Russia’s position in the Caucasus, Russian diplomats pulled off a last-minute save, enabling the country to emerge as the regional peacekeeper. All this will provide Russians with some degree of satisfaction.
A lot has been thrown against Russia this year, and it has held up remarkably well. It will take much more than what 2020 had to offer to bring it down.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.OPED
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Conversation8 CommentsPlease read the RT Community Commenting Rules hereLog InBest
- Odininasgard56m agoRussia was always a challenging place given its wide geographical spread and intense winters. This climate and geography has produced a resilient and courageous population that is used to challenging conditions.Reply1
- Erich Trimmel18m agoUltimately the West will have to start a war in order to score and we all know, according to Russian doctrines, that this war will destroy the world. The US:s punitive crusade against Russia is hurting the EU too and North Stream is a perfect example. The Germans have philosophy , let’s hope that it will be better. It want. Instead they are sanctions and humiliated. When will the EU realize that they have to brake away from the US, leavings the Baltic States and some scandinavian countries behind. The US has adopted “Gangster” methods and the Germans ask them selves, is it time to make the “Bomb” to convince the Americans. What ever happens, I predict that the AfD will become more popular beside Die Linke.Reply1
- Arthur DTA Tint1h agoHow much more Proof is needed that Russian people have put their faith and their vote to the right Man. Thank You Vladimir Vladimirovich! Nappy New Year RASHHIAAAA!Reply3
- brianeg37m agoI think Russia is in an extremely strong position especially under Putin who looks long term and well into the future. It has virtually no debt, a mountain of gold and many other things besides. If anybody thought a western style democracy might improve things, forget it. Give it ten years and without American, NATO and other stupid countries interference, it will be up near the top. The EU sanctions against Russia must be the most inane action in the world. If I was a European manufacturer and seeing all of my existing market disappearing, I would move part or all of my manufacturing to Russia, thereby having access to all the new markets and my products being loaded onto all the empty wagons going back to China. Unfortunately, the way things stand now many of the western economies are going to collapse and when that happens somebody might consider collapsing the whole system with some preemptive strike so that everybody suffers. …See moreReply1
- Ibrahim Muhammed1h agoStay strong and safe Russia!!!Reply2
- Chris Waters10m agoRussians, Germans, and Americans are natural allies.Reply1
- T. Agee Kaye1m agoIronic. Russian isn’t collapsing, but the West is.Reply
- Ronnie62Just NowI think this Canadian writer thinks Russia glass is half empty instead of half full The Russians are strong and United even while the west tries to divide themReply
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