For Putin, it may be easier to win re-election than to solve the many challenges facing Russia


Winning re-election for President Vladimir Putin will probably be the easy part. his broad grasp Russia's political landscape assures him of a nearly six-year term extend his two dozen years in power.

The thorny challenges ahead will be even more difficult.

Stalemate War in UkraineInexorable Western pressure that exacerbates Russia's economic problems, and growing infighting among the ruling elite, will threaten Putin's next term and destroy his pledges of stability.

Putin's hopes of a quick campaign in 2022 to reassert Kremlin control over its neighbor have turned into a bruising war of attrition, with massive personnel losses and depleting Russia's resources. Is.

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While Russia has prevented Ukraine's military from making any significant gains during the summer counteroffensive, the Kremlin does not have enough manpower and equipment to mount any major campaign of its own.

The resulting standoff sets the stage for months of positional fighting during the winter, when weather hinders any major moves and both sides are likely to focus on protecting their gains.

Putin hopes the ongoing war will gradually deplete Ukrainian resources and weaken Western support for Kiev, but a protracted conflict also risks exacerbating Russia's economic crisis, deepening social problems and weakening the ruling elite. Promotes division within.

Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center pointed to a growing rift between technocrats in top administrative positions and hard-liners who are eager to expand their influence and pursue an even more aggressive path.

"The longer there remains uncertainty about the outcome of the war, the louder the voices of revisionists will become," Stanovaya wrote in an analysis. "Instability, military setbacks, escalation, and Russia's worsening position in the war all serve to empower revisionists and weaken administrators."

Despite Moscow's expectations that Western aid to Ukraine would be reduced amid growing fatigue from the war and election campaigns in the US and other Western countries, Washington and its allies vowed to continue supporting Kiev as long as necessary Is. Both the US and the EU have also pledged that the Israel–Hamas war will not distract them from helping Ukraine.

While crippling US and EU sanctions have failed to deal a major blow to the Russian economy and force the Kremlin to halt its offensive, as some in the West had hoped, the sanctions have hit oil, gas and other key have reduced revenues from exports and sharply limited access. For western technology.

Adding to the pain, 300 billion euros of the Russian Central Bank's reserves have been blocked in the West.

Putin has tried to counter the sanctions forcefully relations with china, which has become a major market for Russian oil and gas and a source of high-tech imports. Some observers have noted that increased dependence on China would strengthen Russia's role as a junior partner in the alliance and limit the room for maneuver for Putin.

Amid Western efforts to block sources of weapons and military technology, Moscow has turned to Iran for drones to attack Ukrainian energy systems and other critical infrastructure. Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in September Talks on expanding relationsA meeting the US said resulted in an agreement that saw Pyongyang delivery of munitions To Russia for war.

Despite Putin's efforts to offset Western sanctions, they will continue to weaken the Russian economy, undermine Moscow's warfighting capability and dash any hopes of reform. The US and the EU have worked systematically to tighten their enforcement and close any loopholes, targeting companies in third countries that have helped Moscow circumvent sanctions.

Other economic challenges

Shifting energy exports to China and India has helped compensate for losing access to lucrative European markets, and Russian industries have found new import channels to avoid US and EU restrictions on technology.

Russia's economic output fell 2.1% last year due to Western sanctions, but is officially forecast to grow 2.8% this year, a performance Putin praised as a sign of recovery. However, growth has largely been driven by a sharp increase in government spending, primarily war-related. Next year, defense allocation will increase by more than 70% and will constitute almost a third of total government spending.

The mobilization of 300,000 reservists and the recruitment of approximately 400,000 contract soldiers in the fall of 2022 will have a huge impact on the economy, and the exodus of thousands of people who have fled the country will create a labor shortage that will hamper long-term growth prospects.

At the same time, depreciation of the ruble, which has lost a third of its value this year, fueling inflation, forcing the Russian Central Bank to raise the key interest rate to 15%. The cabinet has also tried to boost the ruble by tightening demands on exporters to convert their hard currency earnings.

Fundamental economic problems will persist, growth prospects will remain low as European markets remain closed and massive military spending will steal resources from other regions.

Political turmoil and disintegration

Opinion polls show Putin's approval rating hovering around 80%, reflecting the lack of competition in a tightly controlled political system and rallying around the flag in the midst of a war.

But even though Putin has quashed most dissent and created top-down control devoid of any checks and balances and political competition, overall this control proved illusory. june rebellion By mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. His Wagner contractors captured military headquarters in southern Russia and marched rapidly towards Moscow without any serious resistance. The brief rebellion is the most serious challenge to Putin's rule since he came to power, deeply undermining his authority.

Despite government denial of involvement, death Prigozhin and his top lieutenants A mysterious plane crash in August was widely seen as an act of retaliation that helped restore Putin's credibility among the elite. But the fragility of the Kremlin's control has become abundantly clear.

The Kremlin's carefully cultivated notion of absolute control suffers another blow riot at the airport In the Russian province of Dagestan, a flight from Israel was targeted. The mob came onto the road, chased the passengers and pelted stones at the police. It challenged the narrative that ethnic and religious groups co-exist in harmony in Russia and undermined Putin's claim that Moscow was not taking sides in the Israel–Hamas war.

Observers saw the riot as further evidence of the Kremlin's inability to maintain control over an increasingly turbulent political landscape and a harbinger of more turmoil.

“We have seen massive dysfunction of law enforcement agencies and the entire federal government,” political scientist Ekaterina Shulman said in a commentary. "As in the Prigozhin case, the sudden threat and rapidly unfolding events have completely paralyzed the system."

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