My first post here on RR will highlight an important trend currently taking place in Russia. Below, I created a graph using data from the World Bank and the Levada Center (a Russian analytical center) to show the impact of Russia’s foreign policy decisions in light of a rapidly contracting economy.
In 2007, the world was struck by an economic shockwave created by the American housing bubble. As a result of the collapse, the Russian economy shrank nearly 10% over several years which triggered a dramatic fall in President Putin’s approval ratings. However, in March 2014, Vladimir Putin used military force to annex Crimea to redraw the borders of a European country, an act not seen since World War 2. And despite newly imposed sanctions, and a drop in the price of crude oil; a vital energy export, Putin’s approval ratings rose to 85%.
So what does this graph tell us? It shows the powerful effects of ‘diversionary theory’ or the ‘rally round the flag effect’ in which leaders engage in actions abroad to divert attention from domestic problems at home. Typically acts such as these help unite a nation, as the domestic ‘in-group’ seeks to defeat or protect against ‘out-groups.’ In the case of Russia, President Putin is harnessing the ideas of nationalism, identity, and security to fight back against the forces of the West to reclaim the legitimacy and authority of the former Soviet Union and before that, Imperial Russia and the historic Kievan Rus’. Furthermore, this graph demonstrates the length to which President Putin will go in order to retain high favorability ratings and stave off a political ‘color’ revolution such as those seen across the Middle East and most recently in Ukraine.
In future posts I will explore the implications of the ‘diversionary theory’ as well as how President Putin uses nationalism, identity, religion, cyber warfare, the funding of extremist political parties, assassination, illiberal elections, and more to retain power as Russia continues to slide further from democracy and closer to dictatorship. As Russia continues to slip into higher rates of negative growth (currently -4%), it can be assumed Putin’s adventurism abroad is just beginning.
ABOUT THE GRAPH: The left axis depicts favorability ratings, and the right axis depicts % of annual GDP change within Russia.