December 31, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7823

Russian Liberal Politician Yavlinsky's Year In Review: Putin And The Void

December 31, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7823

Russian economist and politician Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Russian liberal party Yabloko, wrote an editorial, titled "Year In Review: Putin And Void".[1]

In his editorial, Yavlinsky stressed that Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference revealed a void in Russia's national development strategy and in the country's vision for the future.[2]

Yavlinsky opined that "the future, the strategy, the direction of country's development" are not on the national agenda. He then added that Putin's answers during the presser demonstrated that he has no idea how to deal with this key issue for the country.

The liberal politician concluded that the Kremlin's policies have led to the dead end in which Russian politics, economics and diplomacy are mired at the beginning of 2019. "The vision of the country's leadership is absent, whereas a genuine danger of war does exist," Yavlinsky wrote.

Below are excerpts from Yavlinsky's article:[3]

Grigory Yavlinsky (Source:

The Future, The Strategy, The Direction Of The Country's Development Are Simply Not On The National Agenda

"The president, who has been the leader of the country for 19 years, has taken 4 hours to report the following:

- "Russia needs a breakthrough, but the raising of the retirement age is inevitable.

- "Unlike in France, gas prices will not go up.

- "All over Ukraine, things are just as bad as in [breakaway] Donbass.

- "[Our] relations with Armenia and Turkey are good, but with Britain they are at an impasse.

- "[Yevgeny] Prigozhin [known as 'Putin's chef'] is not his chef, all his chefs work for the FSO [Federal Protective Service].

- "Russophobia is thriving in Istanbul and elsewhere.

- "The health situation is fine, but flu can occur in the off-season.

"That is basically all that the head of state said at his first big press conference after March 18, almost a year after the elections.

"And here are some problems that are the direct consequences of Putin's policies that require a clear response:

1. "The country's strategic security is under threat. At stake is not only the INF treaty, but the destruction of the entire system of security agreements. A defense strategy based on "catching up and overtaking America" in the arms race is a failure. How is this to be handled? Putin supplies no answer.

2. "The possibility of war. An escalation of the conflict with Ukraine took place. But, according to the president, who effectively started a hybrid war with Ukraine by invading the Crimea and Donbass, he cannot do anything about it: it is Kievan authorities who are to blame for the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

3. "Arms race. This has once before caused the collapse of the country. But President Putin, who has declared an arms race, cannot do anything about it: it is Americans' fault since they have withdrawn from the ABM treaty.

4. "Stagnating economy on the verge of recession. Russians are facing a substantial rise in the cost of living and a fall in real incomes. Sanctions and the international isolation brought on by Putin's policies impede a breakthrough that could improve the state of the economy. But again, the president can do nothing about it: they are trying to restrict us in a competitive world.

5. "Real day-to-day life is not improving:

 "Regarding the issue of the retirement age increase, which was first raised only two and a half hours into the event, Putin stated that there was no other solution. If there had been one, he would not have 'allowed it.' That is to say, no one is going to pull the economy out of stagnation;

- "the president bluntly said 'equipment first', and that the 'social sphere will follow along;

- "a huge number of people in Russia still live without natural gas, but Putin took the side of Gazprom and emphasized the importance of gas export revenues for the state budget.

6. "People do not trust the government. The huge disparity between the official figures testifying to the improvement of life standards, and those observed and felt by the people in their real lives, was the substance of the absolute majority of questions posed the president. Furthermore, the president himself got the numbers mixed up: his figures differed from those provided just recently by the prime minister. But questions that cast doubt on the president's optimism persisted: right after Putin's statements concerning the rapid growth of agriculture despite the sanctions, he was asked about its slowdown, and it was all about the same disparity between the official statistics and the observed reality. The indicators of rapid growth obviously came from a different life.

7. "Growing international isolation. The Kerch incident demonstrated that the Russian authorities function outside the reality of international affairs: the Russian president's press secretary gets perplexed that Putin's meeting with Trump is thwarted by some 'minor' issue of the detained Ukrainian sailors. Right after John Bolton, an adviser to the American president, definitively stated the importance of that issue for bilateral relations, Russian Defense Minister writes a letter to the head of the Pentagon, expecting a response, and is surprised that there is no answer.

8. "Where we are headed? There is no clear outlook. According to the Levada Center polls, 44% of the Russians believe that the country is going the wrong way, 66% view the State Duma negatively, and 67% do not approve of the prime minister's work. The Russians trust the president, but they have no idea where he is leading the country, and almost half of them strongly doubt that it is in the right direction. Incidentally, this applies primarily to the part of the population that by all indicators can be considered Putin's voters and supporters. That is a direct consequence of the victory of an absolute minority in the March 18 elections. The overwhelming majority of Putin's voters ended up being losers. Awareness of that is only now setting in.

"The main takeaway from the Putin's press conference is the void in place of a national development strategy, the absence of a vision for the future. We hear proposals to create a 'ministry of ideas of the Russian Federation' or to launch a TV show dedicated to strategically important issues of Russia's development. This is not a joke. In fact, the future, the strategy, the direction of the country's development are simply absent from the national agenda.

Putin's attempts to close the issue demonstrate that he has no idea how to deal with this key issue for the country. He simply keeps repeating his talking points on the 'breakthrough', the necessity of 'joining the new technological order, essential for the country's future.' In effect, Putin is saying: 'Something needs to be done.'

"What is to be done and how? Where would effectiveness come from? How can these tasks be basically fulfilled, under the conditions created by the foreign and domestic policy? All these questions don't even get a hint of an answer. The methods of forced authoritarian industrialization used in the first half of the last century are essentially useless. The post-industrial economy, which Putin is eager to 'break into', needs free people, their creativity and equality before the law. Nothing remotely close to this exists in Putin's system.

"As a result, a special [TV] show is supposed to compensate for the absent national discussion of the most important issues, and the 'ministry of ideas' is to make up for the missing long-term vision of national development. The content as well as the context of the president's press conference demonstrates the dysfunction of the state administration and the institutional crisis of the Putin state, which is unable to fulfill its duties. And Putin, once again, cannot do anything about that.

"Taken together, all these factors consistently epitomize the dead end in which Russian politics, economics and diplomacy find themselves by the beginning of 2019: the country's leadership lacks a clear vision, whereas a genuine danger of war does exist.

"This is the year's results - or, more accurately, the results for 19 years of Putin's rule."


[1] The title "Putin And The Void" is a reference to the popular novel by Viktor Pelevin "Chapayev and the Void."

[3], December 23, 2018.

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