George Friedman: Putin Has Two Years to Hold Russia Together
Geopolitical expert George Friedman says the crude oil price collapse is “hollowing out” an already stretched Russian government budget. He gives the country two years before economic forces begin tearing it apart, much like the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Speaking in a Mauldin Economics video interview, Friedman said the key to his forecast is Moscow’s recent decision to suspend foreign aid loans. These loans are one of Vladimir Putin’s main tools for maintaining the appearance of Russian power around the world. Losing them could cost Russia influence. Worse, former clients of Russia might turn to the U.S for aid.
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Moreover, the move is impossible to hide from the Russian public. Putin has worked hard to preserve national spirit by, for instance, intervening in the Syria conflict. The fact that he is letting the public see this weakness suggests the budget situation is dire indeed.
Russia-watchers have long said $70 oil was the country’s breaking point. With crude oil prices now less than half that level and no sign of near-term recovery, Russia is running deeply in the red.
Friedman believes Russia will grow increasingly aggressive in the next two years as Putin tries to distract attention from the domestic economy. He thinks this will ultimately not succeed, but for now Putin is more dangerous than ever.
What would Russia look like without Putin? Friedman says there would be little change because Putin doesn’t lead the government alone. He is simply the visible face of the FSB security service that really runs Russia. If anything happens to Putin, another FSB officer will take control.
Whoever is in charge, Russia will remain a prime geopolitical concern and potential flashpoint.