Russian society welcomes the new year with cautious optimism rather than with gloomy concerns. The most pessimistic economic and political forecasts for the previous year have not worked well: Russians have not faced mass impoverishment, production, especially in agricultural sphere, shows some evidence of growth and the foreign policy situation lets us hope that our country will soon put an end to the geopolitical rivalry with the West.
January 20, 2017 the new president will move to the White House and he has already made it clear that he is ready for the dialogue with Russia. Unfortunately, the eagerness to get the relations with Russia back on track meets hot and strong resistance of some world elites, since they perceive Russophobia and Putinophobia as a sort of ideological oil for stress relaxation in liberal order’s mechanisms. However, many western states start to oppose this “Russophobic consensus” and there is reason to believe that in 2017 this “consensus” will be broken in France and may be even in Germany.
To learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution
The main event of this year in Russia is Russian Revolution’s 100th anniversary. According to the experts, it may contribute to the reconciliation of “red” and “white” ideas and motivate us to think about the reasons for revolutions and about how to prevent them in future.
Political commentator, director of the International Institution of the Newest States, Alexei Martynov, thinks that the anniversary of the Revolution gives a good chance to “reconsider the century-old events and, finally, discuss them with all the colleagues concerned and turn the page that still hurts our society like a nagging wound”.
We should evaluate this episode of our history, discuss it and, finally, move on, – Alexei Martynov says, – We should fix this deeper understanding of our history drawing on realizing our joint guilt over what has happened: twice in the 20th century we destroyed our country with our own hands – 100 and 25 years ago. And the lesson of the Revolution is that if we want to change the country we live in and its order (and it is really necessary to change them in agreement with internal and external challenges), we should not destroy the country itself.
Nevertheless, one should not draw any analogies between 1917 and 2017. The 100th anniversary is by no means a reason for comparing these two years and, all the more so, for expecting the events to repeat. All the experts we have talked to hold this view. Political expert, member of the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation, Alexander Klyukin, suggests that the events of 1917 or something similar can hardly happen in contemporary Russia.
I think, – he says, – that we, no doubts, will celebrate this anniversary, talk about the revolutions in Russia, discuss what bad and may be good things have been done. But Russia will not witness a revolution despite some American experts predicting many conflicts.
Nominations of 2018 presidential elections’ candidates and forming their teams
Experts share the view that the run-up to the presidential elections that will take place in March 2018 will be the main event of 2017. The electoral campaign is likely to be launched in late 2017 and the candidates for presidency will be nominated. At the moment it is difficult to say who they will be (apart from opposition activist Alexey Navalny who has already announced that he will run for president). According to political expert Gleb Kuznetsov, “by the end of the year we will know both the list of the candidates and their agendas. In late 2017 we will start to gradually enter the electoral campaign”.
Another prominent political commentator, director of the Center for Political Analysis, Pavel Danilin, thinks that “the process of forming the teams that will work at the presidential elections” is even more important than nominations of these or that candidates. He stresses that “the process should start relatively soon”. As for the participation of Vladimir Putin in the forthcoming elections, Alexei Martynov says that nobody questions the fact that “if Putin runs for reelection, he will win”.
– One can just have a look at the level of president’s support: his rating has never gone below 70% for the last 2-3 years. The question is: what form will these elections take and how they will be organized? There are different opinions concerning that. And this will become clear exactly in the middle of the year. Who will be the opponents, how strong they will be, whether there will be new faces among the candidates for presidency or we will again watch Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky and other elderly patriarchs. This intrigue will be uncovered in the coming months.
Disenchantment with Trump or a chance of the US-Russian rapprochement
Of course it is also important against what background the presidential elections will take place and what the internal and external contexts will be like. As for the foreign policy context, the prospects of the US-Russian relations’ development under a new Republican administration will be the main factor here.
As it has already been said, the expectations are high, but we lack clarity. Alexander Klyukin hopes that 2017 will be a year of a breakthrough or at least of positive changes in relations of Russia and the USA. He emphasizes the character of the new president. He thinks that it is obvious that Trump “wants a turn for the better, he is a pragmatic businessman, he is not like presidents from the Democratic Party and he thinks that a dialogue is a top priority”. Alexander Klyukin suggests that the whole world will develop in accordance with this paradigm.
Alexei Martynov is also optimistic about “the chance to restore the US-Russian relations” that appeared with the election of Donald Trump. He is sure that there are some preconditions for this optimism since, as he says, “Trumpxit stumped many observers not only in America but also all over the world and has already influenced the global political landscape”.
The USA is an important state; the processes happening there influence the whole world. We can recall elections in Bulgaria, Moldova, Italian referendum, that took place after Trump had been elected. “Trumpxit” has had a direct say in these events. The citizens of these states have understood that they do not have to be afraid and to turn their heads to America.
I think, – Martynov adds, – that the Obama administration and his supporters from the Democratic Party demonstrate “Bolshevik rigidity” in foreign policy manufacturing democracy all over the world like Trotsky tried to promote “world revolution” back in his days. I hope that this neo-Bolshevik generation of politicians will step down together with Barack Obama. However, Obama says that he is not going to leave Washington and to move to his hometown. He is going to establish his own fund and to fight on. We have a chance to mend our relations that were damaged by Barack Obama and his Trotskyist international, which includes Germany, France and other states under the influence of the Obama administration.
As for Gleb Kuznetsov, he is more skeptical about Trump and the perspectives of friendship with the new American president. He thinks that high expectations and the scale of the hopes put upon him will inevitably lead to the disenchantment with the politician who will be simply unable to do everything, our citizens wait from him:
Expectations are so high that the main question is which of them he will not satisfy. There are so many hopes put upon Trump that he is doomed to disillusion us just because the American political system is very slow and even if he wants to change something, this will be a lengthy process. And we are waiting for some immediate actions. So, for me the main event of the year is the disenchantment with Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, Gleb Kusnetsov thinks that Russia in its foreign policy should make the regulation of the Syrian crisis a priority:
It would be good, – the expert notices, – if the agreements reached by Turkey, Iran, Russia and the Syrian government shortly before the New Year would be not a virtuous wish but a real compromise and the active phase of the war would end. This will have impact on many spheres, including Russian policy and energy prices.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, sociologist, director of The Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory think tank, is sure that “Russia will continue to expand its influence in the international arena”. She even suggests that “in the nearest future Russia may form some new alliances with unexpected partners”. But she thinks that cyber wars and “threats” coming from the “global network” will pose the major challenge to Russia in 2017. So, the principal task of the Russian foreign policy will be the reinforcement of “cyber forces”.
By the way, the foreign policy agenda goes beyond the Russian-American relations. Alexei Martynov predicts that there will be “some transformations in the Russian-EU relations” this year. Europe has to finally make a decision concerning its geo-cultural identity and, first of all, to sort out its migration policy priorities.
– Many people who predict the repetition of the centennial cycle in Russia, – the expert says, – do not realize that a prerevolutionary situation is now developing not in Russia but in Europe. Not only its elites but also the whole society and indigenous population are now under the threat of the loss of their identity and strong external pressure on social and cultural spheres exercised by the hordes of refugees. Europeans are now speaking louder and better realizing the necessity of introducing qualitative changes as soon as possible. It looks like we are going to witness a number of political upheavals in Europe in 2017. This will lead to the failure of the European Union as a political structure and many other consequences. Of course, we do not like this scenario but it is probable.
Reinforcement of the institutions of representation and civil society development
It is interesting that, talking about domestic policy context of the forthcoming presidential campaign in Russia, experts do not pay much attention to the economic situation and focus extensively on the development of civil society and system of political representation with the 7th State Duma at the heart of it all. Talking about Russian domestic policy in 2017, political expert Alexander Klyukin draws attention to “Putin’s speech on the eve of the New Year”.
He rightly mentioned that we should return to our own problems, deal with our economy and improve Russian citizens’ standard of living. It is important now. And of course it is very important that the new Duma of the 7th convocation with the new chairman will work in 2017. From the point of view of ensuring stability, the role of the new Duma is crucial. It is not just a place for discussions, it is also a place where important decisions are taken. Or, rather the center of decision-making is now shifting to the State Duma. And this is as it should be. In 2017 the State Duma will, to a large extent, play a decisive role in law making and determine the public attitude towards the authorities.
Some experts express their concerns that the dynamics of Russia’s internal renewal will become slower and stagnant tendencies, caused, to some extent, by the easing of international tensions, will gain upper hand. In fact, “détente” with the USA achieved by Leonid Brezhnev and his team coincided with the discovery of the Tyumen oil field and became one of the factors of the “stagnation of 1970s”. That is why, the words of a political commentator, chairman of the Executive Board of the Center for Political Technologies, Boris Makarenko, should be taken in right earnest:
The greatest Russian problem of the last few years is the fact that the elite is milling about, the only thing that it does is dealing with the consequences of the economic crisis or it is absolutely apathetic. Perhaps, there is an explanation for this, and it would be childish to wait for something different. But there is hope for the best. I am not waiting for a great increase in a number of good news in 2017. I just hope that there will be no bad news and that we will take the opportunity to make up our mind and chose the direction to move.
On the other hand, Olga Kryshtanovskaya talks about at least two reasons to be hopeful: marked, although gradual, oil prices increase which will help to come out of the economic recession as well as steady development of the civil society, in particular, NGOs performance improvement. She thinks that “the civil society will demonstrate the growth of consciousness, this growth will result in some qualitative changes, the voice of NGOs will be heard and new outstanding civil projects will be developed” in 2017.
So, if 2016 forecasts were mostly anxious, now experts’ expectations of 2017 can be characterized as “cautious optimism”. At the same time “skeptics” or, if you want, “well informed optimists” are consciously lowering too high expectations in order to alleviate future disappointment, while “positive-minded pessimists”, on the contrary, call to look ahead without fear. Russian society has taken the path of positive evolution and there is no reason to doubt the fact that it will follow this path either in 2017 or in 2018.