In a recent survey by the Levada Center, 65 percent of Russians said the year was more difficult for them than the previous year. The figure was the highest since 1998.
In Russia the new year starts properly on monday when people return to work from their long vacations.
An exceptional year is behind us. In a recent measurement of the Levada Center 65 percent of Russians said it was more difficult for them than before. The figure was the highest since 1998.
2020 certainly did not become a year planned by the authorities or predicted by analysts, but it became significant. Many of its events and decisions will have an impact in Russia for a long time. Many of them also define the year 2021.
Putin unexpectedly changed the constitution
The first big surprise came as early as January when the president Vladimir Putin announced an amendment to the Constitution. Even a considerable part of the elite was amazed.
Soon the main thing became clear. The new constitution will allow Putin to continue as president for two more new terms, until 2036.
There was a long and partly contradictory list of changes. Some of them were purely populist, as the turnout for the “All-Russian vote” on the changes had to get high.
There are also big changes that made the constitution more conservative and authoritarian than before. It now mentions God, Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union, the Russians as the people that make up the state, marriage only between a man and a woman, and Russian laws take precedence over international agreements.
After Putin’s announcement, the prime minister Dmitry Medvedev announced his resignation. He became the new prime minister Mikhail Mišustin. At the same time, he rose to the top of follower adventures. They once did not stop, although Putin can continue as president after 2024.
The coronavirus became a big economic issue
The coronavirus began to spread rapidly in the autumn, and the situation in Russia has been clearly worse towards the end of the year than in the spring.
However, only more than half of Russians are afraid of falling ill. So a pandemic is also strongly an economic issue. The authorities have therefore not wanted to close society, as they did in the spring.
Russia’s macroeconomy is now doing stronger than expected. The economy contracted last year by about four percent. Public debt is low, buffer funds are large.
However, 64 percent of Russians say their standard of living fell last year. Real wages fell, poverty increased, and many had to spend their savings. Economic growth is forecast to be slow in the coming years.
The pandemic also had political consequences. Putin’s popularity fell to a record low in the summer. There are other reasons for this and it is a longer trend, but it was accelerated by the measures taken by the coronavirus and the economic situation.
Putin has used the vaccine to demonstrate the level of Russian science and use it in diplomacy.
Belarus was surprised
In Belarus, the authorities handled the epidemic in the spring so poorly that people became nervous. As a result, civil society strengthened. Coincidentally, the presidential election hit the summer, when people had begun to take an interest in politics.
An authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko made his nonsense about the election by referendum on his popularity. He then falsified the election, after which he tried to defeat the protests with police violence. As a result, protests increased.
Russia has not abandoned Lukashenko. At the same time, it has taken advantage of the situation to strengthen ties between Russia and Belarus.
It is important for Russia that Belarus does not slide politically closer to the West, in addition to which the Kremlin is reluctant to revolt.
However, with its policies, Russia is in danger of alienating Belarusians. The protests have not been geopolitical in nature, Belarusians have been largely positive about Russia. Over the fall, however, criticism has increased as Russia has appeared to be Lukashenko’s guarantor.
The rest of the neighborhood was in turmoil
In the autumn in the territory of the former Soviet Union took place. In Kyrgyzstan, a new uprising took place again, in Moldova the presidential election was won by the pro-Western Maia Sandu and Azerbaijan, with Turkish support, started a war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
All this, together with the protests in Belarus, led to estimates of the deterioration of Russia’s position in the region, which it had considered its interest. Special attention was drawn to Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia did not support its ally Armenia. Admittedly, it has never considered Azerbaijan its enemy.
Russia had to accept Turkey’s increased role in the South Caucasus. However, it swept through the ceasefire and its military position in the area was strengthened. The relationship with Kyrgyzstan did not change either.
The most naval poisoning also affected foreign policy
Russia’s leading opposition politician Alexei Navalnyin the poisoning attempt surprised many. He was once considered only an enemy of those in power, whom Putin was known to be more understanding than traitors.
Since then, more information has become available, thanks in part to the Bellingcat team, which is investigating. According to its report, Navalnyin was poisoned by the security service of the FSB group. Putin denied the poisoning with a laugh, but claimed the United States supported the Navalny.
Navalnyi, who made revelations of corruption, has been a thorn in the flesh of those in power for a long time, but the intelligent voting model he developed proved particularly embarrassing. In it, the votes are always concentrated on someone other than the candidate of the ruling party.
It is now being considered whether Navalnyi will return, whether he will be arrested immediately and what will follow. The majority believe versions of state television, with only 15 per cent believing the administration has sought to silence its critics. However, it is an active minority.
Relations with the West tightened
The clear tightening between Germany and Russia after the Navalny poisoning was one of the big changes of the past year. It surprised the Russian leadership, who still do not understand why Germany made such a fuss about it.
However, Germany, which has taken on a stronger role in the EU, cannot deal with its relations with Russia on a purely bilateral basis. The time for a special relationship is now over.
For Germany and Russia, change may be more significant than the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. The Kremlin would have liked Donald Trumpin to continue, but his victory was not expected to improve relations either.
As early as the beginning of the year, Putin nurtured hopes that the leaders of World War II victorious states would gather in Moscow in May to celebrate Victory Day, when 75 years had passed since the end of the war in Europe. The pandemic messed up the schedule, and the meeting is no longer politically possible.
The situation was again fueled by old rumors of a change of foreign minister. According to them, a growing number in and around the Kremlin are holding the current foreign minister Sergei Lavrovia too soft in relation to the west. It should be replaced by a more aggressive person.
Russia became more authoritarian than before
Demonstrations broke out in Khabarovsk last summer when authorities arrested a popular governor. The governor is still in the pipeline, but the protests eroded the analysis that there could be big political demonstrations only in Moscow. In addition, they brought to light the irritating irritability of the Moscow elite in the provinces.
The arrest was interpreted in the summer to tighten discipline after a constitutional vote. At the same time, there were other visible arrests and trials.
The Russia model has long been a mixture of authoritarianism and populism, but last year the country shifted in a clearly more authoritarian direction. It was particularly evident towards the end of the year, when the Duma passed new laws at a rapid pace. Among other things, they introduced new restrictions on demonstrations, facilitated network censorship, and broadly expanded the definition of a foreign agent.
Many analysts have linked the blackmail to the Duma elections, which are due to be held in September at the latest. They are not fair, but those in power want to achieve their goals without too obvious fraud. Therefore, the influence of the dissatisfied is narrowed and the position of the otherwise weak opposition is made more difficult.
Others see elections as just one thing for those in power to prepare for tightening. Of these, the tightening was fueled by protests in Belarus and Khabarovsk and the Navalny project, as well as a decline in popularity.