Russia First: Putin Continues to Pull Back on Military Spending
Last year I noted that America would benefit from Trump acting more like Putin - at least in terms of military spending. After all, while Trump and Republicans were pushing for a $80 billion increase in the
defense war budget, Putin's government had reduced their's to a total of around $50 billion.
As Frank Weir notes at the Christian Science Monitor, Putin appears prepared to continue that trend:
It may sound contrary to Western perceptions of Russia's global intentions. But the priorities listed in the new Kremlin strategic program suggest that Mr. Putin has decided to use what seems likely to be his final term in office to cement his already substantial legacy as a nation-builder.
The projected surge in spending on roads, education, and health care will have to be paid for. A key source of that funding will be the military budget, which had been growing by around 10 percent annually for much of the Putin era.
“The times when the external threat was used to make cuts in social expenditures palatable has passed. We can't go on like that any longer,” says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the Institute of USA-Canada Studies (ISKRAN), which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A lot of the goals of military modernization have already been accomplished, so we can afford to slow it down, make selective cuts to fund social goals, while continuing the basic path.”
Weir goes on to note that along with a desire to focus more on their domestic economy, Putin's actions may be influenced by Russians growing tired from war:
Recent opinion polls suggest that Putin's priority shift coincides with a war weariness on the part of Russians, who have indulged their president as he shored up Russia’s great power status in the face of Western hostility and sanctions, by annexing Crimea and intervening in Syria. A survey last month by the independent Levada Center found that at least half of Russians appreciate their country’s return to great power status. But 45 percent fault Putin for “failing to ensure an equitable distribution of income in the interests of ordinary people,” up from 39 percent in March 2015 when the last survey was conducted.
It's also worth noting that the Kremlin's strategic plan also includes a desire to "speed up the introduction of digital technologies in the economy and the social sphere."
For the past year the Russian government has continued to show interest in blockchain technology, including Putin sitting down with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin last June. Others in the Russian government have made it clear that they see blockchain technology as a sphere important to Russia's long term economic interests.
This does not mean, however, that Russia will follow the lead of countries like Japan and Estonia in liberating cryptomarkets, which they view as distinct from blockchain itself. While Russia sees the potential for a crypto-ruble to help them navigate past international sanctions, they are unlikely to embrace the freedom true monetary competition would allow its citizens. If Russia does indeed launch their own digital currency, don't be surprised to see it escalate their crackdown of private cryptocurrencies.