1. Putin’s Probable Re-election
The 2018 presidential election is not so much about who will win, but who will later succeed Putin. According to the Russian constitution, Putin has one six-year term remaining. By the end of this term (2024), he will be in his 70s.
There appears no obvious successor emerging in the background. However, Putin himself was never expected to succeed Boris Yeltsin. This has led many commentators to suspect that someone relatively unknown, loyal and stable will emerge unexpectedly. Another reason for this is the unpopularity of those who are already in positions of power and close to the president.
One name that has been floated around is the former Duma speaker, Sergei Naryshkin. A man, who, you guessed it, is practically unknown, cautious and was recently appointed to head the foreign intelligence service. He also served in the KGB in the 1970s. He is someone the Russians would like as he fits the mold of ‘effective manager’.
Either way, this might be of little consequence. The most important task for the next president is whether they can maintain social stability. The last 100 years of Russian history shows that the situation can unravel overnight. This is something everybody in Russia is fearful of and hopes to avoid.
2. The Football World Cup
I am quite the optimist here. England should qualify top of their group and Russia might squeeze through in second place. Something I am more optimistic about is the opportunity Russia has to show itself off.
Despite what many of you have read and heard on the news, Russia is full of many wonderful things. The games are being hosted in eleven great cities, each quite different from the next. This gives Russia the opportunity to show the world it is more than a negative news headline.
Russia can use the games to show off its long history, rich culture and diverse peoples. Especially since nobody expects Russia to be walking away as the winners. In fact, they are one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament.
In the long-run, the games will hopefully generate more interest and bring in more tourists with money to spend.
However, football hooligans are a special breed in Russia and the authorities have responded to this. Security will be heightened and known groups and individualshave been banned from the games.
3. The Economy
This performed better than expected in 2017 despite additional sanctions. The ruble is performing better and has remained relatively stable, but the business climate for 2018 is quite uncertain.
Firstly, a new round of sanctions could be placed on Russia. The ‘Russia investigation’ being conducted by Congress will conclude at some point, and the outcome is eagerly awaited. While the Kremlin has dismissed all claims of collusion, the US and UK cites evidence of attempts to interfere with recent elections. Both have promised to respond accordingly.
Elsewhere, poverty has risen and local budgets are under immense pressure. In fact, most regions have been running fiscal deficits for the last three years. If the economy performs better than expected again, it would be ideal if additional funds went to the poorest regions. If people’s incomes continue to stagnate in 2018, this runs the risk of social unrest.
4. Ukraine, Syria and North Korea
When it comes to Ukraine and Syria, Russia cannot afford to come away looking as though it lost or conceded anything.
Ukraine’s situation has not improved even by the most optimistic of estimations. There is simply no cease-fire in the East and the government is a shambles. The West has no coherent strategy, and pro-Russian feelings are rising as Petro Poroshenko’s approval ratings decline. The question now is whether to rock the boat or let it unfold organically.
In Syria, Russia and the US will have to find a solution that likely involves Mr. Assad remaining in power, if only temporarily. In addition, some of Russia’s Muslims who left to join ISIS will be returning. The threat of terrorism could spike in a year when the world’s eyes are already on Russia. Its response will have to be methodical.
Russia’s relationship with North Korea is like the friend nobody else wants you to hang outwith. Moreover, when people want to talk about this friend’s problems, you would really rather not.
Russia will not work against China or pressure it into ‘doing something’, as Mr. Trump would say. However, neither can a solution arise without the cooperation of Russia. Should the situation get progressively worse, Russia will be forced to have a discussion it has long tried to avoid.