Many people ask me about potential political developments in Russia, as the authorities seek to clamp down even further, with the amendments to legislation on treason and new legislation on child pornography both aimed at making it harder to protest in public and give an alternative view to the Kremlin’s ideas.
If the Kremlin does push further in this path, cutting access to Internet sites so that the Russian Internet, hitherto fairly unregulated and free, is modelled on the Chinese version, this will only push protest underground. While China found this relatively easy to do, as access was restricted from the very outset, it may prove far harder to put the genie back in the bottle in Russia, in particular given the prevalent use of social networks such as Facebook and odnoklassniki, to mention just two.
While until now the burgeoning middle class has been content to accept the Putin bargain of political silence in exchange for some freedom via the Internet and a continually rising standard of living, it is likely to become less prepared to sit tight if the economy does indeed stagnate.
This will lead to an even higher level of emigration – given that State Duma deputies, Kremlin bureaucrats, regional bureaucrats, governors, and the government (and naturally President Putin) already squirrel off vast sums of the nation’s wealth to foreign bank accounts and invest in real estate and various companies through their indirect ownership of Russian “state’ assets such as Rosneft and Gazprom – resulting in a further deterioration in the intellectual capacities in Russia.
This will become more and visible over time, as emigration continues. As human capital leaves the country, together with finance, the country will survive more and more on commodities and the leadership will on the one hand crack down on the opposition and on the other hand fine-tune their exit strategies.
The Internet will be bland and an attempt will be made to further brainwash the population. Unfortunately any success in such endeavours will eventually backfire on the country as the standard of education and skills fall. So political stagnation will further economic stagnation until the whole system just falls apart.