Empire of Austerity
Russia and the Breaking of EurasiaPart of the New Perspectives on Eastern Europe and Eurasia series
How Russia’s post-Soviet economy, engineered to stagnate, explains its conflict with Ukraine and divisions across Eurasia.
‘Fortress Russia’ evokes a Kremlin standing strong against the West. But Moscow’s ceaseless quest for safety from sanctions and the international system has ineluctably destabilised its neighbours, global politics and the Russian economy. Haunted by memories of the 1990s, liberal technocrats and national chauvinists alike have built a regional economic system that is averse to debt and public investment, and which fears the emergence of an empowered and politicised middle class.
In response, Russian elites have repeatedly turned to austerity measures—refusing to borrow and spend, raising taxes, and forcing the public to bear the costs of crisis after crisis. The Russo- Ukrainian War has proven that Fortress Russia is a prison with no escape in sight.
Empire of Austerity traces how Russian economic policy precipitated the country’s slide towards an increasingly coercive authoritarianism, a hubristic challenge to the West, and all-out war with Ukraine. Decades of dependence on commodity exports, failure to invest and failure to consume enough have condemned not only the Russian Federation, but Eurasia more broadly, to stagnation and conflict. Only time will tell if Russia and its neighbours can escape the zero-sum politics of austerity in a world of rapidly evolving geopolitical, energy and climate crises.
Nicholas Birman Trickett is Business Development Manager for Mining & Metals at White & Case. Formerly a fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, he has written for The Diplomat, The Washington Post and the Economist Intelligence Unit.