The austerity campaign may also have benefited from the fact that it was conducted at a time of confrontation with the West. Domestic economic troubles could be blamed on malign foreign influences. Austerity was framed as self-defence, and the reality of Western sanctions reinforced the message. Even if the Russian public did not fully buy this line, at least the authorities had the opportunity to use the ‘fortress Russia’ narrative.
Russian economic policy has long been deeply concerned with what is termed ‘economic security’. Understandably, this concern intensified from 2014. And this preoccupation on the part of the elite – and among the defence and security elites in particular – also facilitated acceptance by the elite of a rigorous policy of financial prudence.
These specific security concerns were eventually codified in the Strategy of Economic Security of the Russian Federation to the Year 2030, published in May 2017. The strategy document defines economic security as the preservation of national sovereignty by defence against external and internal threats.
Rosstat now publishes a list of 40 indicators of the state of economic security of the Russian Federation. Many of the indicators are of a very general sort: e.g. GDP growth; industrial output; inflation. Others are concerned with macro-stability: domestic state debt as a percentage of GDP (debt/GDP); external debt/GDP; the deficit [sic] of the federal budget/GDP; net capital inflows or outflows; reserves/imports; the share of imports in market supplies of food (there are also separate indicators of import-substitution). Others again reflect the concern with slow growth: Russian GDP as a share of world output in purchasing power parity terms; fixed investment/GDP; the percentage of the population officially defined as living in poverty. The list tells us that Russia’s economic security, in the eyes of the authorities, requires sustained growth at above the global average, and technological development as well as macroeconomic stability.