Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, predicts that Russia ”will look very different” after the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that low oil prices will push Russian society toward democracy.
”Dictatorships find it hard to survive crises such as this one,” Aslund wrote on April 21 in e-mailed responses to RFE/RL’s questions.
Government around the world have imposed restrictions on businesses and individuals in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, leading to a widespread economic slowdown and a historic oil-price crash.
The price collapse has left large budget holes and tumbling currencies in countries that rely on revenues from oil and gas exports, including Russia and former Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
“The pandemic can profoundly change several of the post-Soviet countries,” according to Aslund, who wrote that “low oil prices breed democracy.”
”Oil prices were low from 1981-2000, when Russia became and was reasonably democratic and free. Low oil prices offer new opportunities for freedom and democracy in Russia,” said Aslund, a Swedish-born analyst who has served as an economic adviser to the governments of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine.
Ex-Soviet countries “have got used to authoritarian kleptocracy or in some cases disorderly corruption,” he said.
”Neither is beneficial to the population, who will opt for democracy and freedom if given the opportunity,” Aslund said, while lower oil prices ”will leave the authoritarians with less resources.”
By granting regional leaders autonomy in taking measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin “seems to be trying to escape the responsibility for austerity measures, while it is exactly in this kind of crisis situation when centralization can be valuable,” he said.
The regional governors ”have been appointed to take and obey orders from the Kremlin, not to take their own initiatives so they are not appropriate for this situation,” Aslund wrote.