There was never much doubt about Putin’s instinctive distrust of business and the market economy. And in an interview with the state-owned TASS news agency released this week, he was direct about it, making a snide reference to “so-called” business. But most people disagree with him: 80 percent of Russians (the highest figure since 2003) think business has a positive impact, according to a recent survey (Rus) by independent pollster Levada Center.
- In the interview, the TASS journalist asked Putin if he sees entrepreneurs as “swindlers by definition”. Putin answered that “there are certain reasons for [thinking like] this, because all so-called business in the 2000s was tied to trade”. “So a trader is a swindler?” the journalist inquired. “Yes,” Putin replied.
- Russians think differently. A total of 80 percent of those polled by Levada Center believe small and medium-sized business is good for the country, and 59 percent feel the same way about big business. Both figures are at 17-year record highs. It is young people and wealthy Russians who have the most positive view of business.
- The main problems for business in Russia are high taxes, corruption and a lack of start-up capital. Pressure from law enforcement is also an issue: 50 percent of those polled believe interest from the authorities means an attempt to solicit a bribe or seize an asset.
- This is not the only contradiction between Putin’s view of the economy and that of ordinary people. In the same interview (Rus), Putin said 70 percent of Russians are middle class, which he defined as those earning over 17,000 rubles ($200) a month. This led to a wave of bewilderment on social media: even by Russian standards, 17,000 rubles is not a lot of money.
Why the world should care
Each year, the state takes a bigger and bigger role in the Russian economy, which looks increasingly unlike a real market. It’s clear from Putin’s comments that this will not change, even though the Levada poll suggests this may be what Russians want.