President Barack Obama maintains Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military actions in Syria are the acts of a desperate man with an economy sinking under the weight of Western financial sanctions. These penalties have indeed done some damage. But far more important to Russia’s economy are lower oil prices and slumping demand in Asia — and Moscow thinks it has already left the worst behind.
Obama has labored to characterize Russia’s military campaign in support of beleaguered Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad as a sign of Russian weakness, rather than an indication that America’s nearly five-year bid to oust Assad is failing. On Sunday, Obama mocked Russia’s strategic vision, telling CBS’s 60 Minutes that “running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in, in order to prop up your only ally,” hardly constitutes effective leadership. He went on to dismiss Russia’s growing role in the Syrian civil war as a lone-wolf campaign that has failed to garner international support.
Not surprisingly, Russians see it differently. Putin told an investment conference Tuesday that the country’s economic crisis may have already peaked. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in an interview Monday that Russia is “turning the corner,” thanks in large part to the economic stabilization policies Moscow has put in place. He said the Russian economy would start growing again next year. By contrast, the World Bank expects Russia’s economy to continue shrinking next year, before growth resumes in 2017.
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