Western politicians and pundits should be more careful with their predictions for the Russian economy: Reports of its demise may prove to be premature.
Bashing the Russian economy has lately become a popular pastime. In his state of the nation address last month, U.S. President Barack Obama said it was “in tatters.” And last week, Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics published an article predicting a 10 percent drop in gross domestic product this year — more or less in line with the apocalyptic predictions that prevailed when the oil price reached its nadir late last year and the ruble was in free fall.
Aslund’s forecast focuses on Russia’s shrinking currency reserves, some of which have been earmarked for supporting government spending in difficult times. At $364.6 billion, they are down 26 percent from a year ago and $21.6 billion from the beginning of this year. Aslund expects $166 billion to be spent on infrastructure investments and bailing out companies, and another $100 billion to exit via capital flight and other currency outflows. As a result, given foreign debts of almost $600 billion, “Russia’s reserve situation is approaching a critical limit,” he says.
What this argument ignores is that Russia’s foreign debts are declining along with its reserves — that’s what happens when the money is used to pay down state companies’ obligations.
Last year, for example, the combined foreign liabilities of the Russian government and companies dropped by $129.4 billion, compared with a $124.3 billion decline in foreign reserves.