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Boost for Putin as Russian parliament approves defence-heavy budget

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, left, arrives to attend a session at the State Duma, in Moscow, Russia, on 17 Nov 23

The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, has approved its biggest-ever federal budget, which will increase spending by around 25% in 2024, with record amounts going to defence.

Defence spending is expected to overtake social spending next year for the first time in modern Russian history, following the Duma's rubber stamp on Friday, at a time when the Kremlin is eager to shore up support for President Vladimir Putin as Russia prepares for a presidential election in March. 

Record low unemployment, higher wages and targeted social spending should help the Kremlin ride out the domestic impact of pivoting the economy to a war footing, but could pose a problem in the long term, analysts say.

Russian lawmakers said the budget for 2024-2026 was developed specifically to fund the military and mitigate the impact of “17,500 sanctions” on Russia, the chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said.

“In these difficult conditions, we have managed to adopt a budget that will not only allocate the necessary funds for our country's defence, but which will also provide all the required funds to guarantee the state’s social obligations,” First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Alexander Zhukov said, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

The Russian Communist Party voted against the budget because it provides “low pensions” and not enough financial support for elderly people, Tass said. The budget will now be passed to the Federation Council — the upper chamber of Russia's parliament — for approval before it is signed by Putin.

The draft budget “is about getting the war sorted in Ukraine and about being ready for a military confrontation with the West in perpetuity,” said Richard Connolly, an expert on Russia’s military and economy at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“This amounts to the wholesale remilitarisation of Russian society,” he said.

Russia’s finance ministry said it expects spending to reach 36.66 trillion rubles (around €379 billion) in 2024, with a predicted budget deficit of 0.8% of Russia’s GDP.

Part of the Russian budget is secret as the Kremlin tries to conceal its military plans and sidestep scrutiny of its war in Ukraine. Independent business journalists Farida Rustamova and Maksim Tovkaylo said on their Telegram channel Faridaily that around 39% of all federal spending will go to defence and law enforcement in 2024.

Posted on 17 Nov 2023 12:48 link