WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertive foreign policy stance of recent years reflects the confidence that comes with a booming economy. In 1999, the year before Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president, Russia’s GDP was a paltry $200 billion. By last year, it had reached $1 trillion. Real growth has averaged 7 percent for eight years, and real incomes have grown by roughly 10 percent per year. Russia’s budget surplus has stood at more than 7 percent of GDP in the last two years, public debt has dwindled to only 8 percent of GDP, from 100 percent in 1999, and the current account surplus has averaged at 10 percent of GDP for the last eight years.
But Russia’s stellar economic performance has little to do with Putin’s policy, and a lot to do with the reforms Yeltsin embraced. By 1998, Russia already had achieved a critical mass of markets and private enterprise, while the financial crash of that year worked like a catharsis, forcing the government to abolish enterprise subsidies that underpinned a devastating budget deficit of some 9 percent of GDP. Moreover, world oil prices that had fallen to $10 a barrel started rising toward the stratosphere. The whole success story thus was in place in early 1999, one year before Putin entered the stage.
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