Russia is facing its worst recession in 30 years — and the 'Putin Generation' is paying the price

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A girl takes a self portrait with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he vists a sports center for children in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014.
A generation of young people in Russia have grown up knowing only one leader: Vladimir Putin.Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti/Associated Press
  • Russian youths face shrinking professional opportunities as multinational firms exit the country.

  • Young Russians could also find it tougher to pursue higher education in Europe.

  • The Russian economy will contract 11.2% in 2022, said a World Bank forecast released in April.

Russian youths entering the job market and pursuing higher education are in for a rough ride.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, multinational companies have left Russia in droves, while sanctions from major world economies are intensifying. Meanwhile, there are changes taking place at Russian universities that stand to make it difficult for the country's students to pursue higher education elsewhere.

"We're really entering a kind of uncharted territory in so many ways," said Hassan Malik, a senior sovereign analyst at the Boston investment-management consultancy Loomis Sayles.

Experts told Insider that it's impossible, just months into the war, to quantify the effects of the war on Russian youths. But they also said the generation that grew up under the presidency of Vladimir Putin — which started in 2012 — is now experiencing a very different Russia from the one it grew up in.

Loosely termed the "Putin Generation," this group of young people grew up knowing only one president in its formative years and is between 17 and 25 years old, the Wilson Center said. They grew up eating McDonald's, watching the latest Hollywood films, and posting on Instagram — all of which are, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, no longer available in Russia.

Two experts Insider spoke with broke down how much tougher it'll be for young Russians at work and in school.

Multinationals are leaving en masse, limiting professional opportunities

Like in many countries, the value of a good education in Russia is that it opens doors not only at homegrown employers but also at multinational companies that present opportunities for employees to enter and leave the European job market freely. These windows are closing fast.

"A lot of multinational corporations had promised good, stable careers, where one can advance on their merits in a kind of traditional Western capitalist model," said Andrew Lohsen, a fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Those opportunities are drying up as these companies leave Russia, and some of the industries that have promised high salaries are starting to be hamstrung by sanctions."

Lohsen cited oil, gas, and IT as some sectors where multinationals are departing in droves, which leaves a future of uncertainty for those looking to enter these industries. Earlier this month, the American tech giants IBM and Microsoft laid off hundreds of employees in Russia as companies continued to pull out of the market.

Such exits are not just about the job market. They'll also curtail training and professional networks for Russian professionals, Malik said.

In response, many Russian tech employees are leaving, Insider's Belle Lin, Masha Borak, and Kylie Robison reported in April. While many made their exits because of a fear of being conscripted to fight the war, some said they were driven by the effects of sanctions on their jobs.

In April, the World Bank said the Russian economy was expected to contract 11.2% in 2022, marking its worst economic contraction in three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian universities and education may quash open debate and push for top-down thinking

The experts Insider spoke with also expressed concern about the future of Russia's academic system, as the country looks to exit the Bologna Process in which European governments align education standards and qualifications.

"What that means is that Russians who are thinking about getting a higher education in Europe — especially a professional or doctoral degree — will find it much harder now to try to enter European universities," Lohsen said. Russia is planning to revert to the Soviet standard, which makes it very difficult for any sort of European university to verify their academic credentials, he added.

Europe's academic community is especially concerned about the freedom for open debate in Russia after 700 rectors and university presidents from Russian universities signed a letter nine days into invasion endorsing the Kremlin's version of events — namely, that Moscow is aiming for a "demilitarisation and denazification" of Ukraine, the Times Higher Education magazine reported, citing the letter, which has since been taken down.

"What we are seeing is the politicization of the education system, and that goes from the top to the bottom," Lohsen said. "There's a real sharp turn in the Russian education toward embracing the state narrative and excluding any sort of doubt or alternatives, and punishing those who step out of line."

Malik said he had participated in conferences with Russian and international institutions in the past where there were dynamic exchanges of ideas. He thinks this would now be extremely difficult, he said, especially since Russia passed a law in March that would jail for up to 15 years those intentionally spreading "fake" news about the military.

A political upheaval is unlikely even if Russians are unhappy, experts say

While the situation looks grim, Moscow has been ramping up propaganda in recent years to promote a top-down structure with the state, the military, and the church at the core of Russian society, Lohsen said. Alongside a mass-media environment that's largely controlled by the state or linked to the Kremlin, such messages could distract the populace from impending economic hardship, he added.

Some young Russians who are unhappy with Putin's rule fled the country after the war broke out. But there are everyday practicalities to consider for Russians who wish to start afresh outside their home country — such as long-term visas, employment, and financial resources, all of which are now harder to come by because of sanctions over the war, Malik and Lohsen said.

Inside Russia, support for the war remains. In late May, an independent Russian pollster called the Levada Center conducted a survey of 1,634 Russian people and found that 60% of 18- to 24-year-old Russians supported the war.

There's little indication anything will change politically — even if there are pockets of dissent, Malik said.

"A revolution is more likely in a democracy than in an autocracy — because in a democracy, you can just have an election," he said. After all, the economic conditions in the former Soviet Union were worse than what they are now in Russia, but nothing changed for decades, he added.

"For discontent to translate into policy change, and let alone regime change, in an autocracy is a very high bar," he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider