August 23, 2008

Making sense of Russia

Russia is both a rising power and a weak state with corrupt and inefficient institutions - not a good mix. Is it not time we stop referring to Russia as the unpredictable regime, ever since Vladimir Putin and more recently, after installing his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, the manner is which Moscow interacts with Europe, its western friendly neighbors and the U.S. is unmistakably predictable; anti-western, confrontational, and nearly always noisy. It decided not to cooperate with the west in relation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or with Kosovo’s final status negotiations. In 2007, Moscow acted alone in suspending the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, its air force is now patrolling the Atlantic, its intelligence network is as busy as ever, and its military budget is increasing dramatically.

Russia’s confrontational stance is not just centered on its strong and yet fragile, newfound economic power (the Russian economy expanded by 69% during Putin’s period in office) but on the mindset of its ruling elite. The collapse of the Soviet Union has left an indelible psychological imprint on its rulers who remain haunted by the experience. How else can we explain its embrace of 20th century confrontational style international order? Just this week Moscow reacted angrily to the newly signed U.S.-Poland missile deal and in a statement released later, the language was clear, “…Russia will be compelled to react - and not only by diplomatic protests".

Medvedev’s and Putin’s Foreign Policy is either destined to fail or otherwise lead to further diplomatic altercation for it is amongst other things, based on a faulty premise – that the U.S. is in decline and facing an inevitable collapse that will see its international influence diminish. They will confidently point to Iraq and Afghanistan (perhaps citing their own failures there) its EU disputes and slowing economy as evidence. However, U.S. declinism theories are nothing new, both within and beyond of Russia. Since the attack on 9/11 in particular, we have witnessed and heard of a virtual plethora of books and online social commentary assertively predicting the decline of America. Too numerous to mention here they include Johnson’s Blowback, Ferguson’s Colossus: The price of America’s empire, the writings of Chomsky and Fisk in addition to a near army of lefties opposed to U.S. foreign policy and what they refer to “cultural imperialism”. The anti-americanist overtures dwell on familiar, now worn-out themes that, according to the writers, have stretched America’s “imperial capabilities so much that America will go down the same path as Persia, Rome, and the Soviet Union. One of the newer refutations of this comes to us from Robert Lieber at World Affairs.

Is America finished? Respected public intellectuals, think tank theorists, and members of the media elite seem to think so. The scare headline in a recent New York Times Magazine cover story by Parag Khanna titled “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony” asks, “Who Shrunk the Superpower?” Almost daily, learned authors proclaim The End of the American Era, as the title of a 2002 book by Charles Kupchan put it, and instruct us that the rise of China and India, the reawakening of Putin’s Russia, and the expansion of the European Union signal a profound shift in geopolitical power that will retire once and for all the burden of American Exceptionalism. America has become an “enfeebled” superpower, according to Fareed Zakaria in his book, The Post-American World, which concedes that, while the U.S. will not recede from the world stage anytime soon, “Just as the rest of the world is opening up, America is closing down.” With barely contained satisfaction, a French foreign minister says of America’s standing, “The magic is over . . . It will never be as it was before.”

The author concludes: "Over the years, America’s staying power has been regularly and chronically underestimated—by condescending French and British statesmen in the nineteenth century, by German, Japanese, and Soviet militarists in the twentieth, and by homegrown prophets of doom today. The critiques come and go. The object of their contempt never does."

Indeed, it does, in 1970, Andrew Hacker a political scientist published a book titled, “The end of the American Era” where he confidently predicted American decline citing poor fiscal policies, excessive individualism, and imperial overstretch; sound familiar?

Sadly for Russia, America will remain the pre-eminent political, economic, and military power, but this will do little to curtail Moscow's spoiler antics on the world stage. We must bear in mind that, behind the facade of strength lays an immature democracy, a regime that denies its citizens political freedom and individual autonomy and a tenuous economy. Putin has failed dismally by not taking advantage of record high-energy prices to diversify the economy, develop infrastructure, and address the many health and demographic issues Russia faces. Instead, the petro dollars have been used to secure a fragile power, weaken institutions, and point his country in an increasingly confrontational path. Herein lies the danger, Russia is both a rising power and a weak state with corrupt and inefficient institutions - not a good mix.

Georgia may have only been the beginning, who will be next?

See also: How to contain Russia - Russia is actually weaker than ever, it's "economy would fall off a cliff if energy prices slumped and its population, racked by ill-health and inequality, is shrinking by up to 800,000 a year. Russia can make mischief, but it cannot project military and ideological power all around the world, as the Soviet Union did during the cold war."

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9 comments:

MK said...

"Is America finished? Respected public intellectuals, think tank theorists, and members of the media elite seem to think so."

It sounds like wishful thinking on their part Otto.

"Sadly for Russia, America will remain the pre-eminent political, economic, and military power...."

I certainly hope so.

"Russia can make mischief, but it cannot project military and ideological power all around the world, as the Soviet Union did during the cold war."

Thank America for small mercies. We are so much better off with a diminished Soviet Union and i for one hope we'll never return to those days of abundant misery, persecution and death.

Jungle Mom said...

Russia is signing contracts with Venezuela like crazy! Already there is Kalashnikov factory, they are buying Russian subs, land for Russian military bases have been offered by Chavez and Raul Castro says they can reload planes on his island.
We need to keep our eyes on all this!

The Historian said...

Otto-

"Is America finished? Respected public intellectuals, think tank theorists, and members of the media elite seem to think so."

If that is what the intellectuals, theorists and media elites are saying, it is great news. They are virtually never correct since what they typically have to say is based far more on what they hope will occur versus what the flow of history indicates.

I suspect that Tsar Putin has isolated himself and Russia by operating in the 21st century based upon 20th century principles.

WomanHonorThyself said...

hiya Otto..how to contain Russia indeed my friend............

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

History reminds us that when the Soviet Union began it expansion and actually out gunned and out nuked the US people said we were finished.

Jimmy Carter, when the USSR was so strong and expanding in the seventies actually went on TV to tell the American people that we had to accept that the US had to conform to the,"fact," that we lived in a defferent world dominated by the Soviets adn that we had to get used to a lesser standard of living.

Well we did not then nor are we now concedeing that the US is finished. Like MK said it sounds like, "wishful thinking, " by those who always condemn and wish for the demise of the US.

Many of the naysayers are menbers of the liberal elite right here in our country!

Well to all of them I say with pride as an American we are here abd here to stay! And the wrold is a better place because of it!

The Lonely Conservative said...

Another great post Otto. We may have to wait until November to see how the rest of the story will play out.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Russia desires to be THE world power. They just don't have the right "country personality" for it.

Aurora said...

Russia has engendered a fanatical fear of America in its citizens who believe the American bogeyman is hiding behind every tree! Thus the country has put itself into a really bad position as you point out.
You quote:
“Waving Goodbye to Hegemony” asks, “Who Shrunk the Superpower?”

There will always be a hegemony, the question is more, who is going to have the hegemony? The death wish of those who are citing China and Russia as the rising superpowers is astounding. They have no idea what they're calling for.
As for the question, 'who shrunk the Superpower?', as MK says, wishful thinking...or downright orchestrating. There is a nefarious cluster of people who are determined to bring down the country that has consistently fought for what is good and right in this world.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Great arti. Russia still has a ton of probs - Strategic Forecast said back in January that Russia would have to act out soon to reclaim Warsaw Pact turf before Great Satan became unbound from Iraq. Russia's GRU did a report about then that pointed out Russia's armnament Industry was almost like Doofus Central - all the stuff sold to India, Pakistan, Algeria and Libya were coming back for warranty claims faster than Russia could crank out new stuff.

http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20080109/95840754.html