Russia Is DoomedPosted: March 5, 2014
Don’t be fooled by Putin’s façade; the pillars of Russian power are steadily declining.
Zachary Keck writes: Everywhere one looks today, signs of a resurgent Russia are omnipresent. Although Vladimir Putin has undoubtedly worked hard to craft this image, it is a mirage. Russia is doomed over the long-term, and its short-term maneuvers aren’t enough to compensate for this fact.
Traditionally, Russian power has rested on four pillars: population, energy, weaponry and geography. Three of these are diminishing.
The backbone of modern Russian power has been its massive population. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in WWII. Russia no doubt played a leading role in orchestrating Hitler’s demise, starting with its legendary stands in Leningrad and Stalingrad. However, Stalin sapped the military might of Nazi Germany less because of the strategic or tactical genius he possessed, and almost entirely through his willingness to expend the lives of his citizenry.
According to some estimates, the Soviet Union lost somewhere between 22 and 28 million people during WWII. To put this in perspective, the United States and Great Britain each lost less than half a million people and even Germany only lost between 7 and 9 million lives during the war. Nonetheless, for nearly half a century after the war the Soviet Union could credibly threaten the much richer West solely because of the sheer number of men it could put under arms.
Yet like most of Europe, Russia has recently seen its population dwindle even as countries like China, India and much of the third world have seen sharp rises in their own populations. As AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt observed in World Affairs: “in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.” Unless Russia can reverse this depopulation for a sustained period of time, it will likely become increasingly irrelevant in international politics.
Another source of modern Russian power has been its massive energy reserves. Indeed, high oil prices during the 1970s allowed the Soviet Union to flex its muscles abroad. However, as energy prices stabilized during the 1980s the artifice upon which the Soviet system began to crumble. Far from continuing to expand, the end of the decade saw the Soviet empire disintegrate, with Moscow powerless to stop it.
The so-called resurgence Russia has enjoyed since Putin first assumed power has also been built on high energy prices. And like the Soviet leaders before him, Putin has squandered the temporary respite provided by high energy prices instead of using it to reinvest in the country and its people. As the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development noted gloomily in December 2012, “Not only are Russian exports highly concentrated in natural resources, this concentration has increased over time: the shares of oil, gas and other minerals in Russia’s exports are higher today than they were 15 years ago.”
It went on to reflect: “In 2012 Russia remains highly dependent on its natural resources. Oil and gas now account for nearly 70 percent of total goods exports…. Oil and gas revenues also contribute around half of the federal budget. The non-oil fiscal deficit has average…Read the rest >>>
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