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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Exposing Russia's Fundamental Weakness

Reader Jeremy Putley points us to a recent article from Newsweek in which the authors expose the fundamental sham that is the Russian economic, and indeed political, system (something La Russophobe has been pointing out for some time now). The fact that even the mainstream media is catching on just goes to show how Neo-Soviet propaganda will have a much tougher row to hoe than the original.

Why Russia Is Really Weak

What happens to Russia when—not if—oil and gas prices begin to retreat?

By Rajan Menon and Alexander Motyl

Newsweek International

Sept. 25, 2006 issue - News stories about Russia these days follow a predictable theme. The country is resurgent and strong, and the West must adjust to this new reality. But that story line is wrong. Russia is weak and getting weaker.

Take the conventional index of power—military might. Yes, Moscow is testing advanced missiles systems and talks buoyantly about countering a U.S. antiballistic-missile system with a new generation of warheads that can evade interceptors. Yet note the failure earlier this month of the highly touted Bulava submarine-launched missile. The United States experiences such mishaps, too, of course. But in Russia they are signs of something deeper. It's no secret that, for all Russia's new oil wealth, its Army remains poorly trained, malnourished and demoralized. Alcoholism, suicide and corruption are rife. Weaponry is aging and newer models arrive at a trickle: India has bought more Russian tanks since 2001 than the Russian Army.

Russia gets credit for economic growth—nearly 7 percent this year, according to the IMF. But the boom has been propelled mainly by rising energy prices. What happens when—not if—oil and gas prices begin to retreat? New investment in production capacity is insufficient to sustain current levels of exports. Meanwhile, economic reform has stalled, state control over strategic economic industries has increased and foreign investment remains low. Of the $648.1 billion in foreign investment worldwide in 2004, only $11.6 billion went to Russia. Not surprisingly, Russia rates poorly in globalization rankings. The 2005 Foreign Policy/A.T. Kearney survey placed it 52nd in a list of 62 countries—a drop of five places from 2004.

Russia's human capital is being ravaged. The population is declining by some 750,000 annually because of low birthrates and unusually high death rates among males; it's also aging rapidly and will therefore become increasingly less productive. Alcoholism remains pervasive, as does drug use. Russia has the highest rate of tuberculosis in Europe. AIDS has yet to crest. Suicide is one the rise. According to WHO data on 46 countries between 1998 and 2003, Russia, with 71 cases per 100,000 of the male population, topped the list.

A nation's power also rests on the strength of its institutions. Here, too, Russia is growing weaker. Putin's authoritarianism has brought order to a once chaotic political scene. But Parliament has been neutered. So have independent civic organizations, political parties and media. The secret police, military and security services—no friends of the rule of law—occupy prominent political positions. Official corruption flourishes.

Abroad, Russia's influence continues to ebb. Its closest allies—Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—are poor and politically unstable. Energy-rich Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan resent Russia's grip on their exports. Armenia, loyal but penurious, remains embroiled in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with increasingly prosperous Azerbaijan. The Kremlin's meddling in Georgia has deepened Tblisi's determination to join NATO and strengthened anti-Russian sentiment. Belarus's dictatorial president envisions union with Russia, but his Soviet-style political order repels many ordinary Russians.

On the wider global stage, Putin displays seeming strength and new confidence. Russian support is key to the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Its Security Council veto gives it an important say on various international issues, from Kosovo's independence to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Yet Putin's rhetoric increasingly strikes themes of Great Russia—imperial, nostalgic, nationalistic. However much it resonates with a particular Russian political class, that rhetoric can itself breed weakness.

You see this in the sharp rise of race-related hate crimes in Russia, most recently the clash between Russian xenophobes and Chechens in the north- western town of Kondopga, when a bar brawl triggered huge rallies of ultranationalists demanding the expulsion of ethnic minorities. Right-wing racism and Russia-for-Russians chauvinism augur ill for a multiethnic, multiconfessional Russia, which has near 25 million Muslims.

So, the received wisdom is wrong. What the West must live with is a weak Russia. And history shows that states that talk loudly while carrying a small stick often overreach, creating problems for themselves and others.

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