“The Russian Economy and Russian Power” by George Friedman of Stratfor

Here is another workmanlike and insightful report by George Friedman, of interest for several reasons.

  1. It illustrates the strong degree of continuity between the foreign policy of the Obama and Bush Jr administrations, despite the Left’s hopes and the Right’s (wishful) descriptions of Obama as a radical leftist.
  2. Reading between the lines (aka guessing), it illustrates the yearning for a cold-war-like arms race by conventional US geopolitical experts — probably reflecting the opinions of US defense elites.

By the way, is there tangible evidence that Russia intends a military build-up in response to our aggressive foreign policy?  Or might they instead follow China’s example and seek economic power instead (see Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power).  Or, better yet, follow China’s example AND ally with China?

Update, an insight emailed in by an expert:  “Friedman never explains why we should want to squeeze the Russians.  What’s in it for us?  I think this is Friedman’s old Cold Warrior background showing through — he just takes it as an axiom.  Also, his view of military power, outside the relative cheap strategic realm, is the ability to refight the Battle of Kursk.”

Update:  For an analysis of the implications of this for Russian seapower, see “Russian Ambitions and Russian Realities“, by Galrahn, Information Dissemination, 10 August 2009.

To learn the consensus view on these things by our ruling elites I recommend read Friedman’s report.

Text

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Georgia and Ukraine partly answered questions over how U.S.-Russian talks went during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Russia in early July. That Biden’s visit took place at all reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the principle that Russia does not have the right to a sphere of influence in these countries or anywhere in the former Soviet Union.

The Americans’ willingness to confront the Russians on an issue of fundamental national interest to Russia therefore requires some explanation, as on the surface it seems a high-risk maneuver. Biden provided insights into the analytic framework of the Obama administration on Russia in a July 26 interview with The Wall Street Journal. In it, Biden said the United States “vastly” underestimates its hand. He added that “Russia has to make some very difficult, calculated decisions. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

U.S. Policy Continuity

The Russians have accused the United States of supporting pro-American forces in Ukraine, Georgia and other countries of the former Soviet Union under the cover of supporting democracy. They see the U.S. goal as surrounding the Soviet Union with pro-American states to put the future of the Russian Federation at risk. The summer 2008 Russian military action in Georgia was intended to deliver a message to the United States and the countries of the former Soviet Union that Russia was not prepared to tolerate such developments but was prepared to reverse them by force of arms if need be.

Following his July summit, Obama sent Biden to the two most sensitive countries in the former Soviet Union — Ukraine and Georgia — to let the Russians know that the United States was not backing off its strategy in spite of Russian military superiority in the immediate region. In the long run, the United States is much more powerful than the Russians, and Biden was correct when he explicitly noted Russia’s failing demographics as a principal factor in Moscow’s long-term decline. But to paraphrase a noted economist, we don’t live in the long run. Right now, the Russian correlation of forces along Russia’s frontiers clearly favors the Russians, and the major U.S. deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan would prevent the Americans from intervening should the Russians choose to challenge pro-American governments in the former Soviet Union directly.

Even so, Biden’s visit and interview show the Obama administration is maintaining the U.S. stanceon Russia that has been in place since the Reagan years. Reagan saw the economy as Russia’s basic weakness. He felt that the greater the pressure on the Russian economy, the more forthcoming the Russians would be on geopolitical matters. The more concessions they made on geopolitical matters, the weaker their hold on Eastern Europe. And if Reagan’s demand that Russia “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev” was met, the Soviets would collapse. Ever since the Reagan administration, the idee fixe of not only the United States, but also NATO, China and Japan has been that the weakness of the Russian economy made it impossible for the Russians to play a significant regional role, let alone a global one. Therefore, regardless of Russian wishes, the West was free to forge whatever relations it wanted among Russian allies like Serbia and within the former Soviet Union. And certainly during the 1990s, Russia was paralyzed.

Biden, however, is saying that whatever the current temporary regional advantage the Russians might have, in the end, their economy is crippled and Russia is not a country to be taken seriously. He went on publicly to point out that this should not be pointed out publicly, as there is no value in embarrassing Russia. The Russians certainly now understand what it means to hit the reset button Obama had referred to: The reset is back to the 1980s and 1990s.

Reset to the 1980s and 90s

To calculate the Russian response, it is important to consider how someone like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin views the events of the 1980s and 1990s. After all, Putin was a KGB officer under Yuri Andropov, the former head of the KGB and later Chairman of the Communist Party for a short time — and the architect of glasnost and perestroika.

It was the KGB that realized first that the Soviet Union was failing, which made sense because only the KGB had a comprehensive sense of the state of the Soviet Union. Andropov’s strategy was to shift from technology transfer through espionage — apparently Putin’s mission as a junior intelligence officer in Dresden in the former East Germany — to a more formal process of technology transfer. To induce the West to transfer technology and to invest in the Soviet Union, Moscow had to make substantial concessions in the area in which the West cared the most: geopolitics. To get what it needed, the Soviets had to dial back on the Cold War.

Glasnost, or openness, had as its price reducing the threat to the West. But the greater part of the puzzle was perestroika, or the restructuring of the Soviet economy. This was where the greatest risk came, since the entire social and political structure of the Soviet Union was built around a command economy. But that economy was no longer functioning, and without perestroika, all of the investment and technology transfer would be meaningless. The Soviet Union could not metabolize it.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a communist, as we seem to forget, and a follower of Andropov. He was not a liberalizer because he saw liberalization as a virtue; rather, he saw it as a means to an end. And that end was saving the Communist Party, and with it the Soviet state. Gorbachev also understood that the twin challenge of concessions to the West geopolitically and a top-down revolution in Russia economically — simultaneously—risked massive destabilization. This is what Reagan was counting on, and what Gorbachev was trying to prevent. Gorbachev lost Andropov’s gamble. The Soviet Union collapsed, and with it the Communist Party.

What followed was a decade of economic horror, at least as most Russians viewed it. From the West’s point of view, collapse looked like liberalization. From the Russian point of view, Russia went from a superpower that was poor to an even poorer geopolitical cripple. For the Russians, the experiment was a double failure. Not only did the Russian Empire retreat to the borders of the 18th century, but the economy became even more dysfunctional, except for a handful of oligarchs and some of their Western associates who stole whatever wasn’t nailed down.

The Russians, and particularly Putin, took away a different lesson than the West did. The West assumed that economic dysfunction caused the Soviet Union to fail. Putin and his colleagues took away the idea that it was the attempt to repair economic dysfunction through wholesale reforms that caused Russia to fail. From Putin’s point of view, economic well-being and national power do not necessarily work in tandem where Russia is concerned.

Russian Power, With or Without Prosperity

Russia has been an economic wreck for most of its history, both under the czars and under the Soviets. The geography of Russia has a range of weaknesses, as we have explored. Russia’s geography, daunting infrastructural challenges and demographic structure all conspire against it. But the strategic power of Russia was never synchronized to its economic well-being. Certainly, following World War II the Russian economy was shattered and never quite came back together. Yet Russian global power was still enormous. A look at the crushing poverty — but undeniable power — of Russia during broad swaths of time from 1600 until Andropov arrived on the scene certainly gives credence to Putin’s view.

The problems of the 1980s had as much to do with the weakening and corruption of the Communist Party under former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev as it had to do with intrinsic economic weakness. To put it differently, the Soviet Union was an economic wreck under Joseph Stalin as well. The Germans made a massive mistake in confusing Soviet economic weakness with military weakness. During the Cold War, the United States did not make that mistake. It understood that Soviet economic weakness did not track with Russian strategic power. Moscow might not be able to house its people, but its military power was not to be dismissed.

What made an economic cripple into a military giant was political power. Both the czar and the Communist Party maintained a ruthless degree of control over society. That meant Moscow could divert resources from consumption to the military and suppress resistance. In a state run by terror, dissatisfaction with the state of the economy does not translate into either policy shifts or military weakness — and certainly not in the short term. Huge percentages of gross domestic product can be devoted to military purposes, even if used inefficiently there. Repression and terror smooth over public opinion.

The czar used repression widely, and it was not until the army itself rebelled in World War I that the regime collapsed. Under Stalin, even at the worst moments of World War II, the army did not rebel. In both regimes, economic dysfunction was accepted as the inevitable price of strategic power. And dissent — even the hint of dissent — was dealt with by the only truly efficient state enterprise: the security apparatus, whether called the Okhraina, Cheka, NKVD, MGB or KGB.

From the point of view of Putin, who has called the Soviet collapse the greatest tragedy of our time, the problem was not economic dysfunction. Rather, it was the attempt to completely overhaul the Soviet Union’s foreign and domestic policies simultaneously that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And that collapse did not lead to an economic renaissance.

Biden might not have meant to gloat, but he drove home the point that Putin believes. For Putin, the West, and particularly the United States, engineered the fall of the Soviet Union by policies crafted by the Reagan administration — and that same policy remains in place under the Obama administration.

It is not clear that Putin and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev disagree with Biden’s analysis — the Russian economy truly is “withering” — except in one sense. Given the policies Putin has pursued, the Russian prime minister must believe he has a way to cope with that. In the short run, Putin might well have such a coping mechanism, and this is the temporary window of opportunityBiden alluded to. But in the long run, the solution is not improving the economy — that would be difficult, if not outright impossible, for a country as large and lightly populated as Russia. Rather, the solution is accepting that Russia’s economic weakness is endemic and creating a regime that allows Russia to be a great power in spite of that.

Such a regime is the one that can create military power in the face of broad poverty, something we will call the “Chekist state.” This state uses its security apparatus, now known as the FSB, to control the public through repression, freeing the state to allocate resources to the military as needed. In other words, this is Putin coming full circleto his KGB roots, but without the teachings of an Andropov or Gorbachev to confuse the issue. This is not an ideological stance; it applies to the Romanovs and to the Bolsheviks. It is an operational principle embedded in Russian geopolitics and history.

Counting on Russian strategic power to track Russian economic power is risky. Certainly, it did in the 1980s and 1990s, but Putin has worked to decouple the two. On the surface, it might seem a futile gesture, but in Russian history, this decoupling is the norm. Obama seems to understand this to the extent that he has tried to play off Medvedev (who appears less traditional) from Putin (who appears to be the more traditional), but we do not think this is a viable strategy — this is not a matter of Russian political personalities but of Russian geopolitical necessity.

Biden seems to be saying that the Reagan strategy can play itself out permanently. Our view is that it plays itself out only so long as the Russian regime doesn’t reassert itself with the full power of the security apparatus and doesn’t decouple economic and military growth. Biden’s strategy works so long as this doesn’t happen. But in Russian history, this decoupling is the norm and the past 20 years is the exception.

A strategy that assumes the Russians will once again decouple economic and military power requires a different response than ongoing, subcritical pressure. It requires that the window of opportunity the United States has handed Russia by its wars in the Islamic world be closed, and that the pressure on Russia be dramatically increased before the Russians move toward full repression and rapid rearmament.

Conclusions

Ironically, in the very long run of the next couple of generations, it probably doesn’t matter whether the West heads off Russia at the pass because of another factor Biden mentioned: Russia’s shrinking demographics. Russian demography has been steadily worsening since World War I, particularly because birth rates have fallen. This slow-motion degradation turned into collapse during the 1990s. Russia’s birth rates are now well below starkly higher death rates; Russia already has more citizens in their 50s than in their teens. Russia can be a major power without a solid economy, but no one can be a major power without people. But even with demographics as poor as Russia’s, demographics do not change a country overnight. This is Russia’s moment, and the generation or so it will take demography to grind Russia down can be made very painful for the Americans.

Biden has stated the American strategy: squeeze the Russians and let nature take its course. We suspect the Russians will squeeze back hard before they move off the stage of history.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Other posts about Russia (the last is the most important):

  1. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part I), 11 July 2006 – Rise of the petro-empires
  2. More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
  3. Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
  4. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 12 August 2008
  5. What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008
  6. Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
  7. Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008
  8. Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II, 16 August 2008
  9. “The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy”, by George Friedman, 4 September 2008
  10. Rumors of financial war: Russia vs. US, 22 September 2008
  11. Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?, 12 December 2008
  12. Rumors of financial war: Russia vs. US, 22 December 2008
  13. More weekend reading; information you want to have!, 23 December 2008 — Russia as the last man standing in a region of demographic collapse.
  14. A free lesson from Russia: how to manage a banking crisis, 6 February 2009
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13 thoughts on ““The Russian Economy and Russian Power” by George Friedman of Stratfor

  1. The reason America’s elite yearns for another Cold-War-style arms race is that war is the only industry America has left. We’ve outsourced or shut down everything else. Here’s a graph that proves it: “Durable Goods Shipments, percentage change from 2000” — from “Why a Recovery May Still Feel Like a Recession“, New York Times, 31 July 2009.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You’re picking up the false interpretation of Jon Taplin in “National Security State“, 1 August 2009 — Excerpt:

    “We have so hollowed out our industrial plant that the only thing we are now producing is weapons of war.”

    The graph does not show (as you imply) the absolute size of the defense industry, or its size relative to the overall US economy. It shows that the durable goods component of the defense industry has grown faster than the full economy since 2000. Not good, of course — but let’s not overstate the situation. Defense goods are less than 6% of total US durable good production, and less than 3% of total US manufacturing. (full year 2008 values, source)

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  2. Putin Speaks at Davos“, Wall Street Journal, 28 January 2009

    I think Putin has his own ideas on how to pole-axe the United States. To wit, work with Europe to try and create an alternative reserve currency and system of financial regulation. His remarks at Davos were couched as solutions to the financial crisis, but taken together it struck me they would have the effect of breaking the back of the US economy. They probably can’t get this program implemented, at least unless the US does something wildly irresponsible like inflating their way out of debt and making everyone else’s dollar reserves worthless.

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  3. Three points:

    1) Russia has recently agreed to permit the US to proceed through Russia to supply the Afghan war. Assuming the Russians aren’t saps, there must be a quid pro quo. And Russia has the potential to deny us these logistic facilities.

    2) The 1980’s United States had vastly greater credit than does the 21st century United States. Much of the economic pressure the United States then brought to bear against Russia resulted from its ability to run up deficits.

    3) Russia is an oil exporter; the United States is an oil importer.

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  4. To answer your question –no there are no evidence in open sources that the Russians are intending a massive military buildup. They recently, as part of their military reform, cut the numbers of their armed forces from 1,2 mil to 1 mil, and their tanks to 2000. As for their nuclear forces, the emphasis there will be not on their numbers but on their survivability in event of first strike, and their ability to penetrate NMD. The number of nuclear delivery systems is planed to drop from ~800 today to ~500 in 2020. The emphasis will be on the new SSBNs and mobile ICBMs.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks, that was my impression also. Do you have any supporting links or references?

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  5. This is about the reform in the armed forces: “Russia to complete military reform in 3-4 years“, The Russian News & Information Agency (RIA Novost), 9 February 2009.

    About the tanks I found this in english: “Tank force reductions or statistical juggling“, op-ed in The Russian News & Information Agency (RIA Novost), 3 July 2009. Keep in mind that it is intended to soot fears that the tank cuts are to deep.the rest is in russian, but I will try to find something in english.
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    FM note: “Russian tank production hits high not seen since 1993“, Russia and CIS Defense & Policy Blog, 29 May 2009. Of course, this does not mean that the Ruskies are re-igniting the arms race — their tank force could even so still be shrinking.

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  6. I think Putin’s record while president from 2000-2008 is fairly solid indication Russia is not planning a massive military build-up. Military spending did have a large increase but only because so little was spent on the military during the 1990’s. Russia had a huge reserve of $700 billion saved up before the recession hit. The Russians could have spent that money on their military instead of saving it but they didn’t. They decided to save it for a emergency like the recession. Contrast that with the US record on defense spending.

    All of the plans announced by the Russians indicate they are moving to a smaller, more professional military. A one million man military is too small to threaten Eastern Europe with invasion let alone Western Europe. Here are some helpful links.

    New defense plan:
    * “Serdyukov’s Plan for Russian Military Reform“, Ruslan Pukhov, Moscow Defense Brief, #2 (16), 2009
    * “Serdyukov’s radical reform“, Ivan Yegorov, The Russian News & Information Agency (RIA Novost), 18 December 2008

    Nuclear Forces: The Russian strategic nuclear forces website {see the about page}

    Database on current Russian equipment: Warfare.RU — Russian military analysis.

    General links:
    * Military Photos — they have a huge Russian military photo thread
    * Russia and CIS Defense & Policy Blog
    * Moscow Defense Brief {online version of a print publication} — probably the best open-source info available on the internet about the Russian military
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for posting this impressive listing of information sources! Who funds these kind of think tanks and websites? Look at the Russia and CIS Defense & Policy Blog — some real money goes into this.

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  7. An insight emailed in by an expert (an updated added to the post)

    “Friedman never explains why we should want to squeeze the Russians. What’s in it for us? I think this is Friedman’s old Cold Warrior background showing through — he just takes it as an axiom. Also, his view of military power, outside the relative cheap strategic realm, is the ability to refight the Battle of Kursk.”

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  8. VP Joe Biden is obvious a fool and has the potential to become a new Dan Quayle, but he also gives us the advantage to give us some honest insights to the thinking inside the White House and especially of American hubris. Today many view Russian in pretty much the same light as Japan before 1941: A peril, but definitely not a serious threat for the Great White Man – well at least until the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor. Please also recall General Leslie Groves who in August 1949 predicted that it would take the Russians at least twenty years to master the power of the atom. In reality Russia detonated its first nuclear device a month later. For some reason we are often incapable of judging our potential enemies and often make them greater than they are or weaker in our own perception.

    Russia is indeed weak, but what to make of it? As far as I can tell weakness can produce two outcomes: Aggressiveness or submission. Nothing about what Biden says about Russia was really wrong, but his conclusion that Russia will act weak because it is weak is flatly wrong. On the contrary it is entirely possible the Russia will become more and more edgy in the coming years while Ukraine or Georgia wants to join NATO or Poland and the Baltic states will pressure NATO for formal defence planning, plans for NATO reinforcement and perhaps even NATO bases (aka American bases) in Eastern Europe. As for now the only NATO installation in Poland is one unfinished conference center. Eastern Europe is the new place for the new cold war: It is no longer about spreading communist revolution to Cuba or Nicaragua but a conflict about Russian dominance of the old Soviet sphere of influence which for now is a part of the Western sphere of influence. It won’t remain that way according the the Kremlin.

    There is a saying about Russia: Russia is never as weak as it seems like and never as strong as some would like to believe. There is a lot of truth to that. Russia doesn’t have to go to the other side of the globe to wage war – it just have to influence, intimidate or invade its neighbours like it happen last year in Georgia. Russia’s conventional military capabilities are indeed weak, but especially after the war in Georgia they are fully commmitted to modernize their forces. Whether they will reach all their goals until 2020 is questionable, but not their commitment. For example: Russia will deploy two full-sized armies in Belarus during large-scale joint military exercises in September and it remains committed to modernize its nuclear forces even though its latest test of the Bulava SLBM failed.

    It is also worth noticing that NATO in 2009 is not NATO in 1989. NATO has become a more fragile alliance and many members – including some pretty important ones like Germany – think that trade and political alliances with Russia is the best way forward. Perhaps they are right, but strong trade relations didn’t prevent the outbreak of war in 1914. As far as I can tell Russia’s influence in Berlin today is greater than the United States – if for nothing else than because the Russian ambassador is much better at throwing a great party than the American ambassador. Please also notice Italy’s PM Silvio Berlusconi, who onces declared himself to be Russia’s attorney inside the EU. Also bear in mind that despite Russia’s fears of Western encirclement in reality what the Americans really care about is global dominance, so the demand to NATO at each summit is to send more troops to Afghanistan, which means lighter forces perfect for COIN but wholly unsuitable to face a strong conventional force. If you wonder why the Georgians fought so weak last year this is the reason. Unfortunately there is a strong perception even among military experts that there is no real difference between fighting the Taleban and an enemy that has its own tanks, its own helicopters or fighter planes. This is as tragic as the dismissal of studying counterinsurgency before the invasion of Iraq, but the consequences could potentially be much greater.

    Finally FM ask why? Why do we have an interest in fighting the Russians? First of all I am not really sure many even have realized that we are in a new cold war with the Russians. My impression is that the relative Russian weakness since 1990 has made us believe that this will remain a permanent reality and that the NATO expansion of 1999 and 2004 was more about expanding the Western sphere of influence (and get new member states willing to send troops to Afghanistan or Iraq) than picking a fight with the Kremlin. By expanding NATO the United States has sleep-walked into a new cold war.

    Sir Halford John Mackinder was a British geographer who wrote a paper in 1904 called “The Geographical Pivot of History”, where he suggested that the control of Eastern Europe was vital to control of the world. Especially because he felt it meant control of the “heartland”, which meant Euroasia with is natural ressources and people. He summed it up like that:

    Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland
    Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island
    Who rules the World-Island commands the world

    It might sound old-fashioned, but the old cold war from 1945 until 1991 (with the American attempts of containment) fits nicely into this world-view and Hitler’s conquest of the USSR was directly linked to his belief that control of the “heartland” was necessary for building a truly nazi superpower capable of dominating the whole world. It might be wrong or at least old-fashioned, but political beliefs have a tendency to shape reality like the idea that invading Iraq would create a democratic revolution in the Middle East.

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  9. Robert I don’t think I understand you. Are you saying that while the USA was absentmindedly increasing its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe after the fall of the USSR, it became suddenly apparent that the Bear was not really dead, and not only that but the Bear has the temerity to object to the wish of “the Great White Man” to make himself a coat out of its fur? And are you also concerned that the Western Europeans will show enough insubordination and refuse to join the USA in their quest to skin a living bear?

    I apologize if I have misunderstood you but can you clarify your position.

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  10. You ask three questions, each interesting in its own right.

    The first has been answered adequately by other posters. I can say nothing that has not already been said by those more informed than myself.

    The second is nonsensical, if we are to hold the things Friedman is saying to be true. If the Siloviki do believe their country to be the possessor of endemic economic weakness, as Stratfor suggests, then it is quite impossible for the Russians to follow China’s path. The Russians see economics as a limitation to be “decoupled” from their strategic power, not a tool to strengthen it.

    The proper answer to the third question is one of my own: what leads you to believe that the Chinese have anything to gain by allying with the Russians? Friedman’s “Cold Warrior background” shows here too; no longer does the United States duel with the Russians in a vacuum. While Russia may fear encroachment by pro-American states, does it not have just as much to fear from encroachment of pro-Chinese states? In the long term, who benefits from Russia’s demographic decline — the United States or of the People’s Republic? In what scenario would Beijing gain more from choosing Moscow over Washington?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The answer to the latter two questions are identical — mineral resources (including oil and natural gas). Russia has vast stockpiles of both. Their value will increase greatly during the next economic boom. China needs both.

    “if we are to hold the things Friedman is saying to be true.”

    Stratfor is useful for many reasons, but esp as a window to the geopolitical thinking of US elites. They (Stratfor and our elites) have no clue about economics in general, nor more specifically about resource scarcity — in the sense of rising prices, not running out.

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  11. Dear Mitko
    I don’t NATO expansion was ever about seeking a confrontation with Russia, but what we never realized was that it nevertheless was viewed as such by the Russian leadership. Back around 1991 there was a strong possibility for many wars like Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe (please recall the Hungarian PM Josef Antall who as late as in 1994 declared himself to be the leader of 15 million Hungarians – but only ten of them lived in Hungary), so as far as I am concerned it made sense to try to fill the vacuum with NATO and EU membership. Like I mentioned before it also meant more cannon fodder for the American war machine and some people in Washington viewed Eastern Europe as the “New Europe” that could act as a counterweight to “old Europe” aka France and Germany. Poland is a pretty large country, it is 100 percent pro-American and has the potential to become a regional power in Eastern Europe. Not a bad ally for Pentagon. Ukraine is perhaps even better since it is as large as France.

    My concern was and remains to nothing was ever done to take the Russians into account. Since we couldn’t figure out how to handle Russia we chose the easy way out and ignored them – simply forgetting what would happen the day when the Russians would feel strong enough to challenge us. It was (and still is) assumed they will never, ever be able to challenge us. Instead of trying to make some sort of accomodation we enlarged NATO and moved on the wage war on terror – more or less forgetting the Russians. There is a strong dichotomy between Russia and the West: As far as the West – especially the United States – is concerned we won the cold war almost twenty years ago and it is already ancient history. “So last century” as young people would say. For the Russian leadership – the Siloviki – this is painful reality they are reminded of almost every day. They lost their empire, their allies in Eastern Europe, their military might and now have NATO as close as 150 kilometres away from Sct. Petersburg. I would like to point out that Putin back in 2005 declared the breakdown of the Soviet Union to be the greatest disaster in modern Russian history. Britain went to war with Argentina in 1982 for less than that.

    One of the really odd things is how quickly we forget recent confrontations. Ten years ago – in 1999 – Russia and NATO came close to an armed confrontation when NATO bombed Yugoslavia to surrender Kosovo and Russian forces made a dash to create a Russian zone of occupation in nothern Kosovo. When the Russian troops arrived in Pristina and awaited reinforcements from Russia NATO general Wesley Clarke ordered a British strike force to intervene and stop the Russians. The British commander refused and stated: “I am not going to start World War 3 for you.”

    Why – exactly – is such a situation unthinkable to happen again with Georgia and Ukraine applying for NATO membership and the Baltic countries already are members?

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  12. Perhaps the smart thing to do here is to offer NATO membership to Russia.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I like that! Perhaps Iran and China, too.

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  13. The Russian Economy is not functioning well and it cannot operate efficiently with all the corruption going on. It will lag the rest of the world in economic development because foreign investment will think twice about risking money in such an uncertain and lawless business environment.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Assuming oil prices remain high, Russia needs no foreign investment. Japan, Southeast Asia, and China all demonstrated that rapid economic development requires no foreign investment.

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