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Russia in the 21st Century [Superthread]


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Interesting American Thinker article about Putin stepping into the power vacuum left by the US.


In the absence of American strength and reliability, all the players are turning to Russia, which is emerging:

● as a vocal defender of Christianity against Muslim persecution around the world;

● as a plausible peacemaker in the Middle East, with far better relationships with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria than America has today;

● as the monopoly natural gas supplier for Germany, with the consent of the Franco-German axis;

● as the only country with a credible a nuclear umbrella to protect its friends and deter its enemies;

● as a country that understands the value of relatively free markets -- witness the 14% flat tax Putin just introduced in Russia.
Interesting but, I think, because it is designed to convince Americans to change governments, not because it presents a credible case for a Russian turn around.

I remain convinced that Russia is a failing state, not a potential leader of even a rival for any of the America, China or India.

I'm not so sure about Russia "turning around", but they have the legacy of an "Empire", a legacy military force and a large reserve of resource wealth, so stepping into a power vacuum isn't to difficult to imagine.

It also bolster's the legitimacy of the Russian ruling elites, and serves (like most Imperial ventures) to distract the people from issues and problems at home and the "near abroad".

Historically, Europeans have been afraid more of the potential of Russia rather than the reality. Everyone was afraid of the "Russian Steamroller", but it finally came into existence only in the second half of the "Great Patriotic War" after years of being forged in the fires of real combat against the Nazis. As you yourself have pointed out on many occasions, the Red Army *we* feared during the Cold War was generally ill led, ill trained, ill disciplined and poorly equipped, and this only a few decades after their military peak. I'm sure the situation is the same today.
Not sure I'm really getting that warm fuzzy feeling from having the worlds largest Thugocracy as the go to guy in the second, third, or lost world.
The article puts a comparative microscope on some aspects of US and Russian foreign policy and leadership styles of Obama and Putin.  Pushing aside critiques of Obama's application of foreign policy, any US President would be hard pressed dealing with unpayable levels of national debt and the hampered ability to project influence globally.  Other regional powers are filling the gaps.  Putin, as I recall reading from a Stratfor
article some time ago, implied he's got a short time to gain geo-economic/political influence until his "term" ends (no strong successor) and the population demographics slide.
Bert said:
The article puts a comparative microscope on some aspects of US and Russian foreign policy and leadership styles of Obama and Putin.  Pushing aside critiques of Obama's application of foreign policy, any US President would be hard pressed dealing with unpayable levels of national debt and the hampered ability to project influence globally.  Other regional powers are filling the gaps.  Putin, as I recall reading from a Stratfor
article some time ago, implied he's got a short time to gain geo-economic/political influence until his "term" ends (no strong successor) and the population demographics slide.

The US economy is a powerful engine if allowed to function without interference.The debt could easily be paid down,unfortunately this crowd in dc are anti-business.They also don't care for the military and will use the defense budget to foster their agenda.The latter isn't new at all.Meanwhile,as has happened before other nations will try to take advantage of our weaknesses.
When it comes down to the dollars and cents; Russia has a GDP less than that of Italy. That mere fact limits what they can do and influence.
AirDet said:
When it comes down to the dollars and cents; Russia has a GDP less than that of Italy. That mere fact limits what they can do and influence.

True enough, but as the saying goes:

"Capitalism is about the use of capital"

If Russia is willing to use a large fraction of its economic resources to project military and political power into what it sees as its area of interest; and if that fraction works out to be more than rival States are willing to spend to oppose it, then Russia still comes out ahead WRT its interests.
Putin uses his diplomatic, strategic and economic capital to achieve the results that he wants at the G-20 summit, as reported by Bloomberg:


Putin Overwhelms Obama at the Sulky Summit
By Leonid Bershidsky Sep 6, 2013 10:43 AM ET

When Russian President Vladimir Putin came out to welcome world leaders to this week's G-20 summit at the Constantine Palace in Strelna, a St. Petersburg suburb, many wondered how it would go between him and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The latter had, after all, likened Putin to a bored, slouching kid at the back of the class. The Russian ex-KGB officer, eight years Obama's senior, took offense. In an interview the day before the summit, he resorted to the royal "we" when commenting on Obama's remark: "I am surprised sometimes to read about body language, about us being bored or otherwise behaving differently. Who but ourselves can say what's in our heads and our souls?"

The leaders arrived one after another in Russian-assembled Series 7 BMWs that were provided by the hosts. Putin laughed with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and spent more time talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel than to any of his other guests. Obama was the last to appear -– in his own Cadillac.

He extended his hand as soon as he climbed out of the limousine, and Putin did the same as he walked over to meet him. The handshake was brief, just long enough for photographers to capture Obama's broad smile and Putin's more tight-lipped one.

Through most of the first day Putin and Obama avoided each other. The organizers initially wanted to seat the G20 leaders according to the Russian alphabetical order of their countries, putting only King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia between Putin and Obama, but decided at the last moment to switch to the Latin alphabet. The Russian and U.S. presidents ended up separated by five people. They didn't exchange a meaningful word.

Finally, the two stepped aside for a 20-minute conversation during the first day's dinner and reception. The talk appears to have been inconclusive.

The St. Petersburg meeting of the G-20 may well go down in history as the Sulky Summit, but also as a qualified Putin victory. "Syria: G-20 trapped by Putin," read a headline in the conservative French newspaper le Figaro.

Most of the leaders present share the Russian president's views on whether to intervene in Syria, the most divisive issue on the agenda. European Council President Herman van Rompuy, representing the European Union at the summit, said early on that -- unlike Obama and his British, French, Turkish and Canadian allies -- he did not support airstrikes. Putin even received a letter from Pope Francis, which said the search for a military solution in Syria was "futile." Like van Rompuy, Merkel wants the situation to be resolved within the framework of the United Nations, and most of the leaders of the emerging world agree.

At June's G-8 summit in Northern Ireland, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted that Putin was an outlier in the group, because of his stand on Syria: "I don't think we should fool ourselves. This is G7 plus one ... We in the West have a very different perspective on this situation. Mr. Putin and his government are supporting the thugs of the Assad regime for their own reasons that I do not think are justifiable."

Yet Putin was able to block the G-8 from issuing a statement condemning Assad and demanding his ouster -- and that was before the Obama called for air strikes to punish Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.

In St. Petersburg, Putin and Harper smiled and shook hands. The Canadian prime minister did not talk of "G-19 plus one." In the expanded format, a tough line on Assad is unpopular. Putin clearly enjoyed rubbing in the fact that a number of big, increasingly economically powerful countries did not feel the need to fall in with the U.S. line.

Putin also reveled in his role as host. It was he who cajoled Russian and foreign companies into helping to fund the $300 million refurbishment of the Constantine palace, finished in 2003. So the imperial splendor of the summit's backdrop was in part his doing. The meeting was impeccably and expensively organized, the Kremlin having splurged on a fleet of new buses and electric cars, a majestic light show at the baroque palace in Peterhof, and a further $60 million pre-summit facelift of the Constantine palace.

This being Russia, some of the expense was called into question. Dimtry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, said that during the first day of the summit, 1,500 people were served by the press center's restaurant, consuming 26 tons of food. "You're eating a lot," he told reporters. Journalists quickly calculated that Peskov's numbers came to 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) of food per person.

"They must have allocated money for 26 tons of food," Elena Panfilova, head of the Russian branch of Transparency International, wrote only half-jokingly on Facebook. "Then they must have skimmed 50 percent right off and another 40 percent when they went about buying the 13 tons for which they had money left. That left them with about 7.5 tons. Then they lost another 30 percent to spillage and shrinkage during transportation and cooking. So about 5 tons was served, and I know from experience that one can put away some three kilos of canapes and sandwiches during a stressful event."

Syria aside, Obama and Harper have the same problem with Putin and his regime that many Russians do: It is transparently corrupt, Byzantine and self-serving. That, however, does not prevent it from organizing impressive international events and scoring diplomatic victories.

(Leonid Bershidsky, an editor and novelist, is a Bloomberg View contributor. He can be reached at bershidsky@gmail.com).
This has been noted several times in the past, but so far no one has actually seemed to have taken action on this:


Gain Leverage Over Putin With Some 'Shale Diplomacy'
Posted 09/13/2013 05:26 PM ET

Dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't easy.

On the one hand he steps up as "peacemaker" in Syria, forestalling possible U.S. military action against the Assad regime for its alleged chemical-weapons atrocities.

At the same time, he reportedly is increasing sales of advanced anti-aircraft systems to Iran. And he continues to supply Assad with weapons as well.

What's the United States to do?

First, we need to sober up and recognize the source of Putin's power: petro-dollars. Half of Russia's state budget comes from foreign oil and gas revenue. So if we want leverage over Putin and his cronies, we need to break his petro piggybank.

While surging U.S. natural gas production already is applying pressure on the Russians, more can be done. Exporting U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) and spreading the shale revolution abroad offer opportunities for undercutting Putin's power.

The early shale boom stunned global energy markets and caught Russia flatfooted. Its state-owned gas company, Gazprom, was forced to renegotiate supply contracts with European customers and book billion-dollar losses.

Russia's gas exports ran up against an unlikely competitor: cheap U.S. coal, which flooded the European electricity market as U.S. electric utilities switched from coal to low-cost and abundant natural gas.

However, Gazprom has since recovered, and its profits are climbing again. Exports of Russian gas to Europe are at a three-year high. Since more than half of Gazprom's revenue comes from such exports, Putin's coffers are flush again, and he's flexing his muscles.

Exporting more of our natural gas and technological expertise would be effective ways of hitting Putin where it hurts. With major shale formations scattered across Eastern Europe, the potential is there to pull Gazprom's largest export market out from under Putin's nose.

ConocoPhillips, Shell and Chevron, among other major oil-and-gas producers, have reached deals to begin shale development in former Soviet-bloc nations. Chevron alone already has leased some 5.6 million acres of shale-rich land in Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania. More will follow.

Meanwhile, U.S. LNG exports are looming large. The Department of Energy has issued export licenses to three companies, with an eye on shipping LNG to key markets in Europe and Asia. With more than a dozen applications from other companies awaiting review, the U.S. could send Putin a strong message by immediately approving a half-dozen more.

Challenging Gazprom in Europe is just half the story. The Russians also are looking east to a huge market in Japan, which needs substitutes for nuclear power to generate electricity, following the accident at Fukushima.

Read More At Investor's Business Daily: http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials-perspective/091313-671006-stop-putin-with-shale-revolution.htm#ixzz2esUUeZ1e
Follow us: @IBDinvestors on Twitter | InvestorsBusinessDaily on Facebook
The Russians have only a limited window to acheive whatever goals they hope to reach:


BERMAN: Misreading a Russia on the run

By Ilan Berman-The Washington Times Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Far from robust, the federation is facing implosion

Don't let Russia's recent attempts to play peacemaker on Syria fool you — U.S.-Russian relations are still on the rocks. A range of issues — from Russia's stubborn support for the Iranian regime to the Kremlin's very public snub of the White House in granting asylum to fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden — have cast a profound pall over bilateral ties. In the process, they have sounded the death knell for the vaunted "reset" of relations with Russia that President Obama made a centerpiece of his foreign-policy agenda during his first term in office.

In response, experts have taken to calling for a "strategic pause" in relations between Washington and Moscow, so that the White House can reassess exactly what is possible to achieve through outreach toward Russia. That's undoubtedly good thinking. However, Washington's reappraisal also needs to take into account the larger, more long-term threat to international security that is now posed by Russia. This is because the Russian Federation is fast approaching a massive social and political upheaval, one that promises to be as transformative as the Soviet Union's demise some two decades ago. Russia's coming crisis is driven by the convergence of three trends:

Russia is dying. The once-mighty Russian state is undergoing a catastrophic post-Soviet societal decline. Health standards are abysmal, and life expectancy in Russia is nothing like it is in the West — just age 60 for men (less than in Botswana and Madagascar) and 73 for women, roughly the same as in Saudi Arabia. Alcoholism — the scourge of Soviet society — continues to ravage the country, with a death rate among Russia's youth that is 35 times higher than among their counterparts in Europe. So does drug addiction. According to United Nations statistics, more than a fifth of all heroin consumed globally every year occurs in Russia. Prevalent, too, is a corrosive culture of abortion, with unofficial estimates placing the number of annual abortions at 2 million to 2.5 million — close to 2 percent of the Russian Federation's potential population.

In all, the country is contracting by close to half-a-million souls every year owing to both death and the emigration of its citizens (to Europe and beyond). At this rate, according to the Kremlin's own estimates, Russia could lose a quarter of its population by the middle of this century. It's a phenomenon that demographers have described as "the emptying of Russia" — a wholesale implosion of Russia's human capital, and a collapse of its prospects as a viable modern state.

Russia is also transforming. The country is experiencing a radical change in its ethnic and religious composition. Today, Russia's roughly 21 million Muslims are still a distinct minority. Comparatively robust birthrates have put Muslims on track to account for a fifth of the country's population by the end of this decade, and possibly a majority by midcentury.

Such a demographic revolution will fundamentally change Russia's character. That is not a problem, per se. In recent years, though, the Kremlin has discriminated against its Muslim minority and ignored (even abetted) the rise of corrosive xenophobia among its citizens. This has bred resentment and alienation among Russia's Muslims — sentiments that radical Islamic groups have been all too eager to exploit. The result is an increasingly restive Muslim minority that has little connection to — or love for — the Russian state.

Finally, the Chinese are coming. Over the past two decades, Russia's population east of the Ural Mountains has declined by a fifth, and now stands at some 25 million, or some six inhabitants per square mile on average. This depopulation has sharpened the strategic competition over the country's resource-rich east, which is now increasingly coveted by an energy-hungry China. In this unfolding contest, China, a rising global economic and strategic power, holds the upper hand over a declining Russia. Because it does, China could soon grow bold enough to challenge Russia for dominion over the latter's economically vital eastern territories.

This perfect storm of demographic change, religious transformation and external pressure will determine Russia's internal political climate, its place in the world, and its future strategic priorities. The economic and social indicators are unmistakable: The Russia of tomorrow will look radically different than that of today.

As they set about rethinking their approach to Russia, policymakers in Washington would be wise to understand this reality. They would be even wiser to begin planning for it.

Ilan Berman is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the author of "Implosion: The End of Russia and What It Means for America" (Regnery, 2013).

© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/8/berman-misreading-a-russia-on-the-run/#ixzz2hQOlfxje
Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter
And more on the decline of Russia. In the long run, a power vacuum in the Eurasian heartland will cause a long period of instability from Europe to China, and affect everyone else as well:


Moldova Looks to Europe as Russian Influence Declines Throughout Region

Add Moldova to the list of countries shunning Russian attempts to establish a customs union to rival Europe’s. And Moscow, appearing increasingly weak in its near-abroad, is furious.

Larger and more prosperous countries like Ukraine and Belarus are well on their way to choosing Europe over Russia, despite relentless Russian strong-arming. Armenia looked set to join them last month before its President abruptly gave in to Russian pressure and joined the Moscow-sponsored Eurasian Customs Union over the EU’s Eastern Partnership program.

Now it’s Moldova’s turn to choose. After decades of dependence on Russia and the Soviet Union before it, the tiny republic, by far the poorest on the continent, seems to be heading Europe’s way. Its move westward has provoked the usual warnings and threats from Russian leaders. “We hope that you will not freeze,” Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said, suggesting Moscow would shut down the pipelines that send Russian gas to the energy-starved country. Not long after that, Russian officials, citing vague health concerns, stopped imports of Moldovan wine, which make up a huge percentage of the country’s exports. There have also been warnings that the tens of thousands of Moldovans working in Russia would be expelled.

“Rather than intimidating leaders of the country’s fragile coalition government, however, Russia’s tactics have only cemented their resolve to complete the political and free trade agreements with the European Union,” the New York Times reported today. “The signing of these agreements,” said the Moldovan president, “is the only chance that Moldova has in order to develop itself as a European country and in the European spirit.”

Within Moldova, not everyone is pleased about joining the EU. The Communist Party is strong there and is already agitating to bring down the pro-Europe ruling coalition. But many of the country’s businesspeople prefer Europe, a market of 500 million people, to Russia, where politics frequently get in the way of stable business and government. “We want to be treated by our bigger partners, if not equally, at least with respect,” a deputy foreign minister told the Times.

Though Moldova is a tiny country and only marginally important to Eurasian politics, its decision to pursue deeper integration with Europe is another sign of Russia’s declining influence in its near-abroad.

Hey, just because Vlad was able to roll Barry on Syria doesn’t mean he’s winning everywhere
I have never been to Russia, but I often wish I had. It might be very interesting to see the place first hand.

Failing that, I fall back on what I've read and seen on the media over the years, and what I've gathered from folks who have served in Russia or visited there with the CF, including fairly recently. I've served alongside Russians but it was only a small group, and only for six months.

My general impression is that Russia is a turd cake covered in bright shiny icing. While it certainly has lots of resources, and it can actually produce some pretty impressive pieces of kit from time to time, I think that politically, societally and physically it is dysfunctional and sick. Putin is popular, IMHO, because he appeals to a deep seated Russian comfort with being ruled with an iron fist, and not to have to think too much about anything. He benefits from the xenophobia and cultural arrogance that, again IMHO, seem to be salient characteristics of Russian society.

I can't imagine democracy (at least of the sort any of us would regard as credible) ever taking root in such a place, any more than it would in China. But I doubt that most Russians care, much.

The terms that come to my mind are backwardness, corruption, brutality and ignorance. Now, combine those with lots of petro dollars and a still fairly impressive military, and you get a very nasty and still possibly quite dangerous player on the world stage.
I was reading somewhere that Russia's population curve had bottomed out and stabilized. to be honest haven't had the time to look into that rather important bit of info. 
I've read a similar article in the last year. It claimed that Russia had overcome its demographic nosedive and was actually close to achieving a birth rate well in excess of most EU countries. (Whi h may not be saying much considering their sclerotic growth rates, but would still be an improvement). I don't recall seeing anything else on this, so I'm not sure about the credibility.
Sorry folks, but the CIA World Fact Book says different:


Population growth rate:

-0.02% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 199
Birth rate:

12.11 births/1,000 population (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 165
Death rate:

13.97 deaths/1,000 population (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 10

While the cause of this has been debated for many years, the effect are quite clear. The one possible saftey valve the Russians may have is to attract ethnic Russians back to Russia from the "Near Abroad" (former Soviet territories), although for many ethnic Russians living outside Russia, it is hard to imagine what sort of incentives would work. Trade a relatively bleak existence for an extremely bleak one?
Thucydides said:
Sorry folks, but the CIA World Fact Book says different..

Nothing to be sorry about!!

Hopefully Russia's decline and eventual implosion will not send tremors through the geopolitical space around it, but that is probably wishful thinking.

A scary thought would be an increasingly desperate "backs against the wall" Russia that embarks on some more bullying adventures to revive the glory days,  make itself feel better and keep the home folks quiet. Kind of a bloody version of "bread and circuses".

Nothing quite as dangerous and unpredictable as a dying monster.
Thucydides said:
Sorry folks, but the CIA World Fact Book says different:


While the cause of this has been debated for many years, the effect are quite clear. The one possible saftey valve the Russians may have is to attract ethnic Russians back to Russia from the "Near Abroad" (former Soviet territories), although for many ethnic Russians living outside Russia, it is hard to imagine what sort of incentives would work. Trade a relatively bleak existence for an extremely bleak one?
The *birth rate* in Russia has exceeded that of the USA.  Of course, this only talks of live births, not the population decline.  And the situation in Russia has improved.  The 0.02% decline is of one year. 
Check out the "population pyramid"


Note how there are more Russians who are 0-4 than 5-9, and how they in turn outnumber those 10-14. 

And again note how there are *fewer* of those 10-14 than 15-19, and how much less of them there are between 20-24.  And on.  In short, *something* happened around 10 years or so ago that saw their birth rate increase.

Also, you can see the history of WW2 in the pyramid.  With the war ending almost 70 years ago, those "vets" of ~90 years age and male are outnumbered, vastly, by the females of the similar age.  (Yes, I also acknowledge that women, by and large, live longer than men)

For comparison, here is the USA's population pyramid:

It seems the West faces a "Cougar gap"

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the Russians birthrate by region/ethnicity/religion.
Very interesting, if a bit strange. We still have the CIA World Fact Book figues showing deaths outnumbering births, so someone's figures are not adding up somewhere.

Overall, I'm still seeing Russia as being able to make a presence on the world stage in limited areas and at great expense, while still suffering an overall decline in fortunes. How this demographic "wave" will change things is hard to predict, young Russians growing up in a State in relative decline (and one that is declining from an already low starting point) will have lots to be angry about but few resources to apply to potential solutions.