My posts about Russia are generally ignored. Maybe 100 people click on them. Actually 50 if you count the click back of posters who check the threads progress.
This is to be expected. People in the USA don't get much exposure to geo-politics unless it's a PBS or Charlie Rose interview. Even the "divinely" guided channel we love to criticize - the Watchtower - has abandoned the idea of Russia as the King of the North.
So once again I feel obligated to post for the few who care. This article came out yesterday. It is hot. It is from a subscription source of a private intelligence service that is widely respected. It shows the current predicament of Russia. I will highlight those parts that I feel significantly illustrate the dangerous option Putin is liable to exercise.
July 3, 2006
Russia: What Now?
By Peter Zeihan
For the past two weeks, the Kremlin has been
issuing a flood of seemingly contradictory
statements through officials such as Gazprom CEO
Alexei Miller, deputy presidential administration
heads Vladislav Surkov and Igor Sechin, Deputy
Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei
Ivanov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and even President Vladimir Putin.
One day, Miller seemed to obliquely threaten
European natural gas supplies; the next, Gazprom
granted the Ukrainians another three months of
exports at less than half European market rates.
On another day, Lavrov proposed sharply limiting
discussion at the upcoming Group of Eight (G-8)
summit in St. Petersburg to preclude topics, such
as Chechnya, that the Russians find
uncomfortable; this was followed by a statement
from Lavrov's office declaring no topic taboo. On
another front, Ivanov waxed philosophic about the
might of the Russian military and warned of
Western encroachment, while Surkov noted that
Russia would never modernize without robust and
friendly relations with the West. At one point,
the Russians could be seen aggressively lobbying
for Iran's right to a full civilian nuclear program, and then just as
empathically noting their concerns about nuclear proliferation.
These statements and others like them not only
seem disjointed -- they are disjointed. These
disconnects are the public symptoms of an
underlying and systemic problem. Briefly stated,
Russia -- after 25 years of the Andropov doctrine
-- finds itself in a deepening crisis, with no
immediate or effective solutions apparent.
The issues with which Russia grapples are
multifaceted -- and they have only grown in scale
since they were first recognized by the leaders of Andropov's generation.
Demographically, the country is in terrible
shape: The population is growing simultaneously
older, smaller and more sickly. The number of
Muslims is growing, while the number of ethnic
Russians is declining. Nearly all of the economic
growth that has occurred since the 1998 financial
crisis has stemmed from either an artificially
weak currency or rising energy prices, and there
are echoes of the Soviet financial overextension
after the 1973 and 1981 oil price booms. NATO and
the European Union -- once rather distant
concerns -- now occupy the entire western
horizon, and they are steadily extending their
reach into a Ukraine whose future is now in play.
More recently, another set of concerns --
encapsulated in the START treaty -- have cropped
up as well. The treaty, which took force in 1991
and obliges the United States and Russia to
maintain no more than 6,000 nuclear warheads
apiece, expires in 2009, and the United States is
not exactly anxious to renew it. Among American
defense planners, there is a belief that the vast
majority of the Russian nuclear defense program
is nearing the end of its reliable lifecycle, and
that replacing the entire fleet would be well
beyond Russia's financial capacity. >From the
U.S. point of view, there is no reason to subject
itself to a new treaty that would limit U.S.
options, particularly when the Russia of today is
far less able to support an arms race than the Soviet Union of yesteryear.
With all of that, it is becoming clear to leaders
in Moscow that something must be done if Russia
is to withstand these external and internal
threats. The government is casting about for a
strategy, but modern Russian history offers no
successful models from which to work.
The Andropov Doctrine
Modern Russian history, of course, dates from
before the fall of the Soviet Union -- beginning
with Yuri Andropov's rise to power in November
1982. As someone who was in charge of the KGB, in
a state where information was tightly
compartmentalized, Andropov came into office
knowing something that did not become apparent to
the rest of the world for years: Not only was the
Soviet Union losing the Cold War, but it was
dangerously close to economic collapse. The West
had long since surpassed the Soviets in every
measure that mattered -- from economic output to
worker productivity to military reach. In time,
Andropov was convinced, Moscow would fall -- barring a
massive change in course.
Andropov's plan was to secure money, managerial
skills and non-military technologies from the
West in order to refashion a more functional
Soviet Union. But the Soviets had nothing
significant to trade. They did not have the cash,
they lacked goods that the West wanted, and
Andropov had no intention of trading away Soviet
military technology (which, even 15 years after
the Cold War ended, still gives its U.S.
counterpart a good run for the money). In the
end, Andropov knew that the Soviet Union had only
one thing the West wanted: geopolitical space. So space was what he gave.
It was what subsequent leaders -- Gorbachev,
Yeltsin, and Putin after them -- gave as well.
The one common thread uniting Russian leaders
over the past quarter-century has been this: the
belief that without a fundamental remake, Russia
would not survive. And the only way to gain the
tools necessary for that remake was to give up
influence. Consequently, everything from Cuba to
Namibia to Poland to Afghanistan to Vietnam was
surrendered, set free or otherwise abandoned --
all in hopes that Russia could buy enough time,
technology or cash to make the critical difference.
This was the strategy for nearly 25 years, until
the loss of Ukraine in the Orange Revolution
raised the specter of Russian dissolution. The
Russians stepped away from the Andropov doctrine,
abandoned the implicit bargain within it,
reformed the government under the leadership of
pragmatists loyal to Putin, and began pushing
back against American and Western pressure.
It has not gone altogether well.
While the Russians have hardly lost their talent
for confrontation when the need arises, the
confrontations they have initiated have been
countered. The Russians are attempting to push
back against the rise of American influence in
their region with any means possible, with the
goal of distracting and deflecting American
attention. But there is an element of
self-restraint as well: The pragmatic leaders now
in power realize full well that if the Kremlin
pushes too hard, the very tools they use to
preserve their influence will trigger reactions
from the United States and others that will only compound the pressure.
In the past seven months, Moscow has temporarily
shut off natural gas supplies in an attempt to
force Western European powers to assist Russia in
reining in portions of its near-abroad that
Moscow viewed as rebellious. The response from
the Europeans, however, has been to begin
exploring ways of weaning themselves from Russian
energy supplies -- something that was never
contemplated during Cold War-era Red Army
maneuvers. Meanwhile, Moscow has attempted to
engage China in an alliance that would
counterbalance the United States, and China has
taken advantage of this overture to extend its
own reach deep into Central Asia. Meanwhile, the
Russians have tried using arms sales and
diplomacy to complicate U.S. efforts in the
Middle East. However, they have found themselves
being used as a negotiation tool by the Iranians,
only to be discarded. In sum, Russia's weight
does not count for nearly as much as it once did.
Watching the Kremlin these days, one has a sense
that there is an intense argument under way among
a group of old acquaintances -- all of them fully
aware of the circumstances they face. This
probably isn't far from the truth. Putin has
cobbled the current government together by
co-opting factions among the siloviki, reformers
and oligarchs who would be beholden to him -- all
of whom recognize the strengths and weaknesses of
the ideologies of their predecessors.
For the first time in decades, those calling the
shots in the Kremlin not only agree on the nature
of Russia's problems and are not really arguing
amongst themselves, but they also are no longer
willing to subject their country to the false
comfort of policies driven by ideology, national
chauvinism or reformist idealism. This is the
most unified and pragmatic government Moscow has
known in a generation. But it is a unified and
pragmatic government that is grasping at straws.
Russia's leaders all believe that the path the
Soviet Union traveled led to failure, and thus
they are committed to the logic, rationale and
conclusions of the Andropov doctrine.
Nevertheless, they also are all realistic and
intelligent enough to recognize that this
doctrine, too, has failed their country.
And so the Putin government is wrestling with a fundamental question: What now?
With no good options available -- and all of the
bad ones having been tried in some manner already
-- there is a proliferation of reactive,
short-term policies. Everyone who has some
authority is experimenting on the margins of
policy. Medvedev tinkers with Ukrainian energy
policy, while Ivanov rattles the nuclear saber --
and Putin tries to make the two seems like
opposite sides of the same coin while preparing
for the G-8 talks. Kremlin officials are trying
to coordinate, and there is little internal
hostility -- but in the end, no one dares push
hard on any front for fear of a strong reaction
that would only make matters worse. The strategy,
or lack thereof, generates immense caution.
Human nature, of course, plays a part. No one
wants to be personally responsible for a policy
that might result in a national setback; thus,
government officials seek full buy-in from their
peers. And it is impossible to get full backing
from a group of intelligent men who all recognize
the history and risks involved. Just because one
knows that the long-term penalty of inaction is
death does not mean there is no hesitancy about trying experimental cures.But experimental cures are practically all that
is left for Russia. Wielding energy supplies as a
weapon will not buy Moscow greater power; that
can achieve short-term goals, but only at the
cost of long-term influence as customers turn to
other solutions. And while a partnership with
China is attractive by some measures, the Chinese
want Russian energy supplies and military
technology without the politico-military baggage
that would come with a formal alliance. Moscow
retains the capacity to generate endless
headaches for Western, and particularly American,
policymakers, but the costs of such actions are
high and -- even considering the weakness of the
current administration in Washington -- only rarely worth the consequences.
All of this leaves three possibilities for the
pragmatists. One is for Putin's team to ignore
history and everything they know to be true and
play geopolitical Russian roulette. In other
words, they can push for confrontation with the
West and pray that the counterstrikes are not too
horrible. The second is to do nothing -- fearing
the consequences of all actions too much to take
any -- or continue with the recent trend of
rhetorical spasms. Under this "strategy," the
Russian government would succumb to the problems
foreseen by Andropov a generation ago.
The third possibility is a leadership
displacement. Just as Putin displaced Russia's
oligarchs, reformers and siloviki because he felt
their ideas would not translate into success for
Russia, those power groups feel the same way
about the Putin government. The option, then, is
for one of these groups to somehow displace the
current government and attempt to remake Russia
yet again. Several caveats apply: It would have
to be a group cohesive enough to take and hold
power, committed enough to a defining ideology to
ignore any deficiencies of that ideology, and
either trusted or feared enough by the population to be allowed to wield power.Russia's oligarchs are neither united nor
trusted, and historically have placed
self-interest far above national interests. The
reformers, while united, are clearly not trusted
by the populace as a whole, and the idealism of
the group that implemented the disastrous shock
therapy in the early 1990s is long gone.
The siloviki, however, are broadly cohesive and
populist, and they have not allowed economics or
politics to get in the way of their nationalism
or ideological opposition to capitalism and the
United States. Moreover, they have little fear of
using the military club when the natives -- or the neighbors -- get restless.
Assuming Russia does not become paralyzed by
fear, it appears destined to return to a model in
which the nationalists, military and intelligence
apparatuses call the shots -- a sort of Soviet
Union with a Russian ethnic base. If this is the
case, the only question remaining is: Who will lead the transformation?
With every passing day, Putin seems less fit for the role. ___END
There is only one solution. It isn't discussed because it's horrible. Putin/Russia is going to temporarily destabilize the USA so that it doesn't interfere in its back yard. One day (most likely a week-day when people are at work) our newsfeeds from New York are going to go dead. Perhaps our TVs and electricity in the eastern powergrid will go dark. That will be the sign that a nuclear bomb has gone off in New York, the most likely target.
The blast will be blamed on terrorist who perhaps got hold of a loose Russian nuke. Putin will call Bush immediately to express his shock and condolences and offer to help in any way possible. Putin will have dropped the dollar by 90%. The dollar after all is a stock certificate in the American Economy. Such a dissaster will have a devastating effect on the American Economy. The USA will have to recover from that blow before it can meddle in Russian affairs. Such a simple terrible solution. The solution of a desperate man and a country that has nothing to look forward to. Very similar to Weimar Germany. Putin will be able to accomplish this without fear of retaliation. How do you retaliate against terrorist you can't identify?
The world will continue. Economies will be hurt but not destroyed. China will continue to churn out consumer goods. The Middle East and Russia will continue to pump oil. But American Hegemony will be over.
You may now go back to your regularly scheduled fluff.