Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How important is Russia today?

This article is in response to Anna Stewart’s question (one of BBC website producers) : How important is Russia to you, and why?

Russia has changed beyond recognition compared to its communist era, at least on surface. If Stalin and Lenin had to return to it, they would immediately rejoin their graves out of grief for what it has come to. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Communism in this huge country, the Evil Empire, as it was called by late US President Roland Reagan, the US administration must have been rubbing it hands with delight. It was the end of the Cold War that put an end to the division of Germany and helped the emergence of new republics out of the ashes of the Soviet Union. The great beneficiaries were the Baltic States, which were under the dominance of Moscow since the end of the Second World War.

Russia under Vladimir Putin embraced liberal attitudes in full swing. Les nouveau riches never had it so good, making Moscow one of the most expensive cities in the world. Investors plunged in their economic ventures seizing the new opportunities. For more than a decade Russia looked docile to the rest of the world. It was like a puppet bear dancing to drums while the USA has become full-fledged lion threatening the rest of the world just with its roars.

But the puppet bear has now grown up, starting to show its claws and canine teeth by starting to show its challenge to the USA and NATO. Arms race has just begun to offset US military supremacy. The period of hibernation seems to be over. The Russian politicians seem to be still guided by the KGB mentality in that they act in complete secrecy only to rise for a knockdown directed at their enemies. Russian pride is still there. The Russians refuse to join the West, especially the EU and the US in policy making, preferring to keep their loftiness while waiting for the moment to become a new superpower in accordance with the world’s current reality. They no longer seek to export ideology as in the communist era but to have a strong hold on the world stage, among other things, through energy and military weapons.

Vladimir Putin is one of the rare popular leaders in Russia despite the economic difficulties, the abuses of human rights and the restriction of freedoms, not to mention the poor Russians who aren’t benefiting from the huge revenues from oil and gas. As he was the product of a communist era in which he was a dark personality, now as a leader he seems to have got the grasp of how to deal with the Russians for whom strong leadership is more important than democracy and with the rest of the world, especially the US he wants to remind that Russia that has historically been a powerful state is still there. Only the name, the flag and the anthems have changed but the Russian blood is still streaming with the same vigour. Some may laugh out Vladimir becoming a Prime Minister, after the next presidential elections. But for he Russians this can be a compromise for democratic process that doesn’t allow him to run for more than two successive terms and for those the majority of the public who want him to stay in power. (Maybe the Americans should learn from the Russians and make constitutional amendment to allow a president who has fulfilled his two terms in office to become the vice president of the next president!)

Russia has the potentials to be a strong country although this will make it have more enemies in the West. But to the delight of the US enemies like the Iranian regime, a strong Russia is a guarantee for survival. Although they know they can be used as tools to put pressure on the US, for them the gain is to have it on the alert because there is a power on their side.

In short, Russia in diplomatic terms, hasn’t changed a lot. It has just started to regain the power it has lost during the period of transition from communism to liberalism. Like a leopard, it doesn’t change its spots. Russian pride will continue. The old game with the USA during the Cold War will continue with different rules and on different fields.


Looney said...

It seems to me that much of the problem in Russia is that several generations had been taught that capitalism is nothing but legalized theft. In the worst form, this is true, but ideally it is based on an orderly market where buyers and sellers have an incentive to search for the best deal. There is a certain minimum ethical framework needed to make capitalism work efficiently.

Although things have improved much for ordinary Russians, the culture simply can't change that easily and the West no longer has the moral standing to lead.

Abdelilah Boukili said...

You are right Looney. It's easy to change appearances but a change in the mentality takes longer time. For the Russians, the ideological influence of more than 70 years of communism can't be wiped out so easily. There are still many Russians who are nostalgic about the Soviet era.