Staunton, April 9 – Since Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia has become both absolutely and relatively weaker than its potential international opponents, not only because the world has changed and military force is less important than it was but also because Moscow has overseen the destruction of many branches of the Russian economy, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Yezhednevny zhurnal has published yet another chapter from the economist’s new book, An Uncontemporary Country, in which he documents this argument, showing that Russia’s economy is now less important than it was compared to others and its military strength while sufficient to defend the country can do little to expand it beyond its immediate neighborhood.
That reality, Inozemtsev says, Putin has tried to compensate for by spending more on the Russian military than ever before and engaging in regular sabre rattling; but it holds only two “cards” internationally – its nuclear arsenal and its seat in the UN Security Council – and neither is as significant as it wants to believe (ej.ru/?a=note&id=33642).
On the one hand, its nuclear arsenal provides protection but can’t be readily used to expand the country’s position. There are simply too many other ways the West and China can restrict Moscow’s possibilities. And on the other, world powers can work around the Security Council to make decisions and often do so, rendering Moscow’s seat less valuable than it seems.
Under these conditions, the economist continues, Russia’s “most rational choice” would be to form a close relationship with the European Union or China; but instead, under Putin, Russia has tried to act as if it can go it alone, something that will guarantee its further degradation and isolation.
And Moscow’s actions are such that Russia can expand relations with China or restore ties with the West only on the conditions set by the others, something it seems constitutionally incapable of doing. And that inevitably calls attention to three unfortunate characteristics of Russian foreign policy under Putin.
First, that policy is “practically completely” without values that could attract others. Second, Russia is acting as if military force alone can compensate for shortcomings in everything else. And third, the Kremlin has made foreign policy “anomalously” central to Russians, thus avoiding the choices about domestic affairs needed.
As a result, Inozemtsev says, Moscow has thrown away the real possibilities it had two decades ago to become a partner of the EU, one in which it could gradually be integrated into the West, in pursuit of the false and fatal goal of being a super power standing alone, something it no longer is capable of being in the world as it is.
Russia can cause trouble everywhere. It can commit aggression against its weaker neighbors. But it can’t attract support and it doesn’t have the economic base or ideological position that will attract others and allow it to be what Putin appears to want. And that, the economist suggests, is going to become ever more obvious – and dangerous – to Russia in the first instance but to the world as well.
Window on Eurasia — New Series