Young Russians Are Confused About Their Future - What Should Russia's Leadership Do?
Before the Ukrainian crisis many westerners expected that Russia and Russians will integrate to the western sphere of influence slowly and painfully, but by the end the country would become a full member of the West. This was the optimistic scenario, but the worst scenario came true.
Nowadays, Russia sees the West as an opponent. A situation, which was not the intention of the West, but is mainly the result of Russia’s domestic policies. However, the Ukrainian crisis made everything public.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had an identity crisis. Communism did not receive large support; actually, it was a system which was impossible to control as Russia’s former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar expressed in detail in his book “Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia”. Russkij Mirr (Russian World) ideology was brought back to life. Its roots are in Imperial Russia, which promotes ultra-conservative values, religion and nationalism. In the 19th century it had a national romantic vision of the Russian society, and it is very romantic to believe that old visions would work perfectly in the modern world.
But after the Cold War Russia became a ultra-capitalistic society, in turmoil and chaos because to change a system cannot be done without pain. This made Russians soulless. Therefore, Russkij Mirr was needed. The project has been enhanced quite rapidly since the mid 2000’s but after the Ukrainian crisis, it has gained some momentum in the Russian society but not much.
However, the main problem is that Russkij Mirr has its bitter side-effects. It has encouraged racism, xenophobia and nationalism, and does not support international cooperation in small circles. Russia is not only going more isolationist with its economy, which makes the market environment very hard for foreign brands, but it is also isolating Russians from the West. This means that Russia will be out of top ten economies (GDP Nominal) by 2050. Mexico and Indonesia will overtake Russia.
Russia has turned to China to help its struggling economy. As a result Chinese have been able to exploit Russians with extremely favourable business deals. You can almost say that East Russia is nowadays Chinese. At the same time, Russian leadership hopes that young Russians would be more interested in China and Chinese. Actually they are not because they want to be close to the West. Also the vast majority of Russians live in West Russia.
But here is the major dilemma. Young Russians want to have a modern society but the current Russian leadership has actually decreased individual freedoms and decreased cooperation with the West. The leadership is protecting its current power structure by introducing fewer reforms because large scale reforms would weaken its power structure. This has been one of the key reasons why talented entrepreneurs, innovators, creative souls and others have fled the country because they do not see a bright future for their motherland. Most of them have moved to Silicon Valley, New York, Boston and London, which means that the West will benefit of new ideas and inventions, hence, more economic growth. At the same time, Russia desperately needs more growth.
This situation makes young Russians very confused. They praise their leadership because it wants to make Russia great again but they are not receiving the modernisation which they desire. This situation can increase the probability that young Russians might clash with the current establishment. A modern Russian society would be also an answer for a more severe problem: an ageing society, which could make Russia a very weak power in world politics in the future.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union birthrates fell, and they have never recovered. Currently, Russia has 143 million citizens. It is projected that Russia will have 128 million in 2050, and 117 million in 2100. In contrast, the United States had 321 million people in 2015. In 2050 the country will have 388 million people, and 450 million citizens by 2100. In Europe the United Kingdom and France will have growing populations but Spain, Italy and Germany will decline slightly. China has currently 1.3 billion people, and in 2100 the country will have one billion citizens, while India will have 1.6 billion people in 2100. This means that the China-Russia-axel will decline but the West and neutral countries close to the West will grow.
A declining population and weak economic prospects might also enhance internal turmoil in Russia by increasing political and social unrest, revolutionary groups, terrorism, separatist movements, ethnic clashes between national, racial and religious groups. If Russia wants to gain its “greatness” back. This requires radical internal economic and social reforms, and fluent everyday relations with different countries, especially with the West. The West can live without Russia but it is hard for Russia to live without the West.
Some European countries are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas but the West has increased the use of renewable energy sources and increased cooperation with other fossil energy providers. Therefore, reconciliation with the West is the right answer in order to make a prosperous future for young Russians because Russia’s current line does not mean a one lost generation but lost generations. Europeans and Americans have a strong transatlantic relation, which is value-based. Therefore, Russians must change their mindset if they want to be a member of the same club. Currently, Russians are behaving illogically.