Russia - Rise or Fall ?

Posted in Russia | 06-Aug-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

WSN Editor-in-Chief Dieter Farwick on the Red Square: "The Russian population shows all elements of a divided society"

The book “Rise and Fall of Great Powers” written by the British historian Paul Kennedy and published in 1988 is still a key to better understanding the development of world powers.

A library could be filled with books about whether or not the US is already a “falling world power” because of “imperial overstretch.” Many observers tend to agree with this thesis.

Another library could be filled with books about the “rising powers” – China, India and – with many question marks – Europe. It is again a multipolar world that pundits strive for. But history does not offer proof that a multipolar world is “per se” better and safer. The “balancing of power” remains a risky job. Europe won experience the hard way during the last century.

Less has been written recently about Russia and its way ahead. In 2003, the anti- Iraq War “coalition of the unwilling” with France and Germany gave Russia some merit and sympathy. But, this positive mood seems to be gone. Chirac and Schröder, Putin’s friends and partners, might be outgoing models, and they have definitely lost credibility, power and influence in Europe – and beyond.. They have become more lame ducks than high flyers – and that’s true of Putin, too.

Due to present laws in Russia, Putin cannot be elected for a third term in 2008. These laws might be changed with Putin’s majority in the Duma, because of a “case of national emergency” and/or because of the lack of a convincing successor.

It might be that many observers of Russia have underestimated the Teutonic repercussions of the demise of the world power Soviet Union. There is no “business as usual” after the fall of a superpower (Paul Kennedy). History shows that fallen superpowers need a great deal of time for a comeback – sometimes they never come back.

Based upon economic success and the “dictatorship of the law,” Putin tried hard to mitigate the erupting problems. He is paying a high price for this: Chechnya, no free media, no independent jurisdiction, centralization, command economy, bureaucracy, social rifts between the “new rich” and the have-nots, corruption, organized crime and expensive military forces form a long list.

The developments in Ukraine and in Central Asia show that Moscow has lost a huge part of its power and influence. Putin has no chance to stop this development. He cannot offer attractive incentives to siding with Russia. His coalition with the last dictators in Belorussia or in Central Asia leads nowhere. Russia is still interesting as a junior partner for Europe and China in the great power game.

It comes as no surprise that the demographically shrinking and overageing Russian population shows all elements of a divided society.

There a few winners of the end of the Soviet Union but a lot of losers. In a kind nostalgia, there seems to be a strange desire in former communist countries to go back to the “golden days” of “security and stability,” seen as being more important than freedom and democracy.

Our newsletter , written by Norman Levine, is based upon his recent visit to Russia. His interviews and discussions with Russian citizens give a good insight into the Russia of today with all of its social and psychological facets.

Time will tell whether or not Russia will find its new place and new role. I hope Russia will become a status quo regional power that lives in peace with its neighbors and solves its domestic problems.