The Russian Sphinx

Posted in Russia | 25-Jun-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Georgi Arbatov - one of the most influential strategic thinkers and analysts of Russia gave advice from Khrushev to Jelzin
Georgi Arbatov - one of the most influential strategic thinkers and analysts of Russia gave advice from Khrushev to Jelzin
Worldsecuritynetwork has covered the developments in Russia several times. The image remains grey – not black and white.

On the positive side, there is an economic boom in Russia due to the high price of crude oil and gas on the world market. Some observers estimate that Russia is the largest oil company in the world. Through the money it earns dealing in oil and gas, Russia can pay back great parts of its foreign debt and could invest a lot of money in modern industry and the economy.

However, this makes Russia vulnerable. A lower price for oil and gas or – worst case scenario – the end of oil and gas production some decades from now would throw Russia into troubled waters, because there is no substitute source of income in sight.

Putin`s power and influence inside and outside Russia depends on his present economic clout. Russia is a strategic partner for the US, Europe and China. Putin is well received in the worlds' capitals in spite of the dark spots on his image: Chechnya, corruption, bureaucracy, organized crime, drug traffic, violations of human rights and suppression of a free market and the media. These dark spots have been set aside for the time being –but will this last?

In this newsletter, we present two different Russians from two different generations.

During my visit to Moscow some weeks ago I had the unique chance to interview Georgi Arbatov (81 years old) – one of the icons of world political affairs. For decades, he was one of the most influential people in Moscow. He gave advice to Soviet and Russian statesmen, from Khrushev to Jelzin. He had the license to talk with western politicians in Moscow or in western capitals. His profession was “propaganda” for the Soviet Union and later for Russia.As a political pensioner he has less influence, but he follows Russian politics from the distance as a knowledgeable man.He has no problem criticizing President Putin and the Russian political culture.His main message to the outside world is: "Do not ignore the deficits of the system Putin! Russia needs new thinking and grass roots democracy!"

George Bush sen. with Georgi Arbatov
George Bush sen. with Georgi Arbatov
The second article, written by Dmitry Udalov (19 year old Assistant at the Department of Economics of the Institute of the US and Canadian Studies, President of the Students Scientific Society in Moscow and Editor Russia of Worldsecuritynetwork), covers a problem faced by Russia that is widely neglected: Demographic development. As in many neighboring countries– especially in central Europe – the Russian population is decreasing and ageing with all the implications that stem from such a development. This is particularly noticeable in those regions of Russia that are not very attractive – especially for young and qualified people. This is especially the case with Siberia.“Russia is getting smaller and warmer” –creating a dangerous vacuum toward China which is already being exploited by Chinese people.

The question for Russia will be whether or not there is strategic thought being put into how to use the present economic wealth to mitigate upcoming problems- According to Georgi Arbatov, there is no reason for too much optimism with regards to the acting Russian political class.

What could the world do for and with Russia?

We have to develop a new kind of “realpolitik” toward Russia. We are bound to cooperate, but we should not hesitate to pinpoint the deficits. We should offer our support to Russia for the transformation that is needed in the “post oil and gas future”. No one has an interest in risking an implosion of Russia should its economic base become weaker.

See our WSN proposals for Russia under "Russia".