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Russia: Rebuilding an Empire While It Can
Old 11-01-2011, 13:25   #1
BOfH
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Russia: Rebuilding an Empire While It Can

Fascinating read from STRATFOR.

U.S.-Russian relations seem to have been relatively quiet recently, as there are numerous contradictory views in Washington about the true nature of Russia’s current foreign policy. Doubts remain about the sincerity of the U.S. State Department’s so-called “reset” of relations with Russia — the term used in 2009 when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed a reset button to her Russian counterpart as a symbol of a freeze on escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington. The concern is whether the “reset” is truly a shift in relations between the two former adversaries or simply a respite before relations deteriorate again.

The reset actually had little to do with the United States wanting Russia as a friend and ally. Rather, Washington wanted to create room to handle other situations — mainly Afghanistan and Iran — and ask Russia for help. (Russia is aiding in moving supplies into Afghanistan and withholding critical support from Iran.) Meanwhile, Russia also wanted more room to set up a system that would help it create a new version of its old empire.

Russia’s ultimate plan is to re-establish control over much of its former territories. This inevitably will lead Moscow and Washington back into a confrontation, negating any so-called reset, as Russian power throughout Eurasia is a direct threat to the U.S. ability to maintain its global influence. This is how Russia has acted throughout history in order to survive. The Soviet Union did not act differently from most of the Russian empires before it, and Russia today is following the same behavioral pattern.
Geography and Empire-Building

Russia’s defining geographic characteristic is its indefensibility, which means its main strategy is to secure itself. Unlike most powerful countries, Russia’s core region, Muscovy, has no barriers to protect it and thus has been invaded several times. Because of this, throughout history Russia has expanded its geographic barriers in order to establish a redoubt and create strategic depth between the Russian core and the myriad enemies surrounding it. This means expanding to the natural barriers of the Carpathian Mountains (across Ukraine and Moldova), the Caucasus Mountains (particularly to the Lesser Caucasus, past Georgia and into Armenia) and the Tian Shan on the far side of Central Asia. The one geographic hole is the North European Plain, where Russia historically has claimed as much territory as possible (such as the Baltics, Belarus, Poland and even parts of Germany). In short, for Russia to be secure it must create some kind of empire.

There are two problems with creating an empire: the people and the economy. Because they absorb so many lands, Russian empires have faced difficulties providing for vast numbers of people and suppressing those who did not conform (especially those who were not ethnic Russians). This leads to an inherently weak economy that can never overcome the infrastructural challenges of providing for the population of a vast empire. However, this has never stopped Russia from being a major force for long periods of time, despite its economic drawbacks, because Russia often emphasizes its strong military and security apparatus more than (and sometimes at the expense of) economic development.
Maintaining a Strong State

Russian power must be measured in terms of the strength of the state and its ability to rule the people. This is not the same as the Russian government’s popularity (though former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s popularity is undeniable); it is the ability of the Russian leadership, whether czar, Communist Party or prime minister, to maintain a tight grip on society and security. This allows Moscow to divert resources from popular consumption to state security and to suppress resistance. If the government has firm control over the people, popular discontent over politics, social policies or the economy do not pose a threat to the state — certainly not in the short term.

It is when the Russian leadership loses control over the security apparatus that Russian regimes collapse. For example, when the czar lost control of the army during World War I, he lost power and the Russian empire fell apart. Under Josef Stalin, there was massive economic dysfunction and widespread discontent, but Stalin maintained firm control over both the security apparatuses and the army, which he used to deal with any hint of dissent. Economic weakness and a brutal regime eventually were accepted as the inevitable price of security and of being a strategic power.

Moscow is using the same logic and strategies today. When Putin came to power in 1999, the Russian state was broken and vulnerable to other global powers. In order to regain Russia’s stability — and eventually its place on the global stage — Putin first had to consolidate the Kremlin’s power within the country, which meant consolidating the country economically, politically and socially. This occurred after Putin reorganized and strengthened the security apparatuses, giving him greater ability to dominate the people under one political party, purge foreign influence from the economy and build a cult of personality among the people.

Putin then set his sights on a Russian empire of sorts in order to secure the country’s future. This was not a matter of ego for Putin but a national security concern derived from centuries of historic precedent.

Putin had just seen the United States encroach on the territory Russia deemed imperative to its survival: Washington helped usher most Central European states and the former Soviet Baltic states into NATO and the European Union; supported pro-Western “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan; set up military bases in Central Asia; and announced plans to place ballistic missile defense installations in Central Europe. To Russia, it seemed the United States was devouring its periphery to ensure that Moscow would forever remain vulnerable.

Over the past six years, Russia has pushed back to some degree against Western influence in most of its former Soviet states. One reason for this success is that the United States has been preoccupied with other issues, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia. Moreover, Washington has held the misconception that Russia will not formally attempt to re-create a kind of empire. But, as has been seen throughout history, it must.
Putin’s Plans

Putin announced in September that he would seek to return to the Russian presidency in 2012, and he has started laying out his goals for his new reign. He said Russia would formalize its relationship with former Soviet states by creating a Eurasia Union (EuU); other former Soviet states proposed the concept nearly a decade ago, but Russia is now in a position in which it can begin implementing it. Russia will begin this new iteration of a Russian empire by creating a union with former Soviet states based on Moscow’s current associations, such as the Customs Union, the Union State and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. This will allow the EuU to strategically encompass both the economic and security spheres.

The forthcoming EuU is not a re-creation of the Soviet Union. Putin understands the inherent vulnerabilities Russia would face in bearing the economic and strategic burden of taking care of so many people across nearly 9 million square miles. This was one of the Soviet Union’s greatest weaknesses: trying to control so much directly. Instead, Putin is creating a union in which Moscow would influence foreign policy and security but would not be responsible for most of the inner workings of each country. Russia simply does not have the means to support such an intensive strategy. Moscow does not feel the need to sort through Kyrgyz political theater or support Ukraine’s economy to control those countries.

The Kremlin intends to have the EuU fully formed by 2015, when Russia believes the United States will return its focus to Eurasia. Washington is wrapping up its commitments to Iraq this year and intends to end combat operations and greatly reduce forces in Afghanistan, so by 2015, the United States will have military and diplomatic attention to spare. This is also the same time period in which the U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in Central Europe will break ground. To Russia, this amounts to a U.S. and pro-U.S. front in Central Europe forming on the former Soviet (and future EuU) borders. It is the creation of a new version of the Russian empire, combined with the U.S. consolidation of influence on that empire’s periphery, that most likely will spark new hostilities between Moscow and Washington.
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Old 11-01-2011, 13:27   #2
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Continued...

This could set the stage for a new version of the Cold War, though it would not be as long-lived as the previous one. Putin’s other reason for re-establishing some kind of Russian empire is that he knows the next crisis to affect Russia most likely will keep the country from ever resurging again: Russia is dying. The country’s demographics are among some of the world’s worst, having declined steadily since World War I. Its birth rates are well below death rates, and it already has more citizens in their 50s than in their teens. Russia could be a major power without a solid economy, but no country can be a global power without people. This is why Putin is attempting to strengthen and secure Russia now, before demographics weaken it. However, even taking its demographics into account, Russia will be able to sustain its current growth in power for at least another generation. This means that the next few years likely are Russia’s last great moment — one that will be marked by the country’s return as a regional empire and a new confrontation with its previous adversary, the United States.


Russia: Rebuilding an Empire While It Can is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
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Old 11-01-2011, 13:41   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BOfH View Post
The Soviet Union did not act differently from most of the Russian empires before it, and Russia today is following the same behavioral pattern.
Prior to 1917, did Russia ever place itself in the vanguard of a global revolution?
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Old 11-01-2011, 16:21   #4
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Prior to 1917, did Russia ever place itself in the vanguard of a global revolution?
To play devil's advocate, because I am not fully in the school that the Communist era was just a phase in Russia's long geopolitical game, or even fully in the Mackinder/Mahan school that geography is destiny.

If defense of the motherland means expansion of the motherland, you probably need an appeal greater than just patriotism. You need an ideological justification for conquering and converting the heathens. Prior to 1917, Russia mainly found this in messianic Orthodoxy.

Within months of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, Russian authors were calling Muscovy the "Third Rome"/"Second Constantinople", and Tsar Ivan III embraced the concept.

The Russian Orthodox Church became self-ruling (autocephalous) in 1589 during the reign of Boris Godunov, and the other major patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, All Bulgaria, All Georgia, Serbia) were weak and/or under Muslim rule (Georgia was nominally independent but divided in Ottoman and Persian spheres of influence). So Russia's rulers became de facto leaders of the Orthodox world. With the Church in Rome weakened and divided by the Protestant Reformation in the same period, Russia could see itself as the principal and strongest defender of Christianity.

Ottoman power peaked in the late 16th century, just as Europe was falling into the wars of religion. So from Russia's perspective, leadership fell upon it in the then-global revolution (or counterrevolution, depending on where you stood) against Muslim expansion. This pretty much ignores the roles played by the Austrians, Hungarians and Poles in halting and beginning to turn the tide against the Ottomans during the 17th century, but Russians have a pretty good history of ignoring the contributions of their allies (and, to be fair, Russians also take great offense at their allies' ignorance of Russia's contributions in various conflicts). This also pretty much glosses over how many of Russia's wars were against Christian neighbors, but if you are the new Rome, then you are obligated to run over anyone who gets in your way.

The rise of nationalism in the late 18th and 19th centuries didn't supplant religion completely. Russia gradually moved to pan-Slavism, but since this involved liberating Orthodox Bulgarians and Serbs from the Ottoman yoke, Pan-Slavism wasn't entirely independent of religion. Unfortunately, Pan-Slavism, combined with the increasing weakness of the Ottoman and the rest of Muslim world and the growth of the rest of Europe, led to the Russia's conflict with Austria-Hungary culminating in World War I and the end of the Tsarist Empire.

The end of the Russian Empire didn't mean the end of the Russian empire, and the Soviet Union emerged from the Russian Civil War and other conflicts with its neighbors as leader of a global ideological movement, but also of a Eurasian empire, still surrounded by potential enemies and lacking defensible borders. Even while fomenting revolutionary movements worldwide, the Soviets' main focus still appeared to be on its own periphery, regaining control or influence over portions of its empire lost after 1917 such as Finland, the Baltic states and Poland.

German troops at the gates of Moscow probably really brought home just how weak Russia potentially was, even with its vast territory, especially as technology marched on and the US emerged as the leader of the free world. From our perspective, containment of the USSR was at best defensive, and until the Reagan years rollback was at best a fantasy, but from Moscow's perspective, containment put American power and American allies along almost every border. From the Soviet perspective, then, much of its global revolutionary efforts, at least in the post-World War Two era, were more about breaking the containment of Soviet Russia by aggressively putting the free world on the defensive than about advancing the Communist revolution for its own sake. They would support a Castro, for example, not out of solidarity with the oppressed proletariat of Cuba, but because it put the US on the defensive in its own hemisphere.

I don't want to give the impression that I am dismissing ideology entirely and making it merely a tool of geopolitics. Soviet post-World War Two expansion was not simply a reaction to the growth of US power. Especially by the 1960s and 1970s, Communist indoctrination had created several generations of Soviet citizens who were true believers, and many true believers had moved their way into the vanguard of the state, alongside cynics for whom Communism was just a tool for power. Communist Party ideologue Boris Ponomaryov, for example, always struck me as a true believer, and his International Department was staffed with them. For him, fomenting the global revolution from Africa to Southeast Asia to the Americas was an end unto itself. But when he found allies in the corridors of power for actions like the Soviet switch from propping up the opportunistic socialist Mohammed Siad Barre in Somalia to supporting the properly communist Derg movement in Ethiopia, his allies in the Soviet Army and Navy seemed less motivated by the greater ideological purity of Mengistu Haile Mariam than by Ethiopia's greater geostrategic potential.

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 put Russia in a similar position to 1917, with the loss of both an ideology underpinning the state and the loss of significant territories along its periphery, what the Russians call the "near abroad". One problem Putin and the current Russian leadership have, besides the demographic and aging infrastructure ones, is the lack of a "pan-" anything ideology to justify and motivate Russians the way Pan-Orthodoxy, Pan-Slavism and the World Communist Revolution served previous regimes. So Russian attempts to re-establish hegemony over the "near abroad" seem nakedly motivated by geopolitics, combined with a big inferiority complex over Russia's loss of its global status, and seem all the more cynical and bullying for it.
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Old 11-01-2011, 18:16   #5
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Russia's desire to reclaim previously held territories may be more difficult than they think. Russia's population was 184 million in 1991. Currently the population is about 143 million with estimates saying that by the year 2050, Russia's population will be down to about 110 million. How are the Russians going to hold off the Chinese in the East and maintain control over pre-break up territories with a rapidly declining population?
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Their Greatest Fear
Old 11-02-2011, 08:04   #6
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Their Greatest Fear

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Russia's desire to reclaim previously held territories may be more difficult than they think. Russia's population was 184 million in 1991. Currently the population is about 143 million with estimates saying that by the year 2050, Russia's population will be down to about 110 million. How are the Russians going to hold off the Chinese in the East and maintain control over pre-break up territories with a rapidly declining population?
I worked pretty extensively in Russia. AirborneLawyer's assessment from a historical perspective rings true.

From a future forward perspective, Mark46th's assessment is dead on. They watch their Chinese border and wonder how they will ever contain it with a sparsely populated Siberia. Keep in mind that most of the population is in Europen Russia, not SIberia, so even that low 143 million looks high when you start mapping the populace.
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Old 11-03-2011, 01:28   #7
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98G- Maybe Putin thinks the snow in the Winter, the mud in the Spring and the mosquitos and flies in the Summer will keep the Chinese out of Siberia...
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Old 11-03-2011, 06:40   #8
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98G- Maybe Putin thinks the snow in the Winter, the mud in the Spring and the mosquitos and flies in the Summer will keep the Chinese out of Siberia...
Not with the vast mineral resources to be found East of the Urals...

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Siberia
Old 11-03-2011, 07:56   #9
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Siberia

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Not with the vast mineral resources to be found East of the Urals...

Richard
The snow is great for skiing. Technology has made oil and gas extraction, movement across the terrian and habitation a much different picture than the historical barrier Siberia represented. Add to it all the other minerals, and China's lack of natural resources and their expanded population, Putin always has an eye eastward.

The illegal immigration in Russia is growing and the Chinese already cross the border in gaps without restriction or documentation to fill low-end jobs. More Chinese construction companies are winning low bids in more regions within Russia.
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Old 11-03-2011, 09:20   #10
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Damn. Where's that pink font?
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I learned somewhere..
Old 11-03-2011, 09:29   #11
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I learned somewhere..

Back in the late 70's at a school most of us are familiar with, I was told that the Russian/ Chinese border was "Secured" by nuclear land mines. The reason for lack of concern about that border.
Just passing along along some info given at a school. I can;t find any thing to substantiate .
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Old 11-03-2011, 13:58   #12
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Not with the vast mineral resources to be found East of the Urals...

Richard
Most astute imo. If decision made, the Chicoms would have no problem - including harnessing the collective will - to apply a level of effort needed for acquiring that very thing.

Edit to add: The comments vis a vis the Chinese are also relevant to me given the Soviet institutional paranoia fostered over decades; they find themselves facing a different compass direction now is all, and the picture isn't rosy. But it is similar to their view that the West's prime directive was to launch offensive operations against them. The pot didn't actually get turned down from 211°F until later in the Cold War years when they had validated - on their own through multiple sources, including global espionage programs - that the West was really positioned to fight a defensive struggle. In the case of the Chicom threat, I think it truly is the old paranoia cliche and, in this case, someone really IS out to get them.

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Old 11-03-2011, 21:32   #13
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Russia's Army and Navy are rusty hulks manned by personnel that are mostly conscripts and drunk.
China will have a coupla hundred million unmarried (since they killed girls for so long) men with nothing to do but cause problems in a few years and most Totalitarian regimes solve this problem with a war....it cannot be a Naval war because they don't have the Navy and it wouldn't solve the female issue.
Reclaiming lost Siberian territory would occupy the millions of testosterone overflowing men, reclaim territory, and provide another source of females.
Oh yeah, they will invade within the next 10 years and we'll make some noise but be ok with it.
Sounds good to me.
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Old 11-03-2011, 22:20   #14
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Oh yeah, they will invade within the next 10 years and we'll make some noise but be ok with it.
Sounds good to me.
Hey, they will be preoccupied with Russia for awhile and not us or anyone else.

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Old 11-03-2011, 23:32   #15
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Russia's had the past decade or so to build themselves up(without the US trying to contain them), and flex some muscle, case in point: Georgia. Now that we are winding down in Afghanistan, I wonder if the US plans on a force buildup in the AO, specifically SF, in an attempt to deter future Georgia like incidents...
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