Monday, January 03, 2005

 

Good Telegraph Piece On Russia.

H/T to The Corner for highlighting this Niall Ferguson editorial in today's Telegraph, warning that Putin's Russia looks increasingly like Weimar Germany redux.

While I like Ferguson, he can be frustrating, particularly in his propensity for hyperbole. Are things in Russia really bad, or are they merely bad? Ferguson clearly believes the former, but I'm still not persuaded that's the case.

Now, I don't trust Putin enough to toss back vodka shots, but I also recognize that Russia 2004 is not Germany 1934, regardless of the parallels Ferguson tries to draw. By far the most important difference is demographic.

The demographic trend lines for post-Soviet Russia are all negative, sometimes drastically so. While some fools at Goldman Sachs are peddling the snake oil that the Russian economy will be greater than Britain or Germany in 2030, I think that's a bunch of hogwash. By 2030, there may be no Russians left to make any money.

Of course, demographics frequently lie; we should take care to remember the Malthusian nightmares of the 1960s. But the trend in Russia is certainly not a positive one. Given that many acknowledge the systemic problems inherent in modern welfare states supporting an aging population-- i.e., the reason most cited for the inevitability of decline in Britain, Germany, and Japan-- I don't understand how one can ignore a strikingly similar situation in Russia. Only, replace "welfare" with "corruption & inefficiency," and you get the same result: an population that can't support an economy that can support the population.

So, what does such a conclusion bode for the emergence of Russian fascism? It means that any dictatorship that emerges in Russia will be done so on the cheap. Either the rubles won't be there to support the types of projects associated with centralized dictatorships, or the economy will be too inefficient to allocate the available rubles to the centralized purpose.

Okay, so what if Russia's poor, it can still be a dictatorship, right? Of course it can. But it's a dictatorship in one country, one that does not have the military and economic power to control events beyond its borders. Nightmares or a reunified Greater Russia are likely to remain just that, nightmares, without the kinds of resources necessary to effect such a goal. Absent Russia's substantial WMD component-- more useful for foreign deterrence, much less so for inter-republic relations-- any Russian dictator will only be armed with blanks for the foreseeable future.

Remember folks, for all this talk of a Russian economic boom and re-centralized government, Russia still can't defeat the Chechens. It's impossible to think that subduing the Ukrainians, the White Russians, the Central Asian Republics, and others would be any less of a task.

I guess my point is that we need to understand what exactly is at stake when we talk about a Russian dictatorship. I'm certainly not one for advocating anything less than a free democratic Russia, but at the same time there's little need to overreact at the prospect of a Russian Reich. Giving Russia a blank check to be rough-and-tumble in its neighborhood doesn't mean Russia has the capability to be rough-and-tumble, or will have that capability anytime soon. However, repeatedly telling Russia that it doesn't have the right to flex its muscles to defend its interests will only antagonize it needlessly.

Bottom line: give them an inch, they can't take a mile, but they'll feel better knowing we cared enough to give them that inch.

Comments:
I don't see Russia as a serious potential threat to the West so long as there are a billion Chinese hungry for resources on Russia's border. Any posturing and threatening going on with Russia's remaining atomic "Breshnev Specials" is going to be directed towards keeping the Chinese wolves from the door. As far as Russia dealing with the 'Stans, well, the likes of Chechnya have pretty much exhausted my reservior of caring what happens to those bastards.

Back when I was in high school our library had a book by a high ranking Soviet military defector who talked about the Chinese threat. He acknowledged that Siberia was a tempting target for a resource grab for the Chinese and discussed how the Russians designed their defense of such a long and empty border. However, the guy dismissed the idea of the Chinese invading to solve their problem of overpopulation, stating that the Chinese knew as well as he did the only solution to that was Australia.
 
I don't see Russia as a serious potential threat to the West so long as there are a billion Chinese hungry for resources on Russia's border. Any posturing and threatening going on with Russia's remaining atomic "Breshnev Specials" is going to be directed towards keeping the Chinese wolves from the door. As far as Russia dealing with the 'Stans, well, the likes of Chechnya have pretty much exhausted my reservior of caring what happens to those bastards.

Back when I was in high school our library had a book by a high ranking Soviet military defector who talked about the Chinese threat. He acknowledged that Siberia was a tempting target for a resource grab for the Chinese and discussed how the Russians designed their defense of such a long and empty border. However, the guy dismissed the idea of the Chinese invading to solve their problem of overpopulation, stating that the Chinese knew as well as he did the only solution to that was Australia.
 
I don't see Russia as a serious potential threat to the West so long as there are a billion Chinese hungry for resources on Russia's border. Any posturing and threatening going on with Russia's remaining atomic "Breshnev Specials" is going to be directed towards keeping the Chinese wolves from the door. As far as Russia dealing with the 'Stans, well, the likes of Chechnya have pretty much exhausted my reservior of caring what happens to those bastards.

Back when I was in high school our library had a book by a high ranking Soviet military defector who talked about the Chinese threat. He acknowledged that Siberia was a tempting target for a resource grab for the Chinese and discussed how the Russians designed their defense of such a long and empty border. However, the guy dismissed the idea of the Chinese invading to solve their problem of overpopulation, stating that the Chinese knew as well as he did the only solution to that was Australia.
 
Russia's demographics are so dreadful that, not only won't they be reconstituting the Soviet Union anytime soon, I doubt they'll be able to hang onto what they've got. Eastern Siberia, particularly the Maritimes, is flooding with illegal Chinese immigrants, while much of the Russian population wants to get the heck out of Vladivostok or wherever and move back to Moscow. Keep an eye on this part of the world if China starts feeling territorially assertive in the next decade or so.
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?