George Friedman continues his review of the major world powers by discussing Russia in this installment. He points out that Russia has always had a weak and poorly economy and that its empire has been bound together by strong, centrally controlled security forces.
At the end of the cold War, and realizing they had profound economic problems, Perestroika and Glasnost were attempts by the security apparatus of the Soviet Union to open up the economy while maintaining control that failed miserable for the Russian leadership. The result was a drift into kleptocracy after the U.S.S.R. disintegrated.
Since assuming power Putin has tried to rebuild, albeit in a different manner than the old Soviet model, a strong central security apparatus centered on the Russian heartland with buffer states to provide strategic depth. In this he has been aided by the U.S. being side-tracked from their involvement in Central and Eastern Europe by the aftermath of 9/11, and by the recent political and economic difficulties in the EU.
The beginning of Friedman's article is excerpted below, with a link to the entire article at the end of the excerpt.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe it occurred to me that the perfect choice would be a Russian police officer and beauty queen. After an exhaustive search, which took me to corners of the internet I hope to never have to revisit, I located just such a person in Oxana Fyodorova who is a Russian police major, 2002's Miss Universe and, as icing on the cake, the host of an award winning Russian kid's TV show.
Ms Fyodorova was working as a police inspector and studying for advancement at the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) University, which sounds like a charming school, when she took up modeling and started entering beauty pageants. She won Miss St Petersburg in 1999 and, after winning several other pageants, she won the Miss Universe title in 2002.
However, she had to relinquish the title. There were rumors of her being pregnant, but she claims it was because she was outraged by the treatment she got on the Howard Stern show. Since I don't want to end up hanging upside down in a Moscow jail cell getting whipped by an electric chord, even one being wielded by a Hot Stratfor Babe, I hereby accept her excuse over the pregnancy rumors. Shame on you Howard, shame, shame shame!
By George Friedman, April 24, 2012
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 reversed a process that had been under way since the Russian Empire's emergence in the 17th century. It was ultimately to incorporate four general elements: Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia. The St. Petersburg-Moscow axis was its core, and Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine were its center of gravity. The borders were always dynamic, mostly expanding but periodically contracting as the international situation warranted. At its farthest extent, from 1945 to 1989, it reached central Germany, dominating the lands it seized in World War II. The Russian Empire was never at peace. As with many empires, there were always parts of it putting up (sometimes violent) resistance and parts that bordering powers coveted -- as well as parts of other nations that Russia coveted.
The Russian Empire subverted the assumption that political and military power requires a strong economy: It was never prosperous, but it was frequently powerful. The Russians defeated Napoleon and Hitler and confronted the far wealthier Americans for more than four decades in the Cold War, in spite of having a less developed or less advanced economy. Its economic weakness certainly did undermine its military power at times, but to understand Russia, it is important to begin by understanding that the relationship between military and economic power is not a simple one.
Economy and Security
There are many reasons for Russia's economic dysfunction, but the first explanation, if not the full explanation, is geography and transportation. The Russians and Ukrainians have some of the finest farmland in the world, comparable to that of the American Midwest. The difference is transportation, the ability to move the harvest to the rest of the empire and its far away population centers. Where the United States has the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio river system that integrates the area between the Rockies and the Appalachians, Russia's rivers do not provide an integrated highway to Russia, and given distances and lack of alternative modes of transport, Russian railways were never able to sustain consistent, bulk agricultural transport.
This is not to say that there wasn't integration in the empire's economy and that this didn't serve as a factor binding it together. It is to say that the lack of economic integration, and weakness in agricultural transport in particular, dramatically limited prosperity in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. At the same time, the relative underdevelopment of the empire and union made it impossible for them to successfully compete with Western Europe. Therefore, there was an economic motivation within the constituent parts of the empire and the union to integrate with each other. There could be synergies on a lower level of development among these nations.
Economics was one factor that bound the Russian Empire and Soviet Union together. Another was the military and security apparatus. The Russian security apparatus in particular played a significant role in holding first the empire and then the union together; in many ways, it was the most modern and efficient institution they had. Whatever temptations the constituent republics might have had to leave the empire or union, these were systematically repressed by internal security forces detecting and destroying opposition to the center. It could be put this way: The army created the empire. Its alignment of economic interests was the weak force holding it together, and the security apparatus was the strong force. If the empire and union were to survive, they would need economic relations ordered in such a way that some regions were put at a disadvantage, others at an advantage. That could happen only if the state were powerful enough to impose this reality. Since the state itself was limited in most dimensions, the security apparatus substituted for it. When the security apparatus failed, as it did at the end of World War I or in 1989-1991, the regime could not survive. When it did succeed, it held it all together.
In the Russian Empire, the economic force and the security force were supplemented by an overarching ideology: that of the Russian Orthodox Church, which provided a rationale for the system. The state security apparatus worked with the church and against dissident elements in other religions in the empire. In the Soviet Union, the religious ideology was supplemented with the secular ideology of Marxism-Leninism. The Soviet Union used its security apparatus to attempt a transformation of the economy and to crush opposition to the high cost of this transformation. In some sense, Marxism-Leninism was a more efficient ideology, since Russian Orthodoxy created religious differentials while Marxism-Leninism was hostile to all religions and at least theoretically indifferent to the many ethnicities and nations.
The fall of the Soviet Union really began with a crisis in the economy that created a crisis in the security force, the KGB. It was Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, who first began to understand the degree to which the Soviet Union's economy was failing under the growing corruption of the Brezhnev years and the cost of defense spending. The KGB understood two things. The first was that Russia had to restructure (Perestroika) or collapse. The second was that the traditional insularity of the Soviet Union had to be shifted and the Soviets had to open themselves to Western technology and methods (Glasnost). Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a reformer, but he was a communist trying to reform the system to save the party. He was proceeding from the KGB model. His and Andropov's gamble was that the Soviet Union could survive and open to the West without collapsing and that it could trade geopolitical interests, such as domination of Eastern Europe, for economic relations without shattering the Soviet Union. They lost the bet.
The Soviet Collapse
The 1990s was a catastrophic period for the former Soviet Union. Except for a few regions, the collapse of the Soviet state and the security apparatus led to chaos, and privatization turned into theft. Not surprisingly, the most sophisticated and well-organized portion of the Soviet apparatus, the KGB, played a major role in the kleptocracy and retained, more than other institutions, its institutional identity. Over time, its control over the economy revived informally, until one of its representatives, Vladimir Putin, emerged as the leader of the state.
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