Author Topic: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy  (Read 58298 times)

Crafty_Dog

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MEF: Russia's Great Power Strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean
« Reply #101 on: July 06, 2020, 11:03:04 AM »
Anna Borshchevskaya on Russia's Military Activity in the Eastern Mediterranean
by Marilyn Stern
Middle East Forum Radio
July 5, 2020
https://www.meforum.org/61185/borshchevskaya-on-russias-military-activity-in-libya


Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Russia Under Stress on Its Periphery
« Reply #103 on: July 16, 2020, 06:29:01 AM »
   
    Moscow Under Stress on Its Periphery
Russian interests are being tested in the Caucasus and Levant.
By: Allison Fedirka

Two weeks ago, Russia concluded a constitutional referendum meant to shore up the power of the Kremlin and especially of Vladimir Putin. Under the revised constitution, which was approved by nearly 79 percent of voters, Putin can theoretically remain president until 2036 – by which time he would be in his 80s. The move came not a moment too soon: Crises involving Russia-backed partners are erupting in the Levant and the Caucasus, not to mention the long-standing war in Libya, where Russia is a key player. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are faint signs of anti-government unrest in Siberia. For a while, Russia has faced a number of serious economic problems, and we have been alert to signs of domestic destabilization. Thus, any signs of domestic trouble, not to mention events on Russia’s periphery that threaten its strategic interests and raise the likelihood of high-stakes conflicts, are quick to grab our attention when they appear on our radar.

Domestic Instability

At its core, the internal threat for Moscow concerns the government’s ability – or inability – to maintain a basic standard of living for Russians after a sharp decline due to low oil prices, sanctions and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic. On July 11, a leading architect of the Russian economy, Alexei Kudrin, made scathing remarks about the government’s management of the economy in recent years. Kudrin called for structural and institutional reforms and highlighted how disappointing Russia’s economic growth has been since the fall of the Soviet Union, a period when output should have surged as the economy transitioned to capitalism. This was one of the harshest recent critiques of the Russian economy, but it was far from the only one. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that economic difficulties lie ahead for the country, and Putin himself said Russian authorities need to act more decisively and make the economy more competitive, or risk becoming mired in an economic “swamp.”

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Kremlin is struggling to hide the country’s growth slowdown, stubbornly low exports, rising unemployment and declining real incomes from the population. Public dissatisfaction with the socio-economic situation and government policy is rising, especially in those peripheral regions that are remote from Moscow. These regions are mostly poorer and lack the infrastructure and economic diversity of the major urban centers. State welfare programs prop up the few areas with above-average incomes. Indeed, the results of the constitutional vote showed that the Kremlin is losing support in these regions: In the Nenets Autonomous district, which receives generous state subsidies and thus has the country’s second-highest incomes, 55 percent of voters opposed the draft changes. Even farther away from Moscow, in Khabarovsk, which borders China, turnout was only 44 percent, and 36 percent of voters opposed the constitutional changes.
 
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Khabarovsk is interesting for other reasons as well. On July 10, the region’s governor, Sergei Furgal, was arrested in connection with the attempted murder of two businessmen in 2004 and 2005. (He pleaded not guilty.) The arrest has brought out protesters demanding the release of Furgal, who defeated candidates from Putin’s United Russia party to become governor in 2018, for several consecutive days. According to official estimates, 12,000 people rallied in support of Furgal on July 11, though unofficial estimates put the number of participants nearly three times higher. Subsequent protests have apparently not reached the same scale.

The Kremlin is no stranger to large protests, but demonstrations of this magnitude usually occur in places like Moscow or St. Petersburg. The sheer size of the July 11 protest suggests a high degree of organization and logistical support; it would have been difficult to bring out as many as 35,000 people for a completely spontaneous demonstration. The protest is also notable for its cause; typical triggers for unrest are things like wage arrears, not allegedly politically motivated arrests of local officials.
A single protest in Siberia – even several days of protests – is hardly going to destabilize Russia. However, what happened in Khabarovsk is enough of an outlier that – in combination with the country’s increasingly dire economic situation – it warrants Moscow’s attention, as well as our own.

The Caucasus

Besides domestic pressures, Russian interests are also under threat abroad. In a still-murky incident, Russian-led security forces on July 11 wounded and detained a Georgian citizen for unknown reasons in Georgian territory, near the border with South Ossetia, which Russia has occupied since 2008. Detentions by Russian forces are not uncommon in this area, but the shooting of a Georgian citizen stands out as unusually aggressive. The Kremlin itself has not commented on the incident, but it did recently complete major military drills together with units of the local army in the territory of Abkhazia, which was also invaded by Russian troops in 2008.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has grown more antagonistic toward Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. On July 10, during a security council meeting, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan went beyond normal talking points of highlighting Armenia's claim over Nagorno-Karabakh and its strategic value to Yerevan. Pashinyan also emphasized the need to be tough on foreign powers trying to influence Armenian affairs. The next day, there was gunfire along their shared border at Tovuz, far from Nagorno-Karabakh but nonetheless a common point of dispute. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry accused Armenia of violating a cease-fire and targeting civilians. Armenia said the attack targeted army engineering infrastructure and technical facilities. Fighting resumed again on July 13.
 
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This incident is notable because of Turkey’s reaction to it. The Turkish government, normally quiet over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, threw its support behind Azerbaijan. Armenia and Turkey are long-standing enemies, so naturally Armenia accused Turkey of provoking instability.

Because the South Caucasus is a strategic buffer zone for Russia, tensions there naturally draw in Moscow. While Russia doesn’t need to fully control the South Caucasus to maintain territorial integrity, it needs to influence the area enough to reduce the risk of threats on its border. Russia therefore tends to be a moderating force between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, working to ensure no major conflict erupts in the region. But with Turkey submitting an official position, Russia will have a harder time being the voice of reason. Turkey’s involvement would force Russia to throw its support behind Azerbaijan since siding with Armenia would squarely position Russia against Turkey. Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Moscow has already warned of the potential for the situation to escalate into a major conflict. It may come to nothing, as clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh almost always seem to, but Turkey’s mere statement will make Russia uneasy.

The Levant

Finally, there is Lebanon, which is not geographically part of the Russian periphery but part of the periphery of Syria, which is an important Russian ally and recipient of Russian security guarantees. The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis since World War I. Mass economic dislocation has shattered the middle class and has made food financially inaccessible for the majority of the population, many of whom now suffer from malnutrition. Virtually every government effort to remedy the situation has failed. If things don’t improve, the possibility of national instability, even civil war, can’t be ruled out.
 
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So why does this matter for Russia? Because the Eastern Mediterranean is critical to Russia, and the Levant, and Lebanon’s position in it, is critical to the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia has parlayed its presence in Syria into an attempt to restore its image as a powerful military force. Security in Lebanon and in Syria have historically been intertwined. During the Lebanese civil war, the Syrian army occupied Lebanon in 1976 to project influence, counter Lebanese and Palestinian guerilla groups that threatened the Assad regime, and act as a counterweight against Syria’s main rival, Israel. Syrian troops withdrew in 2005, but Lebanon still serves as a buffer zone, with sectarian tensions, political gridlock and economic instability that create ripe conditions for foreign influence.

As Beirut weakens, outside powers will move in to protect and advance their interests. They cannot abide the uncertainty of political instability in Lebanon nor allow one country to acquire more power there at the expense of their own. In this kind of environment, it doesn’t take much for conflict to escalate. Chaos in southern Lebanon may give Israel, for example, the opportunity it has been waiting for to move against Hezbollah. Hezbollah may see war as a better option over isolation and thus draw in Iran and Syria. The U.S. and Russia would not be able to ignore it. The degree of cooperation between Israel and Russia, while variable, would rile the United States. Turkey would have an opportunity to make a play for influence in northern Lebanon where the location lends greater access to the Mediterranean.

Maintaining control over its periphery has always been a challenge for Russia, but it’s not one it can ignore. Which puts Moscow in the position of managing four regions – one domestic, three foreign. Domestically, Russia faces a host of economic challenges. This, combined with signs of brewing public unrest, raises the possibility of regional disintegration and thus is a major threat to Moscow. Whether or not these same forces will be reckoned with through political settlements or military conflict remains to be seen.   




Crafty_Dog

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Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
« Reply #104 on: July 30, 2020, 05:47:17 AM »
   
    Forecasting Russia: Strength and Weakness
Thoughts in and around geopolitics.
By: George Friedman

Our forecast for Russia, dating back to my earliest books, was two-fold: first, that Russia would reassert itself and at least appear to be a significant force facing the European Peninsula and in the Caucasus, Russia's two essential frontiers, and second, that the forces that brought the Soviet Union to its knees would continue to haunt the Russian Federation. In other words, there would be a resurrection of Russia followed by a second crisis that would tear it apart. The first forecast was accurate. We are now seeing the second unfold.

My view was that with the emergence of Vladimir Putin, an old KGB man, the perception of Russia as broken and weak after the fall of the Soviet Union would be reversed and, once reversed, that Russia would be at once overestimated and underestimated as a global power. It would confront the West enough to be seen as a threat but never enough to go to war.

Putin understood that appearing to be a threat is far safer than appearing to be weak. Other countries take advantage of the weak and are cautious around the strong. It followed that Putin would attempt to make Russia stronger and, more important, seem stronger than it was.

Evidence of this strategy abounds. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. It repeatedly threatened to withhold vital (and notably expensive) energy supplies to strongarm Europe. It sent troops to Syria for no strategic reason. And it waged psychological warfare through social media in the hopes of weakening potential enemies.

All the while Russia remained weak, so much so that in 2014, it faced an existential crisis: the uprising in Ukraine, which Russia claimed was fomented by Western intelligence. Since the 18th century, Russia has protected itself from the European Peninsula with buffer states – the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine. Of these, Ukraine was by far the most important. It had gained independence with the Soviet collapse, but there appeared to Moscow to be a tacit understanding that the West would not intrude on these buffer states. But it immediately did, first by integrating the Baltics into NATO and then, from Moscow’s point of view, by deposing the constitutionally elected president of Ukraine and replacing him with a Western puppet. This appears to Moscow to be a deliberate assault on Russian national security.

Putin countered the so-called Maidan Revolution by instigating a pro-Russia uprising in eastern Ukraine and by annexing Crimea, neither of which came close to reversing the revolution. Clearly Russian intelligence had not only failed to mount an effective insurgency but had also misread events in Kyiv, failing to understand the forces arrayed against it. This failure is central to the story. Intelligence services have been vital to Russia ever since it was ruled by czars. A vast country required a powerful force to control it. The Soviet Union had a superb intelligence service. By 2014, it couldn’t even manage events in a region it knew well. For a while, Russia asserted itself by using energy exports as a weapon to cow Europe, but as oil prices fell, Russia could no longer afford to continue, as it needed income to support its centralized economic system. It continued to act as a great power, and this appearance had value, but underneath it, Russia was the Soviet Union, with all the weaknesses that broke it.

After all, it wasn’t a popular uprising that felled the Soviet Union; it was the fact that it was a Third World country, heavily dependent on the export of primary commodities, particularly oil and natural gas, whose price it could not control. It was also the fact that the Soviet Union had engaged in military competition with the United States whose primary currency was expensive advanced technology. The U.S. could bear the price readily. Between falling oil prices and a large share of its economy devoted to defense, the Soviet Union simply broke under the pressure. It was never able to develop a modern economy that could effectively serve its people or win it a stable place in the international system. There were moments, such as the 1950s, where this seemed possible, but it was never to be. The Soviets had convinced the U.S. that it was a great power, and the U.S. responded as if it were. The Russian belief in the bluff turned into an agonizing Cold War, where the U.S. feared the Soviet Union so much that no effort was spared to match it. The Soviets' efforts had to go to pretending they were dangerous without fully achieving it. The question was asked at NATO: If the Russians are so powerful, when will they attack? The answer, never uttered, was that they won’t attack because they know they will lose.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a global sense that the world had entered a new age, with Russia part of it. It had abandoned its costly and dangerous Eastern European empire. It had allowed many of the Soviet republics to go their own way. It had freed itself from the burdens these countries imposed and had cleared the way for turning Russia into a modern country faithful to its own culture.

Alexei Kudrin, a former Russian finance minister who is still highly respected, provides a statistic that quantifies the problem. Since 1990, the economy has grown 30 percent, or roughly 1 percent per year. Forgetting the collapse of oil prices, or the weakness of the FSB, or any other data, this fact is staggering. Russia had been badly organized and managed before 1990. Even minimal measures should have stimulated the country’s economy for a while. That didn’t happen.

There are many reasons for this, but for me there is always the staggering reality of Russia: its size, the distances that must be traveled, the transportation system, the roads and rail lines, challenging conditions, and so on. A nation cannot grow if its products cannot readily reach its markets, nor if its producers are so spread out that it’s impossible to know what the market is demanding and providing. Russia always suffered from its wealth in space, people and products. Large nations must invent their own geography. Russia lived with its geography.

The ongoing decline in oil prices – even though they have modestly recovered – is a crisis for Russia. Moscow collects the taxes and distributes the money to the rest of the country. This pays teachers, nurses, police and most other government workers. Under Boris Yeltsin, the money didn’t come and the people suffered. This problem went away under Putin at first, but there are increasing reports that these workers aren’t being paid now. The memory of the 1990s burns in their minds, and there are the first signs of a return to that period. There are demonstrations in the Siberian town of Khabarovsk, for example, where tens of thousands have been protesting for weeks against Moscow's arrest of a popular mayor. Why he was arrested and why they are demonstrating is unknown to me, but there has to be more here than meets the eye.

The Yeltsin years recreated a Russia where the countryside was extremely poor. It was my belief that this would happen again, because it is built into the weakness of the Russian economy and the politics of distributing scarcity. I think the next phase will come, and the weaknesses will show themselves again. Bear in mind that few expected the first collapse or the apparent recovery. Russia hides itself well.   




Crafty_Dog

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Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
« Reply #105 on: August 31, 2020, 10:47:24 AM »
   
    In Russia, Mercenaries Are a Strategic Tool
Companies like the Wagner Group fill in certain security blanks.
By: Ridvan Bari Urcosta

Belarusian intelligence has accused Russia of sending private citizens to interfere in the country’s affairs and generally engage in acts of provocation. These same citizens participated in the annexation of Crimea a few years ago and fought on Russia’s behalf in the breakaway region of Donbass, according to officials in Ukraine, who demanded their immediate extradition to Kyiv. Instead, the Belarusian government sent them back to Russia.

To no one’s surprise, the citizens were members of the infamous private military company known as the Wagner Group, which over the past few years has been involved in every international conflict strategically important to Russian interests. The case of Belarus and Ukraine – the first instance on record of Wagner operating so close to NATO’s eastern flank – underscores just how useful a political tool Wagner has become for the Kremlin.

Organization and Formalization

Private military companies are by no means unique to Russia, but Wagner has a unique Russian flavor. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the concomitant depression left thousands of Russian soldiers rudderless. They were unemployed but well trained and ready to fight, so they informally banned together in the 1990s to sell their services throughout Eurasia. By 2008, there were no fewer than a dozen private military companies in Russia. The most famous of them, the one that would serve as the blueprint for Wagner, was officially created in 2013 in response to the Syrian civil war. Known as the Slavonic Corps, the group comprised former Russian special forces whose primary task was to protect the oil fields near Deir el-Zour. This naturally led to clashes with the Islamic State.

Among the members of the Slavonic Corps was Dmitry Utkin, a former special forces commander in the GRU, Russia's military intelligence unit, more commonly referred to by his call sign, “Wagner.” Most would be arrested for mercenary activities when they came back to Russia. (The legal status of private military companies is murky. Officially they are illegal, but they are “coincidentally” deployed to areas vital to Russian interests. One of the Wagner Group’s biggest benefactors, a billionaire named Yevgeny Prigozhin with oil and mining operations in Africa and the Middle East, is tight with Russian President Vladimir Putin.) Either way, the Wagner Group returned to Syria in 2016 and cooperated closer with Russian regular forces. They are believed to have participated in the assaults on Palmyra in 2016 and 2017, and they are rumored to have fought with Syrian forces, and thus against U.S. forces, in the battle of Khasham in 2018.

The group has since expanded its reach considerably, particularly in Africa. It trains the military in Sudan, which reportedly granted mining concession agreements to a company tied to Prigozhin. It has participated in military parades in the Central African Republic, and is thought to be in Burundi as well. Its most high-profile client, of course, is Libya. The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 Wagner members are fighting alongside the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The document says that mercenaries help to repair military equipment and also perform the functions of gunners, sappers and specialists in electronic warfare. Putin denies funding or supporting them; in fact, he has said explicitly that they do not represent the Russian government in any way. But curiously, Haftar met directly with Putin and Prigozhin back in 2018, and by 2019, the group was reportedly assisting in Haftar’s attempt to retake Tripoli.
 
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Leverage and Maneuverability

This partly illustrates the allure of Russia’s private military companies: plausible deniability. They simply don’t have the political baggage of total state affiliation, which gives Moscow political leverage and maneuverability. They are well trained, they have their own equipment and training facilities – the primary one located in Molkino in Krasnodar Krai near the Black Sea – and even have their own airfield. Yet, they are also relatively cheap on the global market. Salaries for the average soldier start at $2,000 per month but can go as high as $20,000 per month. The low end of that spectrum may seem low, but it’s higher than enlisted pay in the Russian armed services. (It should be noted that reports from 2017 suggested salaries had dropped.) Money comes from private sources, local governments that want to use their services and, allegedly, classified disbursements from the Ministry of Defense.
 
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So even though Moscow can claim not to use private military companies, it makes sense that it would. Groups like Wagner can secure facilities conventional militaries can’t or won’t for political purposes, and thus they are perfect for non-linear and limited-scale conflicts. (They tend to fare worse against conventional militaries.) They usually work more closely with local security forces and help to organize those forces. Moreover, military campaigns conducted between states can be complicated and logistically complex. Private companies can simplify this process. And ultimately they give Russia another contingent of forces to work with. When Putin announced plans to partially withdraw from Syria, Moscow thought it could offset the losses with private military companies.

Notably, Russia’s preference for private military companies is a relatively recent development, one ushered in by the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, which made it clear to Moscow that the Wagner Group is an effective supplementary global tool. Maintaining semi-official groups enables the Kremlin to send them into dangerous places to secure Russian companies’ interests without officially claiming responsibility. They fill out the strategic blanks, forming a sort of symbiosis between the state and the private groups whereby the state allows soldiers of fortune to earn money. In return, the state gets subordination and partial cover-up. It’s a small but important part of the Russian grand strategy. Russia will continue to use the private military companies as an instrument of its global strategy in the near future especially under Putin’s rule.   


Crafty_Dog

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Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
« Reply #106 on: September 14, 2020, 04:56:10 AM »
September 14, 2020   View On Website
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    The Kremlin's Unusual Silence
The problems for Russia's central government keep growing, but the leadership seems reluctant to act.
By: Ekaterina Zolotova

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to New York this week for the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly, reportedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Putin’s annual television program and Q&A show, which usually happens in June but was postponed this year, also will not occur in 2020 – because of the pandemic. In general, the Russian president has limited himself lately to vague decrees and brief comments, usually in online interviews. It’s easiest for the Kremlin to blame the pandemic for Putin’s relative absence from the spotlight, but Moscow is under pressure from many directions, and the virus is just the best distraction. There’s the instability in neighboring Belarus, Russia’s most important buffer and its last remaining ally to the west. There’s the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which threatens to bring down new sanctions against the Kremlin and endangers the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is important for the Russian economy. There are unending protests in Khabarovsk and, of course, the economic impact of COVID-19 and the fall in oil prices and consumer demand.

The pandemic has strained governments the world over, but what’s interesting about the Russian case is the government’s silence and apparent inaction in the face of not just COVID-19 but also many other challenges. All this creates the impression that the Kremlin is struggling to maintain its strength and the country’s economic stability.

Silencing, or Ignoring, Criticism

Arguably the clearest sign that something strange is happening in Russia is the apparent poisoning of Navalny last month. The 44-year-old anti-corruption activist was aboard a plane from Tomsk to Moscow on Aug. 20 when he fell violently ill, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing so that Navalny could be rushed to a hospital in Omsk. On Aug. 22, he was moved to Berlin’s Charite hospital, where specialists reported signs that Navalny had been exposed to Novichok, a deadly nerve agent that was used in the assassination attempt against Russian defector Sergei Skripal in the U.K. in 2018. For obvious reasons, accusations focused on Moscow, and Western governments began discussing new sanctions against the Kremlin.

It’s uncertain who is to blame, but there are at least two main possibilities. The first is that Moscow fears its power in the regions is weakening and authorities wanted to warn the opposition. Perhaps not coincidentally, Navalny’s poisoning and a government raid of the headquarters of the opposition United Democrats both occurred just before a general election on Sept. 13. The second possibility is that a government rival of Putin wanted to destabilize his position, since the poisoning will hurt the government’s support. In either scenario, Moscow is dealing with uncertainty that affects its ability to govern throughout Russia’s immense territory.

This is also demonstrated by the ongoing protests in the Far East city of Khabarovsk. On July 9, the former governor of the Khabarovsk region, Sergei Furgal, was arrested and sent to Moscow, where he was accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the 2000s. On July 11, thousands of people turned out in Khabarovsk to protest the arrest, saying that it was politically motivated. A member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Furgal was never a serious opponent of the Putin regime, but skepticism of Moscow’s intentions in Khabarovsk remains high. The emergence of protests is itself notable: This is the first time in modern Russian history that a governor accused of a criminal offense has received massive public support. Protests popped up in other cities, and they have occurred daily in Khabarovsk since they began, with help from the Russian opposition via social networks. Also notable is their durability, even though the protests are smaller than they used to be.
 
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Moscow’s response – or lack thereof – is also unusual. Located nearly 4,000 miles (6,000 kilometers) from Moscow, Khabarovsk is near the border with China. In theory, the stability of a border region in such a distant area should be a priority for the Kremlin. But since the arrest, the central government has been largely absent. Putin does not comment on events in the region, security forces have not suppressed the protests, and the Russian media is focused on unrest in Belarus. It’s possible that the Kremlin worries that attempting to disperse the rallies would cause greater instability and fuel greater discontent, with the potential to spread to other regions. Meanwhile, some political force – the ex-governor’s supporters or other opponents of the Kremlin – has an interest in keeping the protests going, organized and productive. Moscow’s hesitance to engage suggests that it is uncertain about its position and afraid of sparking a larger, more widespread rebellion, especially in other remote cities and regions.

The Price of Stability

Another challenge for Russia – one not of its own making – is energy prices. The Russian economy and budget are heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, but the coronavirus-induced recession has sent energy prices plummeting. The global economic recovery overall has proceeded slowly, and demand for energy hasn’t recovered. Russia’s revenues from oil exports from January to July amounted to $43.9 billion, a decline of 37.7 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Export revenues from gas fell by 51 percent. This translates into greatly reduced budget revenues for the state.
 
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Less revenue means less money to distribute among the population and regions, and this is an especially sensitive time, as COVID-19 has affected standards of living throughout the country. During the lockdown, more than 1.2 million Russians were left without work. At the end of the second quarter, the purchasing power of Russians for basic food products dropped to its lowest level in the past 10 years. Regions continue to develop unevenly, poverty remains an issue, and government subsidies are needed to create demand. And although the economy is not yet an inspiration for protests, a prolonged decline in living standards may exacerbate negative trends in society. The Kremlin fears that at a time when the population and economy need a boost, it will lack the funds to distribute because oil prices are expected to remain low for a while.
 
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In times like these when money is tight, the Kremlin typically looks to the oligarchs and heads of the largest companies to replenish the budget, and this time is no different. The heads of the largest Russian oil companies (Rosneft, Lukoil, Gazprom Neft, Tatneft and Zarubezhneft) complained to Putin about the Ministry of Finance’s plans to raise taxes on hydrocarbon production, but their concerns apparently fell on deaf ears. Russian billionaires have lost some $16.7 billion since the beginning of the year because of the pandemic, and it will get worse: The personal income tax rate of 13 percent, which has been the same for everyone for 20 years, is set to increase to 15 percent next year for those earning more than 5 million rubles (approximately $67,000).

Russia still has $177.6 billion, about 11.7 percent of gross domestic product, in its national wealth fund, but the Kremlin is determined to save what it can for tough times ahead. Without a significant increase in energy prices, Moscow’s only choice to replenish the budget is to raise taxes on the rich to redistribute to the rest of the population. This would help Putin’s popularity with the majority, but it could lead to dissatisfaction and a loss of support among the wealthy and may cause additional capital flight, which would hurt the economy.

Finally, there’s Belarus, the last Russian ally in the west and the only thing standing between U.S. troops in Poland and Russia’s borders. Protests and strikes in Belarus have continued unabated since that country’s disputed presidential election on Aug. 9 and the announcement of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory. Labor collectives from the largest Belarusian companies have joined the action. Moscow supports Lukashenko but it is in no hurry to intervene. Russian military assistance in suppressing mass protests would mean an invasion, which, of course, would only worsen Russia’s position in international trade and would mean more severe economic sanctions, which Russia’s slowing economy may not withstand.

Russia’s territorial size is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The different regions of Russia are unequal, are at different stages of economic development and are only loosely connected. A stable government, a strong security apparatus and calm borders are important for preserving the unity of this vast territory. Moscow also needs substantial buffers, as the flattened borderlands act almost as a highway to the capital for foreign armies. Buffers also create a kind of economic zone, sometimes with a large amount of resources (including labor), through which Russia can supply resources to the world market and bypass sanctions. Russia’s security and territorial integrity are a constant challenge, especially when Moscow has fewer financial resources to support the country’s poorer regions, the buffer zones are unstable and the ruling party lacks the confidence to act.

Why Russia has been relatively quiet is unclear. Putin has avoided making loud statements, leaving that to his team: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is in talks with Cyprus and Syria; Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who last week brought together the defense ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; and press secretary Dmitry Peskov, who is preparing for a visit by Lukashenko. None of this means the Kremlin isn’t under pressure. More likely, it means the leadership is aware of its weaknesses and trying to hide it from Russia’s competitors.   




Crafty_Dog

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Kim Iskyan: Russia's End Game
« Reply #107 on: October 09, 2020, 04:23:07 AM »
Russia's Endgame Isn't What You Think It Is – It's Worse
By Kim Iskyan

You probably don't realize it, but Russia is getting its way... again.

I'm not talking about a plan to infuse the U.S. water supply with vodka. Or to put a furry shapka on every American's head this winter. Or to get its guy – whoever that is – in the American White House.

Russia's agenda today is very different from its Soviet-era aim of global domination with a bread-line flavor... Back then, overrunning the world with its perverted vision of socialism – or annihilating the Earth many times over if that didn't work – seemed credible enough to be concerned about.

Russia's aspirations today are a lot more modest... yet destructive in a different way.

Since its days as a superpower, Russia's three-decade descent toward irrelevance is breathtaking. Today, the country's gross domestic product ("GDP") is smaller than that of France or Canada – and on a per-capita basis, its economic output is somewhere between Costa Rica and Malaysia. And it's falling further behind every day, with average annual economic growth of just 1% since 1990 – compared to a global average of 3.6%.

Russia's currency has lost more than half of its value relative to the U.S. dollar over the past decade. The market capitalization of its stock market amounts to less than half that of Apple.

With 145 million people, Russia has fewer people than Nigeria, Bangladesh, or Brazil. The country's most valuable asset is leaving as fast as it can... Around 2 million Russians have emigrated to the west over the past 20 years. (Many of the people I knew in Russia – from living there for nine years from 1996 to 2008 – have long since left.) The average Russian man lives about 12 years less than his counterpart in Spain.

Despite its rapid decline, Russia is still punching above its weight. Russia's "influence across the world is far-reaching and important," explained CNBC in February, pointing to its outsized role as a power broker, investor, and meddler throughout Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. As recently as May, U.S. President Donald Trump called for Russia to rejoin the Group of 7 club of industrialized countries.

A tally of mentions in the Financial Times suggests that the world's business decision-makers (or those who write their newspaper) are deeply preoccupied with Russia... The word "Russia" has racked up 8,347 mentions in the FT over the past three years, compared with 6,247 for India – which has 10 times more people and an economy that's 70% bigger. Japan, with an economy that's three times larger, got just 8% more mentions. (By this highly scientific gauge, Donald Trump is precisely 2.45 times more important than Russia, with 20,466 mentions.)

Why Do We Even Still Talk About Russia?

With twice the landmass of the contiguous 48 U.S. states – or 25 times the size of Texas – Russia is big. By dint of occupying one-eighth of the earth's land surface (and being 70% bigger than Canada, the world's second-largest country), Russia's voice is going to be loud, even if it's the bellow of a wounded bison missing a leg.

Plus, it's the world's second-largest oil exporter and natural gas producer. Perhaps fossil fuels are the new tobacco and will eventually be taxed and regulated into oblivion. Despite needing to cough up $15 for a pack of Marlboros (hello, New York), there are still around 1 billion smokers in the world... And it will be a long time before today's wind speed matters more to financial markets, or ordinary people, than the price of oil.

We also can't forget that Russia is still the world's largest nuclear power... It can turn the Earth into Mad Max land many times over. You can't ignore the big guy who's bristling with guns and knives and nuclear hand grenades.

And there's yet another reason: Vladimir Putin. Russia's unrivaled leader since 2000, Putin is a master strategist, both within Russia and on the global stage. And despite Russia's other advantages, it's only thanks to Putin that the country has even a faint cry of relevance.

Putin solidified and has maintained power in part by playing factions within the government against each other. Would-be power players who want to earn (or stay in) his good graces do a Tony Soprano to the oppositions politicians who threaten to gain too much support – or journalists who get too close to the truth.

He's kept the country's powerful business moguls in check by making an example of a few who stepped out of line. The threat of 10 years in prison – what happened to one of them – helped motivate the others to keep their Scrooge McDuck moves (and opinions about politics) behind closed vault doors.

To further solidify his position, Putin recently pushed through changes to the constitution to ensure that he can stick around until 2036... Term limits are for wimps. He's centralized control in himself (it's called the "power vertical" in Kremlin-speak) to a degree greater than the leader of any other big country in the world.

But Putin's dictatorial power at home is a liability on the global stage... To most of the rest of the world – except for the likes of China, Brazil, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia – Putin's frosty relationship with democracy, the rule of law, and basic human rights loses Russia serious points at the global grown-ups table. And few world leaders are impressed by the manly-man image that the Putin – who stands a Tom Cruise-like 5 feet, 7 inches tall – has cultivated through shirtless horseback riding and tiger hunting photo ops.

Meddle Me This...

But despite Putin's efforts – and the country's other natural advantages – Russia's glory days are long gone. The best that Russia can do is play spoiler... And it's been gold medaling at that.

One of the few arenas where the Soviets genuinely excelled – besides waiting in lines and making toasts – was in propaganda. Since well before the 2016 elections were just a glint in Donald Trump's eye, Russia has been spraying poisonous pixie dust through its propaganda firehose all over the world.

A 2017 study found that Russia has meddled in 27 elections since 1991. Until around 2014, Russia focused mostly on other former Soviet states – in particular, in Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

Then, Russia's horizons widened. It intruded in elections in the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Malta, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. It poked its nose into the Brexit vote in 2015... Italy's constitutional referendum... the Catalonia independence referendum... France's elections... and others.

And then there's the big borscht... Russia's (supposed) heavy involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections – evidence of which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell characterized as "indisputable" in July of 2018.

Russia isn't alone in wanting to influence what happens in other countries' elections. Governments in upwards of 70 countries have orchestrated political disinformation campaigns abroad, to interfere, distort opposing views, and discredit opponents. (Facebook was the most frequently used social network used to spread disinformation.)

But Russia has elevated meddling in other countries' affairs to an art form...

Russia has pioneered new and unwelcome ways of disseminating propaganda. Russia explored, exploited, and exported a new array of weapons – troll farms, fake news, fake Facebook accounts, leaked e-mails, fake WikiLeak documents, and cyberattacks on voting registration systems, for starters – that today occupy a prominent place in the toolbox of every self-respecting propagandist.

And in terms of bang for buck, propaganda is a lot more effective than your father's kind of war. Why bother with blood and gore if you can hardwire into the brains of the enemy? The cost of a handful of F-35 fighter jets ($94 million to $122 million per unit) – or Russian MiG-35s ($50 million each) – can fund a lot of Internet trolls, Facebook ads, and other light but lethal weapons in the propaganda wars.

Has Russia's propaganda worked? Judging by the success of its campaigns (which may not be the best indicator), it doesn't look like it...

The University of Toronto researchers found that of the 11 cases of Russian interference in the affairs of its post-Soviet world in 1991 to 2014, Russia got its way just four times. In the next three years – when it focused on elections outside the former Soviet Union – the side that Russia was rooting for won in nine of 16 elections.

"It's not at all clear that Russia's efforts made any difference," the study's authors concluded. And just three election results can be partly attributed to Russian efforts.

But the bigger question is whether Russia cares much about whether Scotland is independent, or Macedonia's name, or who is elected prime minister of the Netherlands or Sweden... or who is president of the United States.

Except for the rare cases Russia has a direct economic interest (in, say, an oil pipeline), it's usually indifferent to the outcome of most of the elections in which it inserts itself.

Russia (and Putin) Crave Relevance

It's a long fall from being a superpower to struggling just to be in the conversation... As Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde said, "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

The quick way for Russia to get attention – and as any adolescent will tell you, bad attention is better than none at all – is disruption. And Russia goes for the jugular, to undercut the foundations of democracy, by de-legitimizing elections and the institutions they support.

"Russian disinformation has evolved from its earlier objective of elevating preferred candidates and platforms to a greater focus on discrediting elections and institutions entirely," explained U.S.-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in July.

In other words, it doesn't matter who wins or loses – for Putin's Russia, success is defined by how much havoc it can wreak... by dragging democracies down to their level.

According to geopolitics media company Gzero...

The Kremlin is less concerned with the outcome of any single vote than with more generally sowing doubts about the integrity of elections and political institutions in the West. So far, it's working. Until governments in targeted countries find a way to hit the right Russian state officials and their backers exactly where it most hurts, Russian meddling will continue – in the 2020 U.S. elections and beyond.

What's more, the strategy isn't going to change. Putin has survived four U.S. presidents – and any number of strategic re-sets, policy shifts, approach redirects, blueprint redesigns, and relationship talks with his American counterparts.

Regardless of who is in the American White House, Russia will continue to sow the seeds of chaos – because if it can't be on top, it can at least play the spoiler. Meanwhile, Russian meddling, in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere, will become more sophisticated... and more damaging.

That's bad news for western democracies and institutions – which are already under fire from the inside in many countries.
And if you start to doubt it all yourself – well, Vladimir Putin might be cracking a small smile somewhere deep inside the Kremlin.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: George Friedman: In search of a solution to Russia's strategic problem
« Reply #108 on: October 13, 2020, 05:53:16 AM »
October 13, 2020   View On Website
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    In Search of a Solution to Russia’s Strategic Problem
By: George Friedman

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in history. Though it may not be true of all of history, it is certainly true of modern Russian history, because it cost Russia what it needs most: strategic depth. Until 1989, Russia’s western border was effectively in central Germany. The Caucasus shielded Russia from the south. Central Asia was a vast buffer against South Asia and potentially China. The Russian heartland, in other words, was secure from every direction.

The fall of the Soviet Union pulled its western border back behind the Baltics, Ukraine and Belarus. Russia retained the North Caucasus but lost the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Central Asia broke down into independent states. This contraction of Russia represented not only a diminution of size but a decreased distance between potential enemies.

Russia inevitably sought to redraw the borders before a serious threat emerged. That no serious threat existed gave Russia some time. But for a country like Russia, insecurity can manifest quickly. Germany went from being a national wreck to an existential threat in less than a decade. The Russians had to increase their strategic depth, but they had to do so without triggering the attack they feared before their depth was increased.

We have seen three events in recent months – one in Belarus, one in the South Caucasus, one in Kyrgyzstan – that together encompass portions of the borderlands Russia lost. To be clear, it is always possible to see three disconnected events connected by logic, and to assume that this logic has anything to do with Russia’s strategic problem. Coincidences abound in history and these three events do not even constitute a perfect coincidence. Even so, where coincidences are accidents that appear to be deliberate, it is easy to dismiss deliberately connected events as simple coincidence. The answer to this is to simply note that a coincidence has occurred, and that regardless of intent by anyone, a coincidence could have the same consequence as an intentional event.

In Belarus, a key buffer on the North European Plain, longtime President Alexander Lukashenko was reelected in what many describe as an illegitimate election in August. Protests against the results have gone on more or less ever since. Russia’s relationship with Lukashenko is complicated – he tries to balance between Russia and the West when he can – but Lukashenko could hardly be described as pro-West. He and Moscow have their differences, but Moscow has always been very influential in Minsk and thus has always had an imperfect solution to its strategic dilemma to the west. If Lukashenko were replaced with someone more antagonistic toward Russia or more sympathetic to the West, it could effectively move NATO, Poland and the
Americans farther east, relegating cities such as Smolensk to border towns.

In Kyrgyzstan, which sits between Russia and China, there is similar political unrest. Here, too, an election has resulted in claims of fraud and large-scale demonstrations. The Russians have some military facilities there, but the most important point is that it provides a buffer between Russia and China. Russia and China are not currently at odds, but they fought each other as recently as the 1960s. Though that was 60 years ago, geopolitics tends to repeat itself, and whatever current interests might guide them, both are old hands at the shifts of history, and neither wants the other to have an advantage. It’s unclear whether the Belarusian playbook will work here, but Moscow has a stake in what happens, and given the likelihood that an arbiter will be needed, involvement would not be surprising.

In the South Caucasus, a war has broken out between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed enclave governed by ethnic Armenians inside Azerbaijan. Broadly speaking, Azerbaijan is backed as before by Turkey, a country with whom Azerbaijan has an ethnic affinity, while Armenia is supported by Russia. But the conflict is much more complicated than that. For one thing, Azerbaijan has important relations with Russia that it cannot afford to sever. For another, Russian intelligence would surely have been aware of war preparations in Azerbaijan and so would have advised them to back off given Moscow’s relations with Armenia. That didn’t happen. Last, Russia has noted that the treaty it has with Armenia does not include Nagorno-Karabakh and that therefore Moscow has no obligation to intervene militarily on Armenia’s side. The Russians are clearly using the war to increase their influence with Azerbaijan, the most powerful and wealthy country in the South Caucasus. (Moscow helped to broker a cease-fire, but it quickly fell apart.) Without Russia, Armenia has few options. Georgia, which was invaded by Russia in 2008, won’t be much help, and the United States, which helped Georgia in said war, will likely choose to abstain.
 
(click to enlarge)

By appearing to shift their support from Armenia to Azerbaijan or, more precisely, bringing them both into the Russian orbit, the Russians solve a vital strategic problem. First, it helps to secure the South Caucasus, which, second only to Eastern Europe, is the path most likely taken by potential invaders. Second, by increasing control of the South Caucasus, the North Caucasus are made more secure. Of course, Russia already controls the North Caucasus and maintains a strong line of defense there, but Chechnya and Dagestan are home to militant Islamist movements, which Moscow claims are supported by the U.S. through intermediaries from the South Caucasus. True or not, Moscow isn’t taking any chances.

So we see events in Russia’s western and southern frontiers playing out in such a way that the geopolitical catastrophe Putin spoke of is being rectified. There are no tanks rumbling in either direction, but the politics of the situation appear to be heading that way. Of course, all of this may be coincidence. But it’s interesting to note the process that coincidence or calculation seems to have put in motion. But the Russians aren’t fools, and with Armenia and Azerbaijan aligning with Russia and Turkey excluded from the game, Georgia is isolated, and a repeat of 2008 would undermine the subtlety of the Russian move.   




Crafty_Dog

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The Arc of Instability in East Europe
« Reply #109 on: April 05, 2021, 06:12:20 AM »
April 5, 2021
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The Arc of Instability in Eastern Europe
The question now is whether, when and how Russia will continue collecting territory.
By: Ridvan Bari Urcosta

It’s no secret that President Vladimir Putin, taking pages from the playbooks of Russian leaders of yore, is trying to secure strategic depth. Much of that depth naturally lies in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, which have been contested since at least the 16th century as Russia began to reclaim lands of Kievan Rus. Stalin continued to incorporate these territories before and after World War II, and in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, they became vast borderlands from the Baltics to Central Asia comprising newly independent states.

Russia’s latest attempts to recreate its buffer zone have created an arc of instability from Eastern Europe to the South Caucasus. Many of these states were already unstable, of course, and Russian revanchism has only made things worse. The question now is whether, when and how Russia will continue collecting territory.

Existing Instability

To briefly recap Eastern European instability: The region has been essentially dissolved three times in the past few hundred years. The first was when Eastern Slavs lost Kievan Rus, a loose federation stretching from present-day Ukraine to present-day western Russia. The second time was when Moscow partially lost its control over Eastern Europe in 1917. The third and greatest happened in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. In 2014 or so, modern Russia returned to the idea of rolling back some of the geopolitical “successes” of the West, creating a line of confrontation with the West in Ukraine, Moldova, Crimea and the Caucasus.

Four main factors contributed to Russia’s success in reclaiming lands it holds as its own: an international order that favored the geopolitically ambitious; political instability in the areas it meant to reclaim; the emergence of domestic groups in these countries that want to be part of Russia; and a strong military. Notably, actual military invasion has rarely been Moscow’s preferred course of action. It tends to rely on a mix of other tactics. For example, in Moldova, Belarus and Armenia, Moscow relied heavily on pro-Russia groups and on regional geopolitical factors. In Georgia, Moscow worked hard to maintain close relations with the Orthodox Church and conservative groups. Elsewhere, it has leveraged its role as diplomatic mediator to gain a foothold. Russia believes that resolving the Ukraine issue would resolve geopolitical tensions in the entire region. (It isn’t resolved, and it didn’t.)

Turning Point

The turning point for the entire region happened late last year, starting with the Belarusian presidential election held last August. Pro-Russia incumbent Alexander Lukashenko won in what many considered a sham election. Partly with Russia’s help, Lukashenko fought off protesters by redirecting their anger and undermining their resources.

Then, in late September, war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory de facto managed by ethnic Armenians located entirely inside Azerbaijan. Moscow helped negotiate an end to hostilities, and in doing so made Armenia much more beholden to it. Its generally pro-West prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is now fighting for his political life as pro-Russia officials reap the benefits. Moreover, the war’s resolution established a Russian military presence in the Caucasus through its deployment of peacekeepers. It’s also important to note that the West did not resolve the crisis. Washington either couldn’t or wouldn’t, leaving Russia and its historical competitor Turkey as the guarantors of regional security.


(click to enlarge)

A few days later, on Sept. 31, Georgia held parliamentary elections. The results were disappointing for opposition parties, which refused to recognize the results and abstained from any political dialogue with the ruling party. Now they are demanding new elections. The incident has put the West in a tough position. It has tried but failed to manage the crisis – odd, considering both sides in Georgia are generally pro-NATO and pro-EU. The West’s failure has given Russia the tools to further undermine democracy and stability in the country. Moscow can, and does, discredit Western influence and legitimacy and provides support for various groups. For Moscow, it will be important to see if things deteriorate further and, if they do, whether they lead to the emergence of non-democratic groups, since that would also complicate ties between Tbilisi and the West.

Then there is Moldova, a country with a population of 2.6 million that is likewise in the throes of instability. Last November, the country held presidential elections in which pro-West candidate Maia Sandu won over pro-Russia candidate Igor Dodon. Yet Dodon and pro-Russia forces have a majority in parliament, and they have vehemently resisted Sandu’s attempt to consolidate control. Naturally, Russia keeps a close eye on Moldova. Moscow would like to see strong and effective pro-Russia policy, but the country is too geographically isolated for Russia to intervene even if it wanted to. (This might be possible only if Moscow establishes control over southern Ukraine.)

Finally, there is Ukraine, where three distinct and important trends have emerged. First, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has failed to deliver on his promise to stabilize Donbass, the breakaway territory in the east. Russia expected that he would be at least partially successful, perhaps by creating a new grey zone or frozen conflict like in Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Transnistria. But the situation has only grown worse. Second, local elections returned Ukraine to the pre-Maidan revolution era, at least somewhat. Pro-Russia forces made serious gains in regional parliaments, the biggest of which were in the so-called region of “Novorossiya,” which Russia considers extremely important. Third, Zelenskiy started to prosecute pro-Russia oligarchs and to close pro-Russia TV channels and newspapers despite the fact that such measures would be considered undemocratic in any country.

Conflict in Eastern Ukraine
(click to enlarge)

Ukraine is a unique challenge for Russia. It is vitally important, but Moscow won’t simply invade; it considers much of the local population to be part of “Russian civilization,” and it would be immediately opposed by the West. Both Russia and the West would like to minimize direct contact there.

In short, within the past six months, Russia has achieved serious successes in Belarus and Armenia. It helped the Lukashenko government survive against well-organized democratic protests, and military integration is at historic new levels. It managed to increase its military presence in the South Caucasus by keeping Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control. (And it did so without the participation of the West.) Relations with Yerevan and Baku remain stable for now. In Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, however, the situation is less certain. Russia would like to use Georgia against the West, but the most it can hope to achieve there is a normalization of relations in the next few years. In Moldova, Moscow would like to see a friendly political regime, ready to maintain a status quo and avoiding any joint anti-Russia actions together with Ukraine. The arc of instability, for now, is here to stay. The bigger danger, however, is that this arc could extend from the political to the military realm, especially in Ukraine.

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Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
« Reply #110 on: April 08, 2021, 12:34:53 AM »
Vlad knows that the Kidsniffer McAlzheimers and the Ho and their stringpullers in the shadows can't/won't stand up to him.

Crafty_Dog

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Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
« Reply #111 on: April 08, 2021, 05:01:36 AM »
But, , , but , , , but , , , he called Putin a killer!

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: George Friedan: Russia as a Developing Nation
« Reply #112 on: June 08, 2021, 06:25:54 AM »
June 8, 2021
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Russia as a Developing Nation
By: George Friedman\
Richard Moore, who heads Britain’s foreign intelligence service, or MI6, was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that “Russia is an objectively weakening power in economic and demographic terms.’’ In President Vladimir Putin, the statement touched a nerve.

Responding to a question about the statement at the St. Petersburg International Forum, he said:

“You mentioned that the new head of MI6 gave such assessments, but he is new and a young leader in that sense. I think he will gain experience, and he will change his assessments. This is first. Second - if Russia is a weakening power, then why worry? If this is the case, keep calm and don't worry about this, and don't deteriorate Russian-British relation. And if you don't interfere, then a trend that is gaining strength will continue. Great Britain is among the few countries in Europe, and in the world, with which we have maintained a good pace of development of economic ties. Even during the past pandemic year, when our trade volume shrank with many countries in the world, with Great Britain it rose by 54%. This is a record high figure. So, if you don’t interfere, then everything will be all right and probably, with the help of mutual trade, from a weakening country Russia will transform into a thriving state. We would very much like for Russian-British relations to facilitate this process.”

The statement reflects several possibilities. One is that his comments were mistranslated. The problem is that I can’t find any denial of the translation. Another is that he was being sarcastic. Though tempting, I think Putin is savvy enough to know that sarcasm from a world leader doesn’t usually translate well. Given that I think Moore’s assessment is correct, and the point made is that Moore should be more supportive of British-Russian trade relations, Putin seemed to be conceding the point: that he recognized Russia’s real and ongoing economic decline and the need for robust trade with Britain.

I laid out my model for Russia in “The Next 100 Years,” which I wrote in 2007 and was published in January 2009. I argued that Russia would have to become more aggressive in its efforts to contain Western incursions into the buffer spaces of the former Soviet Union. The first step of that process was the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, a relatively mild event. The overthrow of the pro-Russia government in Ukraine a few years later, and its replacement by a pro-West regime, created a fundamental shift in Moscow that is being played out now in Belarus, the South Caucasus, Moldova and of course Ukraine itself. In my analysis then and now, Russia could not accept the geographic and political realities that the fall of the Soviet Union created and would become increasingly aggressive within the former Soviet Union and in a more limited sense globally, as in Syria.


(click to enlarge)

The problem Russia would have is the problem encountered by the Soviet Union. As politico-military actions increased, the cost of defense spiraled. That spiraling cost collided with the fact that Russia failed to create a modern economy. The center of gravity of Russia’s economy is the production and sale of energy – exports account for about 30 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, and about 40 percent of its exports are energy – but it doesn’t control the price of energy or the associated whims of the market, which can inflict major damage on the economy.

This is what broke the Soviet Union. On one hand, it had to finance a massive military capability. On the other hand, a large part of its economy derived from the export of a single commodity. This is the definition of a developing economy: dependence on a single commodity. The Soviets had a developing economy while paying for a developed military. This limited the possibility of economic development outside of defense and energy, and limited social development.

The same fundamental process is underway today. Geopolitically, Russia had to transform its military from the rubble of the 1990s into a force capable of restoring its former borders (at least effectively if not formally) and cope with a possible response from the United States. At the same time, its ability to create a balanced modern economy was limited by the outflow of capital, thanks to the rise of the oligarchs and the arrested development of a large, technically proficient middle class. Russia never had the breathing room needed to first build a modern economy and then deal with geopolitics. It has been forced to resort to the old standby – energy – whose pricing is Russia’s great unknown.

In “The Next 100 Years,” I forecast a period in which Russia would become more assertive, followed by a period of increased economic weakness and social disappointment. The fall of the Soviet Union failed to deliver what Russia has always longed to be: a modern European country. It remains a significant military power but one that is not strong enough to impose its will by direct force because it cannot alienate countries like Britain that could deny it access to their markets. Like the Soviets of the 1980s, the Russians are trapped between geopolitical necessity and economic reality, and in my opinion, we are entering a period in which the contradiction will be less and less sustainable.

Putin obviously understands as much, and he understands that the countries that matter to him understand as much too. He had to dismiss Moore, the head of MI6, as an inexperienced kid but could not deny anxieties over the possibility of declining trade with Britain. He may have intended to sound sarcastic, but he could not avoid expressing the truth. Russia needs a robust economy to pursue its geopolitical imperatives, but it doesn’t have one. And it can’t afford MI6 making life harder for it. But MI6 is not Russia’s problem; economic reality is its problem.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Russia's Eastward Turn
« Reply #113 on: June 11, 2021, 05:13:59 AM »
June 10, 2021
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Brief: Russia’s Eastward Turn
Ahead of next week's Geneva summit, Moscow is holding its largest Pacific drills since the days of the Soviet Union.
By: Geopolitical Futures

Background: Russia is following the trend and looking east, hoping to solidify its position on the Northern Sea Route and defend its remote eastern borders, some of which are still the subject of disputes with Japan. In a declaration of its eastern focus, Moscow is gradually building up, modernizing and training its Pacific Fleet.

Russian Pacific Fleet Naval Assets
(click to enlarge)

What Happened: As many as 20 surface warships and submarines as well as approximately 20 aircraft from Russia’s Pacific Fleet started exercises in the central Pacific. Participating ships include the Varyag missile cruiser, the Admiral Panteleyev anti-submarine ship and the Marshal Shaposhnikov frigate, and the aircraft include Tu-142MZ anti-submarine planes and MiG-31BM fighter-interceptors, among others. According to Russian media, it’s Russia’s largest Pacific exercise since the Soviet Union. A former chief of the Russian navy’s General Staff said the drills were unprecedented in scale and were taking place far from coastal support infrastructure.

Bottom Line: In less than a week, Russian President Vladimir Putin will sit down in Geneva with U.S. President Joe Biden. It’s impossible to separate these unprecedented drills from the wider context of that visit. Moscow is signaling its might and its determination to have a seat at the table in the Asia-Pacific region.