Friday, March 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Feeling Like a Great Power is One Thing; Remaining One is Quite Another, Russian Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 28 – Russian society is experiencing euphoria over what Vladimir Putin proclaims and many of them feel: With the seizure of Crimea, Russia has regained “the status of a great power.”  But Moscow commentators that warn it is far easier to claim or even believe Russia is again a great power than it is for the country to “retain” that status.

            And they suggest that what will be required for that to happen, according to a survey of opinion of Svetlana Gomzikova of the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, will require not just money and military victories but the kind of changes in Russia that the Putin regime has been unwilling to make (

            “In the final analysis,” she says, “euphoria over the unification of Crimea” with the Russian Federation “will pass, but the problems” that Russia faces “will remain in  place” because the “status” of a world power won’t “feed” anyone, pay the bills or even allow the country to remain that for very long.

             Vladimir Shevchenko, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, tells Gomzikova that “Russia can exist only as a great power. Or it will not exist at all.  This is an axiom which has been confirmed over the course of the centuries of all our history. But in reality, [such a] status doesn’t feed anyone. And it must be confirmed by actions.”

            Among those actions, he suggests, are the following: “rapid re-industrialization,” “the de-offshore-ization of the economy,” and “the creation of an integral conception of development above all for Siberia and the Far East.” He continues that given the failure of “liberal-market doctrine,” Russia needs to put a different doctrine in place.

            “Many already today understand,” Shevchenko continues, “the state must all the same be returned to the economy and correctly mark out the basic directions of development. Business perhaps will decide some partial tasks, but it isn’t solving the main ones.” Among those is moving into the sixth technological generation.

            The US, Germany and Japan have already done so and are developing on the basis of nano-technologies, bio-technologies, information technologies, and convection technologies, he says.  But Russia is “still” just starting in all of these areas.  The country must devote “all its forces” to achieve a breakthrough.

            The West won’t be able to prevent that even if it employs sanctions.  It is simply impossible “to isolate Russia the way the Soviet Union was isolated at the end of the 1940s and in the 1950s.” China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India and Iran will all continue to work with Russia if Moscow sets the tasks for change.

            Anatoly Stepanov, a historian who edits the Orthodox Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya portal, says that the most important thing Crimea has done is to give Russians “inspiration,” a sense that they can do things on their own and despite obstacles. That had been missing in recent years to Russia’s and Russians’ detriment.

            Crimea also has helped overcome another problem Russia has suffered from over the last 20 years, Stepanov says, the widespread feeling that “the people and supreme power were separated from each other.” That meant that the authorities could not draw on the energy of the population, and the population felt in some ways alienated from their rulers.

            In the wake of Crimea, he continues, the national consciousness of Russians has been renewed, “and before the authorities stands the most important task of preserving that.” The reason is obvious: Russians have been inspired before, only to be let down and thus alienated from the authorities.  One need only look at the trajectory from 1914 to 1917.

                And Valery Skurlatov, who works at the Moscow Institute for Innovative Development, says that Crimea was important but that Crimea alone has not allowed Russia to recover its status as a great power.  That will only be possible if the country undergoes “modernization.” Relying on raw materials leaves it part of the “raw materials periphery” and subject to “foreign markets.”

                Because of the Russia of today has not made that transition, “it is still early to speak about the return of the status of a great power.”  But Crimea could help. It could become an example and a stimulus for the rest of Russia, “a special Russian enclave,” even “’a European Singapore.’” 

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