Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Kremlin’s Narrow Understanding of National Power a Source of Its Weakness, ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – Vladimir Putin and other leaders of the Russian state understand “the power of the state quite simply or one might even say one-dimensionally,” the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say. He and they view it as being about “the strength of the army and the fleet, the military capacity of its forces, contemporary weapons, and the ability to use them.”

            Such forces are needed to defend the national interests, the Kremlin says; but the editors reasonably ask “What kind of interests are these? Above all they are geopolitical ambitions, that is, the struggle for influence in the world or portions of it” (ng.ru/editorial/2018-02-27/2_7180_red.html).

            And related to that, the newspaper continues, those in power in Russia today want this kind of power to “preserve if not conserve the domestic political system and the distribution of power inside of it.” Thus, they believe that “the country would become weak if it couldn’t frighten others with its rockets and if it did not have its own geopolitical plans.”

            This helps to explain Moscow’s attitude toward the European Union, which “in the opinion of many Russian politicians is weak despite having a developed economy, a strong currency and an attractive international project. It is weak because it never conducts a foreign policy independent of the United States.”

            But “can one call such an approach contemporary?” The editors clearly think not. They argue that “the strength of the state” should be defined in terms of its ability to “achieve its goals. If the goal is the defense of the domestic political system, then Russia is strong, but so too are Iran and North Korean. If the goal is influence … then there are doubts” in both cases.

            According to the independent paper, “Moscow has practically no allies let alone strategic ones.  At the civilizational level, it has nothing to offer the elites of Europe, East Asia or even the former republics of the USSR. It cooperates with elites whose perspectives to get or keep power are doubtful and the projects it offers are narrow and short term.”

            The Kremlin’s narrow understanding of strength leads it to ignore other components of power. “An important place [in this] is occupied by the economy. Brexit and the Greek debt did not destroy the euro. The housing crisis did not kill the dollar or destroy the US economy; it as before elicited trust.”

            The Russian economy, however, is “unpredictable. It is too dependent on the state and prices for raw materials … The means collected when oil prices were high are helping Russia to survive when oil became cheaper. That pattern can exist for a long time. But it doesn’t generate influence or attractiveness;” and that something Russia’s rulers don’t understand.

            Unfortunately, they are not alone.  Many national elites confuse strength and military power, forgetting all of its other sources.  That seems to be happening in China, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say.  If it is, that will mark a significant step backwards for Beijing and its real influence in the world.

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