Russian Ambitions vs. Russian Reality

The Security for a New Century Study Group was honored to host Dr.
Eugene Rumer, of the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National
Defense University for a discusson of the foreign policy intentions and
capabilities of a resurgent Russia.

The August 2008 conflict in
Georgia represented a resurgence of Russian assertiveness on the world
stage. Thsi event was the culmination of a series of Russian policy
moves that characterize a state that, as then-President Vladimir Putin
put it in a speech in Munich in 2007, “will no longer be pushed
around”. While these events have caused concern in the West over a
return of Cold War tensions, a resurgent Russia bears little
resemblence to the Soviet Union.

Russia’s internal stability has
improved dramatically over the past decade, due in no small part to the
skyrocketing price of oil on the world market. The influx of
petrodollars allowed the Putin Administration to stabilize an economy
that had been in freefall since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Despite thes improvements in Russia’s economy many problems remain.
Russia’s energy infrastructure is a relic of the Soviet era and is in
desperate need of maintenance and modernization. This modernization
will be difficult to undertake, however, withou an infusion of
technology from western firms. These firms will be reluctant to take
risks in a state that has proven hostile to foreign investment. Russia
faces long-term challenges in both infrastructure and demographics.
declining population has led to a reliance on foreign workers (many of
them Georgian) to overcome labor shortages. Funds from the booming
energy market have not been effectively reinvested in updating Russia’s
obsolescent industrial base.

The incursion into Georgia also
illustrates problems Russia has with power projection abroad. The
television coverage of the conflict in Georgia brought back memories of
similar footage from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan nearly thirty
years earlier. Russian military equipment has changed little since that
invasion in 1979. The bulk of Russia’s armed forces still operte
Soviet-era weapons systems.  This shortcoming was highlighted by 
Georgia’s success in downing a number of Russian aircraft, including a
strategic bomber that had been pressed into the reconnaissance role
because of Russia’s lack of cuttin-edge Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The
historic strength of Russia’s military , it’s seemingly limitless
manpower, has also been eroded. Russia’s population currently stands at
141 million and is in decline. The Russian Army’s current strength is
less that 400,000, nearly half of which are poorly-trained conscripts.
While Russia made it clear in August 2008 that it retains the ability
to defeat a small regional foe in the field, it’s ability to exert
control over even it’ own territory in the North Caucasus remians in
question.

Moscow’s newly assertive foreign policy in all
probability signals the end of post-Cold War attempts to integrate
Russia into the exisiting Western security framework. In addition to
the competition from the West for influence in the “near-abroad”,
Russia will face competition from China in Central Asia. China and the
Central Asian states comprising the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
notably refused to back their Russian ally by recognizing the breakaway
Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The primary US
interest in Russia remains in cooperatively addressing the
proliferation threat presented by Russia’s stockpiles of nuclear
weapins and fissile material. Russian cooperation is also critical in
the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. A return to
adversarial Cold War postures can only damage US interests in this
arena. AS such, integration of new members into NATO merits careful
consideration. The NATO Aliiance’s Article V provisions are not to be
taken lightly. While common interests do still exist between Washington
and Moscow, the recent events in Georgia represent the end of the
win-win opportunities that existed between the two states in the
immediate post-Cold War period.

“Security for a New Century”
is a bipartisan study group for Congress. we meet regularly with US and
international policy preofessionals to discuss the post-Cold War and
post-9/11 security environment. Please call (202) 223-5956 for more information.

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