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For a New Russia : Russia or the Great Unknown

Updated: Nov 15, 2022



The History of Russia is the History of perpetual frustration. The potential of this state has always been extraordinary, and yet, over the centuries, Russia has never been able to realize its ambition. Always second, always on the margins, always surrounded, Russia has never succeeded in satisfying its ambition.

There are many reasons for this, and we will study them shortly, but as a Russian I still allow myself to hope that maybe soon, Russia will finally reconnect with its destiny. It is mainly for this reason that I think that Russia has an extraordinary role to play in the 21st century : that of an actor who changes everything. Because if Russia makes the right decisions, it will change the balance of power in the world and it can change the course of history. But if she insists on taking the wrong turns, I'm afraid she'll have lost her last chance.

In this sense, one can say that Russia is playing its future and the future of the world. If she succeeds, the world will only be better. If it fails, it is more likely than ever to become a second-rate state, or even a subjugated power abroad.

But before studying its geopolitical future, it is still necessary to understand what Russia is and where it comes from.

GEOGRAPHY






Russia is an Empire.

Just look at this map to realize it. The area of ​​Russia is roughly equal to the total area of ​​Pluto. Its territory represents 1/10 of the surface of the planet and Russia is obviously the largest country in the world.

Its territory is extremely rich. Its arable land is enormous and very fertile. Russia also lacks nothing in terms of other resources and in particular wood or various minerals. Moreover, it is an energy giant, having substantial gas and oil resources. Its reserves of gold and precious stones are also prodigious.

In addition, its territory is filled with navigable waterways that allow an excellent internal communication network. Russia has a pacific facade and maritime projections on the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea (not to mention the White Sea whose traffic is increasing!).

Its position is also strategic asit lies between Europe and Asia while bordering the Middle East.

Everything seems perfect geographically to place Russia among the behemoths of the likes of China and the United States…on paper.

Because Russia's main problem is that its territory is extremely difficult to manage and poses significant logistical and structural problems.

For example, we can cite the fact that most of its territory is a frozen desert. So if you only compile “habitable” land, Russia is actually much smaller than it first appears. Then the distances inherent to this gigantic territory create considerable administrative, logistical and demographic difficulties. Besides, one of the difficulties is that many territories are sparsely populated. While the United States has a population of around 400 million and China 1.5 billion, Russia has only 140 million (the equivalent of the population of France and Germany together, while Europe has half a billion inhabitants!).

The cost of defending this territory is also immense. Where Europe has a small territory to defend, where China has a huge population to crush anyone who would give it trouble and where the United States is sufficiently protected by nature to be able to export its power, Russia has a small population to defend a huge continental territory surrounded by land borders (Russia has borders with Europe (which moreover is an invasion plain), the Middle East via the Caucasus, Central Asia, Mongolia and China!).

If that weren't enough, Russia also has a difficult position when it comes to trade routes : most New Silk Road projects avoid going through Russia (to avoid Siberia and the Tundra to take advantage of traditional and natural ways of Central Asia). Russia certainly has maritime projections, but they are far from being the best.

St. Petersburg allows the opening to the North Seas, but just think that a Russian ship leaving St. Petersburg must immediately cross the Finland Strait which lies between Finland and Estonia (two member countries of the EU) before crossing the coast towards the Danish Straits to finally open onto the North Sea where you still have to pass the British Isles to reach the Atlantic.

Similarly, the projection on the Black Sea is not obvious. From Crimea, Russia must either enter the Danube (all EU states) or cross the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles (controlled by Turkey) to then cross either the Sicilian straits to reach Gibraltar (British control) to exit on the Atlantic, or go via Suez and the Gulf of Aden to reach the Indian Ocean.

We have seen much simpler trade routes.

Only the pacific facade is largely advantageous but the problem is that the Pacific side of Russia is cut off from the rest of the country because yes, approximately 60 to 80% of the Russian population is in the European part of the country.

Thus, mastering this territory requires a steady hand but also a brilliant mind. Unlike the United States which plays “in easy mode”, Russia plays “in hard mode” one might say. If the Russian elite is competent and capable, Russia can tap into these advantages to overcome its problems. But if its elite is incompetent and corrupt, Russia will only recoil and slowly crumble. This was the case in the 17th century before the arrival of Peter the Great in power, it is still the case today after the fall of the USSR.

Russia therefore demands an exemplary, competent and capable power. However, its history shows us practically only the opposite.

HISTORY OF RUSSIAN POWER







Russia is the story of endemic corruption. This corruption affects everything. Money of course, but also values ​​and spirits. The fact is that at all times, an elite, whether feudal, aristocratic, communist or oligarchic, has been able to take control of the prodigious resources of this state to keep them for itself.

Thus we have on one side a prodigiously rich oligarchy which falls into the worst excesses of expenditure and debauchery while on the other side the bulk of the population is reduced to misery. This misery has the effect of undermining popular morality and therefore of motivating the population to “survive as best they can”. In extreme cases, it can be the use of larceny, theft or immorality.

To justify its power, the oligarchy in place will play a fine game of propaganda by proclaiming on the one hand "values" (which it absolutely denies in practice) and on the other hand will make the population fear an enemy from the outside and the inside. Thus the communist elite, for example, had the mores of the aristocracy of the old regime while claiming to defend the worker and spoke of an "imperialist enemy" ready to attack the USSR to justify the arbitrary use of power by the security forces whose real objective was to crush any challenge to the hypocrisy of the ruling class.

But getting back to our topic, if Russia needs a capable elite, it hardly ever had it. On rare occasions, such as the reign of Peter the Great or Alexander II, Russia had the leadership it needed. And the progress that has been made has been astronomical. In just 30 years of Peter the Great's reign, Russia has gone from a feudal state on the margins of Europe to a modern power and a major player on the European scene.

Thus Russia is only holding on to the foundations put in place by a few episodes of spectacular progress to then stagnate most of the remaining time under authoritarian regimes. But then how to break this curse? How to reconnect with a constant and complete growth of Russian potential?

The method is unfortunately unknown but the results would be clear. Let us therefore study the two development scenarios for Russia.

THE RUSSIAN GEOPOLITICAL FUTURE





If Russia continues on its current trajectory, it will eventually become a vassal of Chinese power. Devoid of foreign investment from the West but dependent on it, Russia had no choice but to turn to China to guarantee the continuity of its economic activity. One of Russia's major problems is that it has always relied too heavily on revenues from the sale of hydrocarbons. But even when it sells other resources such as wood and aluminum, it only sells raw materials (which therefore excludes the high added value specific to an industrial transformation that creates a complex product in high demand). In other words, if the market values ​​are gigantic and the export volumes substantial, they are deceptive because they do not benefit from substantial added values.

Of course, Russia also created technological products such as armaments or space technology, but the problem is that these sectors depend enormously on public subsidies, which are acquired… through the sale of hydrocarbons. All this implies that Russia is extremely sensitive to price fluctuations in the energy market. And we know that oil prices will fall permanently in the future.

Russia must therefore develop its economy differently, to encourage individual initiative and bring in investments from abroad. But that means that you must first liberalize the market (and thereby also society) and then have excellent relations with foreign states that are sources of investment (mainly the United States, Europe and Japan).

But Russia for the moment is choosing repression, looting and corruption of its own economy. On the international scene, it takes postures full of bravado to claim to be what it is no longer (a superpower). The result is that its economy is at best stagnant, at worst in free fall as Russia is isolated on the international stage. So Russia is forced to beg from the only available investor: China. And so it is that after having dominated China, it is Russia that finds itself dominated and humiliated. All this for the sole maintenance of the regime in place.

But if Russia is able to change from within (and this is a subject for a future column on this blog), then it can begin to not only liberalize its economy, it can also untie the knots of its foreign policy.

This is what I call “the Great Junction” : the natural rapprochement of Russia and Europe. Because Russia has been trying to get closer to the West for centuries, either through diplomacy (19th century, 80s-90s) or by conquest (Soviet period). It is a great unfinished dream to see Europe and Russia working together.

And this Great Junction is the main challenge of the 21st century for Russia and for Europe. If it is finally achieved (and there is work to do) the course of history will be changed because this arrangement can become one of the major axes of the International Community. If it is not achieved, then Russia will remain dominated by foreigners and Europe will lose one of its most attractive markets.

Because it must be understood, in a world in the midst of global warming, the distances between suppliers and the downstream market must be reduced as much as possible. Europe must find a supplier of raw materials close to its borders and a market in which to invest its dividends. And it is of course Russia! I am not talking about security issues here either, because an alliance with Russia would make it possible to stabilize the borders in Eastern Europe while allowing Russia to redeploy its efforts towards putting pressure on China from the North (benefitting thus to European and American interests!).

This Great Junction is therefore vital for Russia, for Europe and for the Western world in general! It is in this that Russia is the Great Unknown of this beginning of the century. This is an actor who has a preponderant role to play for the balance of the world and at the same time it is difficult to know what role she will actually play.

CONCLUSION






While I have described many different points about the future and current state of Russia, I wish to conclude with the focal point of all my thoughts. Whether it is to change its economy, change the course of its history, change its future and change its foreign policy, Russia absolutely must change from within.

Absolutely nothing good can happen if Russia continues to move in the same direction as it does today. The heart of all the challenges for Russia is to change. Only if it changes can we change its relations with the outside world, only if it changes can we imagine a better future for the West, only if it changes can we hope for a better future for its population.

This is one of the great challenges of our time: to reform Russia! And only Russians can do it!


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