Russia Is Back
Its earlier incarnations as Kievan Rus, Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union were respectively destroyed by the Mongol occupation (1240-1480), the Russian Revolution (1917) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) that created 15 new nations in place of the Soviet Union. Russia’s current emergence as a major power depends greatly upon the fate of rival powers. The Obama unwillingness to exert military power in the Middle East, the European Union’s focus on economic problems and consensual decision making, the decline of Japan, the economic issues plaguing India and the preoccupation of rising China with its serious domestic problems (massive corruption, extreme social stratification, extensive air and water pollution) all have provided an opening for Russia. Can Russia sustain its new role? Clearly in the next few years this is likely. But in the longer run Russia’s own deep problems will preclude it from playing a strong international role. Russia’s $2 trillion economy is barely larger than the Canadian economy. Russia’s economy is less than 3 percent of global GDP and only 14 percent the size of the American economy. Its agricultural sector is backward and its trade, dominated by exports of oil and gas, is the profile for a Third World, not First World, country. The World Bank rates Russia 112th in the world after Egypt and Pakistan in the ease of doing business while the Transparency Index puts Russia at 133rd in the world for corruption, barely eking out Nigeria (139th). The Russian military performance in Chechnya and Georgia was well below the standard of major powers. Despite the second largest array of scientists and engineers in the world, Russia has no Silicon Valley. Demographically, several million well-educated Russians in the last 40 years have emigrated to the United States, Europe and Israel. The birth rate, while increasing, remains low.
Russia Responds to Anti-Migrant Riots by Arresting Migrants
Nikolai Petrov, an expert on local elections at the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, says this campaign strategy lifted a long-standing taboo among the ruling party. Previously, xenophobic rhetoric was the providence of fringe politicians and right-wingers, while the elites around Putin saw it as uncouth and even dangerous to play on racist sentiments, says Petrov. The dangers became particularly clear in December 2010, when football fans and skinheads staged a riot at the Kremlin walls, beating dozens of dark-skinned passersby and leaving swastikas scrawled on surrounding buildings. That was the most violent display of ethnic hatred to erupt in Moscow under Putins rule, and it reminded the elites that xenophobia is a force best kept contained. (MORE: Sobyanin humbled by Navalny in mayoral elections. ) But as last months mayoral elections approached, Sobyanins campaign team seemed unable to resist the political temptation. Polls showed anti-immigrant sentiment was high among the electorate, and it was a far easier issue for Sobyanin to turn in his favor than corruption or tawdry social services. So Sobyanin not only failed to dampen these racist feelings, not only turned a blind eye to manifestations of racism, but he took up this anti-immigrant rhetoric as the basis of his campaign, says Petrov. He was not the only politician trying harness this energy. Particularly among young men, aggression toward immigrants is no less ferocious in Russia than in many European countries inundated with foreign laborers. But Russia has no independent party capable of representing the political far-right; the Kremlin has not allowed such movements gain a foothold in the electoral processes. The countrys right-wing youth have thus tended to coalesce around football clubs and other informal groups, giving rise to a fierce and politically marginalized subculture of nationalism. Sobyanins main rival in last months elections, the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has long been known to associate with nationalist groups, and he had a strong chance of garnering their support if Sobyanin failed to co-opt them in the lead up to the elections. After this weekends riot in Moscow, Navalny again showed his sympathy for the anti-immigrant movement, lashing out against the hordes of legal and illegal immigrants who live and work around the citys bazaars.