Russia's Looming Crisis
byDavid Satter, FPRI Senior Fellow
Reviewed by William P. Kiehl, Ed.D.
Posted to the web just a few days before the March 4 election in Russia, David Satter’s 48-page FPRI e-book is uncanny in its prediction of the election results, the reasons for, and the reaction to Putin’s “victory.” More importantly still it is depressingly accurate in its depiction of Putin’s Russia in 2012.
Satter, the Financial Times’ Moscow correspondent in the waning days of the Cold War, who later focused on post-Soviet Russia at the Wall Street Journal, in academia, and at think tanks, is one of those rare journalists who transcends mere reporting of facts and regurgitation of others’ thinking about policy.
Since the eclipse of the Soviet Union as a “superpower” rival of the United States and its being shoved aside by the war on terror, the rise of a competitive China, and the threat from Iran, Russia has become something of a mystery to most Americans. This slim e-book does a great deal to re-introduce indifferent Westerners to a nation that is undergoing deep and profound changes, some of which should trouble us greatly.
Few Americans who do not deal with today’s Russia have any realization of how pervasive is the country’s kleptocracy. From the precinct level to the Kremlin, the organs of state security and the police are almost wholly corrupt. It would not be an understatement to say that Putin and his cohorts have in essence supplanted the Russian mafia. Indeed they have refined and made their brand of criminality more efficient. This combination of authoritarianism and criminality fuels the resilient opposition movement among Russia’s “creative class.” If its frustrations migrate to the workers, teachers, and government employees who are currently bussed in to pro-Putin rallies, the stage will be set for another Russian revolution. So much of Russia’s current prosperity is dependent on high oil prices that a drop in the price could upset not only the regime’s plans but put its very survival at risk as well.
Reading Satter’s short descriptions of the history and current state of play of the non-Russian elements of the Putin state gives us a brief, accurate, and scary picture of the modern “captive nations” within the Russian Federation. Whether Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, the volatile border region with Georgia, or the recurring issue of the natural gas blackmail with Ukraine, this “near abroad” is loaded with the kind of powder kegs that could blow at any time. And most of this potential for chaos is so little known in the West that it will come as a complete surprise when it does explode.
It is clear from the foregoing that the American administration’s Russian “re-set” was likely doomed from the inception. So long as Vladimir Putin and his cohort of past and present “Chekists” are in charge of this large, rich, and nuclear nation, the West must be prepared to cooperate when we can but resist where we must Russia’s (Putin’s) imperial ambitions.