Russia: It Is All For Show


May 30,2008: Economy is destiny, as the Russians have learned. With recent spectacular economic growth, the Russians see the possibility of a return to superpower status. After the Soviet Union collapsed, it was discovered (the communists were very bad at accounting) that actual GDP was much lower (less than a tenth of the U.S., then six trillion dollars) than expected. The chaos of the 1991 collapse led to further economic contraction in the 1990s. By the end of the decade, Russian GDP was about $200 billion. But by then reforms and new ideas had taken hold. In the last ten years, the GDP has grown to $1.7 trillion (compared to $14 trillion in the U.S.). Even greater growth is expected. While there's a lot of enthusiasm for rebuilding the armed forces, when it comes time to write the checks, other priorities, more immediate priorities, appear. The Soviet Union left a legacy of poor, or non-existent, infrastructure. For the economy to grow, you need infrastructure (roads, utilities, ports, sanitation). Guns are nice, infrastructure is essential. There is talk of rearmament, but in a democracy (despite the totalitarian aspects), the people's needs cannot be ignored. This year, for the first time in 18 years, the Victory (in World War II) Day parade featured a drive by of combat vehicles (a hundred of them). It was all for show, Russia is spending far more on new roads than on new tanks.

Russia is reviving its Cold War era diplomacy, also on a symbolic level. Small Russian training missions work in places like Africa. These guys are there in support of Russian arms sales, not to promote communism, or any other politics.

Some things don't change. Russia is still rough with its neighbors. Georgia has been feuding with Russia for over a decade. There has been some violence and lots of threats. But Georgia is small change compared to the beef brewing with Ukraine. There, Russia is claims ownership of the port of Sevastopol (the home of the Black Sea fleet) on the Crimean peninsula. The Russians lease the land, and provide jobs for some 20,000 Ukrainians. Prominent Russians demand that Sevastopol become a part of Russia. The Ukrainians say no way.


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