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.
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.
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.