Luc Brunet - First published on January 26th 2015
A lot has been written and said about how Russia and its leaders are going crazy, entering in conflict with the West on Syria, Ukraine and more. Russia has been kicked-out of the G8, sanctions have been taken against people and companies. In short it seems that in a few years period, Russia has turned from a friend to an enemy. It is argued that the main issue is Crimea, but indeed the relation started to get worst many years ago, after a few years of Putin being in power and showing results. But what should be a “good” Russia in the eyes of the West, and especially in the eyes of US strategists and neo-cons? This paper tries to imagine such a Russia, but is not a pure fictional exercise, as it takes a lot from what neo-cons have written or declared in the past! It also takes some aspects of an ex-USSR country that is supported and apparently so much loved by the neo-cons: Ukraine. But let’s start from the beginning: end of 2000 - Yeltsin resigns from his job of President and passes the wheel to a new guy, at large unknown from the West, but not Vladimir Putin…
Let's now enter into such an alternative history!
Deliquescence of State structures The 90’s in Russia have been a period of rapid deliquescence of the old soviet state structures. Although some of those changes may have been a good thing, it happened without real planning nor steps to replace them by new State structures to take care of areas like Healthcare, Education, Transport etc. In the 2000’s, and under the recommendations of famous US and European consulting firms, more structure is given to that trend, and most public services are privatized. Buyers are Russian oligarchs or western companies who pay a minimum fee for somehow obsolete infrastructures, but with a great revenue potential for the future. The Railways are privatized, as well as Aeroflot. The water distribution companies are also sold to a big European conglomerate, including the hot water plants in big cities. The Education system remains state owned for most of it, but the lack of budget makes that the quality of education continues to considerably decline. Private education bodies flourish in the 2000’s, providing quality but expensive education. The State Health system is following the same path and free healthcare almost disappears, leaving the place to private doctors, clinics and hospitals, and the flourishing of health insurances. The only free clinics remain until the end of the 2000’s in the poorest country side regions, providing very basic and minimum care for local inhabitants.
Natural Resources Following the sale of Yukos to a US group by Mikhail Khodorkhovsky in 2002, all Petrol and Gas companies are controlled since 2004 by foreign (mainly US) conglomerates. If the move was positive in the sense that those new owners brought more investment capital to boost exploration and the identification of new exploitable fields, including in the North Pole area, a negative effect was the dramatic decrease in tax revenues for the Russian state, partially due to lax fiscal laws voted by the Duma, allowing international companies to “optimize” their tax payments and “export” most profit to fiscal paradises. The same trend happened in the Mining segment, for example with Norilsk Nickel sold to the Australian group BHP Billiton.
The Industrial sector After years of neglect in the 90’s, the industrial sector in Russia had little chances to really come back on the international scene. Most brands were sold in the 2000’s to foreign companies who could use the local good quality working force and the low salaries in Russia, made even more attractive by the low level of social charges for employers. Boeing bought several local aircraft manufacturers, while numerous western companies built local plants in Russia, producing goods to be sold in Russia but also on the international markets.
The Military Just like the Ukrainian military structures, the Russian army continued to rapidly disintegrate over the 2000’s, due to the absence of budget for armament and a disastrous lack of competent resources at mid and high commandment level. The situation with the nuclear arsenal started to be a real concern for the international community in 2006, after a serious accident at a military warehouse in the western part of Russia. An international conference was organized under UN patronage, and a step by step dismantlement of the Russia nuclear arsenal was agreed upon, in spite of the opposition of what was left of the Russian army, and of brutally dispersed demonstrations in the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg. The plan was to have all nuclear heads under UN or NATO control before 2020. Again due to recurrent budget cuts, the Russian military had to abandon their very few overseas bases. Most remarkably the naval base of Sebastopol in Crimea had to be evacuated in 2013, and Ukraine transferred the leasing condition to the US Navy one year later. The implosion of the Russian Federation On the administrative side, the election system for regional governors was maintained and lead to an increasing independence of regions vis a vis the Moscow center. The first serious events came from the Caucase, after a wave of terrible terror attacks in Moscow and large Russian cities between 2000 and 2003. In front of a hesitant Moscow political class, various Islamic groups often coming from the Middle-East managed to completely destabilize most of the Muslim regions of the Caucase and the Russian Federation lost all control over those places as soon as 2005. In front of the risk of destabilization of Azerbaijan, the US initiated an intervention along the Azeri border in 2009 and a US base was set-up in Azerbaijan in 2011. Siberian regions started in 2005 to ask for more independence from Moscow and to get more from was left of tax revenues from Petrol and Gas extraction. Similar claims came on the table over the next few years from other Russian regions that rightfully - looking at the weakness and corruption level of the central power – did not perceive any longer benefit from being part of the Federation. Impressive street demonstrations took place in Yekaterinburg or Vladivostok, visited and encouraged by US personalities like Victoria Nuland or Senator McCain. Due to the critical situation and the risk of a violent evolution, an international conference was organized in 2014 and terms were agreed to organize determination votes in those regions, for the people to decide if they wanted to stay in the Russian Federation or become independent. All results were published in summer 2014 and four regions reached independence at the end of the year: - the Republic of Urals (including Perm and Orenburg regions) - the Republic of Siberia - the Republic of Primorie - the Republic of Tatarstan The rest of the country, basically most of the European part of the Federation decided to stay together and became the Russian Republic. As soon as the end of 2014, the Republics of Primorie and Siberia, concerned about their security, considering the long border they share with China asked to join NATO and made space available for US bases to be installed in 2015 in Vladivostok, Irkutsk and in the Tuva region. Because of that split of the Russian Federation, the dismantlement of the Russian nuclear arsenal had to be accelerated and completed as soon as the end of 2014.
The demographic side of the story The 90’s brought a sharp decline in Russian population and the events in the next decade, in particular the collapse of free healthcare and education further increased the trend. Both low birthrate level and strong emigration created such trends. As a result and just before the split in 2014, the Federation counted roughly 130 million people, still declining. The average salary in the Federation was at that time slightly under the level of the Ukraine, much lower than Eastern European countries and lower than in China. Unemployment level in the Russian Republic end of 2014 reaches 25%, and more than 50% for people under 25, while the elite mostly migrates to the US or Western Europe. What is left of the middle-class is trapped in a decaying country, not finding any openings in a Western Europe in deep economical crisis. Neo-nazi groupings are on the rise among the young.
A neo-con paradise The above is of course coming from my imagination, but again is based in what the neo-cons and the leaders of the “old world” would dream of today:
no more Russian nuclear arsenal to defend itself or protect China
US military bases all around China
US controlled Black Sea, and a base on the shores of the Caspian Sea
Russia split into countries under direct US or EU influence. The Siberian Republic because of its economical dependency on giant US Oil&Gas companies ; the Primorie Republic because of its total dependency on security issues ; the Ural Republic tighly linked to the EU and Germany in particular for industrial reasons
most industrial and natural resources under the control of western firms
the remaining piece of Russia now virtually without army and with a population of under 80 million, in decline and aging rapidly
Sauron – sorry, Soros - and Brzezinski would pay a lot to wake up in that imaginary world. But all their money shall not be enough, never!