Streetwise Professor

July 28, 2009

The Projectionist

Filed under: Economics,Financial crisis,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:49 pm

Joe Biden has attracted a lot of attention with his prediction that Russia’s “withered” economy would give us a decisive advantage in our relationship with it.  I think Biden is wrong, because he has committed the cardinal sin of projecting our logic on the Russians.  Big mistake.

I take the opposite view.  I think that for a variety of reasons, Russia will become even more aggressive and difficult to deal with.

Reason one: “Withering” is relative.  Yes, the Russian economy has taken a body blow, but compared to some neighbors, notably Ukraine and Lithuania and the other Baltic states, it is doing well.  Throughout the CIS states and Eastern Europe, many countries and companies are doing very badly, and are in serious financial straits.  The Russians still have money in the bank, and resources to deal with.  Although those have diminished, they are still enough to exert pressure on, and find bargains in, countries whose economies have been even more devastated.

In other words, the Russians realistically view power as relative, and in crucial areas the crisis has actually increased their relative strength.

Indeed, although one would have hardly considered it possible, even Germany is being more solicitous in its dealings with Russia, as this depressing article by Vladimir Socor demonstrates:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel headed large governmental delegations for bilateral talks on July 16 in Munich. The process, known as Russo-German inter-governmental consultations, involves informal semi-annual summits at which leading business representatives join the cabinet ministers on either side. The Munich meeting reviewed ongoing cooperation projects and considered new ones.

Access to the Russian market is seen as critical to Germany’s export-oriented economy at any time. As an export nation, Germany’s reliance on the Russian market has developed in parallel with its overdependence on Russian energy supplies. The Russian market’s perceived importance increases during the ongoing recession, as global markets shrink and Russia has also significantly reduced its imports of German goods. In these circumstances, the German government agreed at this meeting on some measures to subsidize Russian imports of German goods.

. . . .

The inter-governmental meeting also considered an ambitious program for manufacture and delivery of Siemens trains and locomotives to the Russian Railroads state company. In parallel, Siemens is negotiating to establish a joint venture with Russia’s Rosatom for building nuclear power plants and electricity transmission systems. In March of this year, Siemens withdrew from its joint venture with the French nuclear power plant manufacturer Areva and proceeded to sign an agreement of intent with Rosatom instead. This move hurt the overall Franco-German partnership in Europe while highlighting the structural trend toward Russo-German cooperation. According to Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko, the contract with Siemens is expected to be signed before the end of this year and will greatly improve Rosatom’s international competitiveness through technology transfers from Siemens (Die Presse, July 23).

The German government is tentatively looking at Gazprom to rescue the ailing German shipyards Wadan, in the Baltic ports of Wismar and Rostock. Under proposals under discussion, a Gazprom subsidiary would place orders for liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers to be manufactured at those German shipyards. If implemented, this move would facilitate Gazprom’s entry into German and European LNG markets, with a corresponding increase in German dependence on Russian gas. The German government apparently feels that it must consider the proposal in this election-recession year, when job-saving is a top priority.

Reflecting that same short-term German priority, the Munich meeting discussed a Russian rescue of Opel, the German subsidiary of General Motors.

I think I need an aspirin.

Seriously, though, even though by every measure the German economy dominates the Russian, and even though the badly shaken German economy has still outperformed Russia’s, the dispiriting litany in Socor’s article (and I left some stuff out!) shows that even Merkel (no Schroeder she) is bending over backwards to supplicate Russia.  Look at all the things that Germany is doing to advance “withered” Russia’s interests, especially in energy, and then ask yourself “what the hell is Biden talking about?”

What’s the difference?  Well, a major factor is that the relative lack of organized political opposition within autocratic Russia, the state’s ability to crack down on the opposition that does appear, and the asymmetric vulnerability of the leadership in democratic Germany (especially with an election coming up).  The German government is anxious to appease important domestic constituencies, especially major corporations that do business in Russia, and those that work for these corporations.  This gives the Russians a lot of leverage, which they have used to the hilt.

Reason two: Aggressiveness abroad and obnoxious nationalism is one of the ways to distract Russian public opinion, weakened and apathetic as it is.

Reason three: Russia is obsessed with status, reputation, image.  The myth of Russia on its knees humbled before the West is ubiquitous, and powerful.  The Russian leadership is more than willing to do things that are objectively counterproductive economically and geopolitically just to avoid the appearance of subservience to the West.  (In fairness, Biden admitted that Russia’s prickly pride might make it more aggressive in the short run before it was forced to bend to objective economic realities.  The short run could be long indeed given the raging complexes that drive Russian relations with the West.)

Reason four: The very desperation of the situation tends to shorten time horizons, and make the elite willing to take huge risks.  Faced with ruin, gamblers will often double down.  What’s there to lose?  This would suggest that Russian behavior is more likely to moderate if their economic circumstances moderate.  Biden’s argument leads to the opposite conclusion.

So, I disagree with Biden’s diagnosis.  I think that we are in for a protracted period of testy relations with Russia, and that economic hardship will actually exacerbate these problems rather than ameliorate them.

That said, the Russian reaction to Biden’s interview has had immense entertainment value.

And Biden has it all over Hillary, who (like Obama) is apparently a firm believer in the Self Esteem Theory of Diplomacy.  Just tell them that we want them to be big and strong, and a great power, and express admiration for their contribution to history (and boy, do you have to leave a lot of stuff out to do that!) and they’ll be biddable.  Sheesh.  As if.

Maybe the NoKos are onto something in their evaluation of Hillary.  It is especially painful to watch such transparent diplomatic clumsiness.  Also, the discordant notes struck by Biden on the one hand, and Hillary and Obama on the other, hardly present an image of a well-oiled team executing a thoughtful and coherent Russia policy.

Regardless of whether the Biden view or the Obama-Hillary approach prevails, I think that our policy vis-a-vis Russia is in for some very rough sledding.

Print Friendly

28 Comments »

  1. “Reason one: “Withering” is relative. Yes, the Russian economy has taken a body blow, but compared to some neighbors, notably Ukraine and Lithuania and the other Baltic states, it is doing well.”

    Not only that, Russia’s much-commented on demographic problems aren’t nearly as bad as those of Ukraine or the Baltics.

    These countries were very recently held up by the Western punditocracy as instructive examples for Russia to follow. Now they look more like warnings about what not to do.

    It can easily be seen that Russia has been governed much more effectively the past decade than the countries above.

    No wonder the Western punditocracy hates Putin!

    Comment by rkka — July 29, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  2. Too true, rkka.

    For the Eurasian nations, (attempts at) Westernization is the road to oblivion. And it ain’t sublime.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 29, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

  3. And it grows ever more clear that Western Russophobes care not for how, or even whether, Balts/Ukrainians live. They care only that the Baltic/Ukrainian governments be hostile to Russia.

    And it goes without saying that they care nothing for how, or even whether, Russians live, only that the Russian government submit.

    This explains Western Putin-phobia.

    Comment by rkka — July 30, 2009 @ 3:53 am

  4. OK, Professor, despite the “hurray for Russian dictatorship” cheers from the commenters above, here is an analysis by Stratfor that might be of interest to you. I think it’s excellent, and it touches on what Biden said.

    http://blog.kievukraine.info/2009/07/russian-economy-and-russian-power.html

    Comment by elmer — July 30, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  5. “We suspect the Russians will squeeze back hard before they move off the stage of history.”

    ***

    In his more lucid of moments, Zbigniewc Brzezinski acknowledges that the US standing in the world will likely be diminished over time, while remaining a major power.

    The above excerpted is wishful and misinformative thinking. Realistically, don’t look at the Russians as either being ten feet tall, or as soon to be complete has beens.

    However he crudely (in the diplomatic sense) presented himself, Biden was expressing a certain reality within the American foreign policy establishment. This point relates to how someone like Strobe Talboot is considered by some as soft on Russia. Talbott is nowhere near as soft on Russia as Brzezinski is hard on that country.

    BTW, in the lead-up to the recent Obama-Medvedev summit, the forner’s Russia point man Michael McFaul was saying some diplomatically provocatively things. Like Rice, McFaul isn’t as hard core as Brzezinski, Bugajski and Kuzio. At the same time, McFaul and Rice know which way the wind blows and seem to position themselves with that current in mind.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 30, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  6. As for having money in the bank, has Russia not been burning through that money like a drunken sailor in a futile attempt to defend the ruble? And speaking of which, what currency is Germany hoping to be paid in when they gain access to these valuable Russian markets; markets which are scattered across vast tracts of land, linked by a crumbling road system? What about all the bad debt their banks are sitting on and the nation’s extreme dependance on energy prices which are continuing to be weak? What about the rising unemployment. What about the Russian state’s many plans to spend money it doesn’t yet have to keep some semblance of a navy while “modernizing” its army?

    Even if Russia’s neighbors had each and everyone of these problems also, along with worse demographics than Russia, they are physically closer to Western Europe, they are not trying to use natural gas as a weapon to strongarm their neighbors and few of them are waging wars within their own boarders and annexing parts of their neighbors. But even if Russia’s neighbors are all in far worse condition that would hardly be a good thing for Russia. Hanging out with ugly people to look good might work in darkened dance clubs but it is hardly a viable economic strategy.

    Biden’s only tallent and purpose in life is to turn ice cream into sewage but even a broken clock is right twice a day. Unfortunately he didn’t even get this right. Withered is far to generous a term to describe Russia. I would love for Russia to have a bright economic future ahead of it. It would give the Russian people the kind of power and security a population needs to keep their government accountable and control their own destiny. It would bring security to the region and Russia might finally begin to see that its interests are not served by undermining everyone else’s interests out of spite. But wishful thinking makes for bad politics.

    Comment by Snake Oil Baron — July 30, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  7. rkka–don’t think that you are right re “caring” about how Balts/Ukrainians live. Just at a loss to figure out how to help them, esp. the latter.

    The relative misery of the countries you have mentioned obscures an important point. They are all former parts of the USSR, and before that, the Russian Empire. Thus, they all inherited the economic, institutional, political, and psychological dysfunctions endemic to both. Russia, moreover, has a better natural resource endowment, which has in recent years been working in their favor. The late-2000s were a good time to be long energy (Russia) rather than short (Ukarine). The main difference is that at least these other former Soviet republics have been trying, however chaotically and clumsily and less than successfully to move beyond their shabby political and institutional inheritance, and aspire to the European model. It has been ten steps forward, nine steps back for the most part in Ukraine, somewhat better in the Baltics. Russia, on the other hand, has proudly renounced any aspirations to become more Western, and is embracing its Tsarist/Muscovite past.

    S/O thinks that these other nations are doomed to oblivion. Maybe. But apparently Russia–to the cheers of S/O and rkka–has decided that anything remotely approaching Europe or the US is many steps too far, and not worth the effort. Maybe that is a correct diagnosis. More the pity.

    I’ve used the analogy before: Russia is in purgatory. Better than hell, but still not great. And if S/O and rkka are to be believed, they are resigned to that.

    The “Popeye Mindset”–I yam what I yam. Corollary: It’s too hard to change, even tho what I yam ain’t much.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 30, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  8. A small correction. I do not think they are “doomed to oblivion”. What is unsustainable will not be sustained. Indefinite collapse is not sustainable.

    Ukraine’s project of Westernization has utterly failed; according to my quick back of the envelope calculations, its GDP is currently (taking into account the recent collapse) around 30-40% lower than it was in the late USSR! Russia is around 0-10% lower, but unlike in Ukraine the government is stronger, has greater reserves and is now taking back control of the economy. Thus the chances of a humanitarian crisis (and demographic shock) exist in Russia, but are much lower than in Ukraine (or Latvia), whose government values neoliberal ideology over human lives and national survival.

    Eventually the Oranges will be kicked out of office, or the people will force them to cardinally change their ways, and Ukraine will recover. My main regret is the damage they will inflict beforehand.

    Russia, moreover, has a better natural resource endowment, which has in recent years been working in their favor.

    It was good for government finances, but a negative for economic diversification (though Putin somewhat negated it by weakening the ruble and creating a comprehensive industrial policy). It also leaves out the fact that Russia’s population is more dispersed; lives in colder climes; has an expensive Soviet legacy of excessive populations in remote areas; has a higher degree of economic structural militarization and a higher military burden.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 30, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

  9. Professor

    Rhetorically put, why not blame the Mongols for Russia having been cutoff from the West for an extended period, while influencing a certain manner?

    I don’t see Ukraine as a great model for democratic development, when considering how its unpopular president is trying to push unpopular views on the population of that country.

    Why do more Ukrainians think highly of Russia versus the general Russian perception of Ukraine? Why are Putin and Medvedev the most popular of world politicians in Ukraine and Moldova?

    FYI, Russia has a proud enough past in the period prior to 1917. One can dis the not so perfect past of others. This process has an insulting side to it. On the matter of reflecting past action, consider the way force was applied in Yugoslavia (in 1999) and Iraq (in 2003). Post-Soviet Russia is attempting to take the best of the past and mesh it with modern day realities. This hasn’t been a perfect situation. Seeing how it’s easy to throw stones elsewhere, me thinks that there’s a definite double standard at play regarding Russia.

    Snake Oil Baron

    Do you really think that it’s a simple matter of Russia using strong arm tactics on the transport of fossil fuel?

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 30, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

  10. Who is cheering the vast human tragedy that has been going on there? Not me. I merely point out that the West seeks only to exploit it, and lifts not one finger to mitigate it.

    Comment by rkka — July 31, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  11. Cutie Pie–

    Oh my God. Not the Mongol Yoke. Please. And the whataboutism. Give it a rest. Perfection is never an option, and the classical Russian cop out for everything is to try to distract attention from the beams in their eyes by screaming about the speck in somebody else’s. And the pre-1917 past is nothing to write home about, especially if you are talking about anything but imperial expansion.

    But you know what? It’s all really immaterial. Let’s take your hypothesis. History is full of contingencies. The Mongol invasion and subsequent domination of Russia certainly affected the path of Russian historical development. Let’s go further, and say that it started a path resulting in a stable equilibrium in which the state dominates and can’t make credible commitments to support a rule of law and the development of a civil society and civil sphere. The post-1991 developments certainly would support that. Which would in turn imply that Russia is doomed to its purgatory for the foreseeable future. In other words, the more forcefully that you argue that Russia’s current state, with its conspicuous lack of individual liberty, emaciated civil society, weak institutions, absence of a stable rule of law, archaic and rent-based economy, demographic crisis and endemic violence, is the inevitable and immutable consequence of its historic development, the more you are forced into the position of concluding that Russians are cursed to live under these conditions for time immemorial.

    rkka. I never accused you of cheering. Nor is anyone else here–me least of all. And I think that you are wrong that the West is trying to exploit. Many fingers have in fact been lifted, but to no avail. Now the attitude is more of resignation; resignation to the thought that extricating these countries from the legacy of their tsarist/Soviet past is an impossibility. (Ukraine in particular, and Georgia, to a far lesser extent the Baltics–Central Asia forgeddaboutit.)

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 31, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  12. And SWP- Thank you for being willing to consider that the present Russian course might be better for Russia than continued Westernization. This puts you miles ahead of the vast majority of Russia- critics, in my view.

    Comment by rkka — July 31, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  13. rkka-thanks. As an advocate of comparative analysis in economics, esp. institutional/policy economics, it is pretty much imperative that I do that. Avoiding the Nirvana Fallacy was a major lesson for me at Chicago. That said, it’s hardly a cheery conclusion. New Institutional Economics teaches that socio-political-economic systems are interlocking and self-reinforcing. Some strains of this school emphasize the role of beliefs (i.e., people’s expectations about other people, including expectations about expectations . . . ) All of this is very difficult to change, esp. when one considers the immense coordination problems. And this means that if you are stuck in a bad equilibrium–and I think that the equilibrium in Russia is objectively inferior to that in the US, say, or even parts of Eastern Europe–it is extremely difficult to get out.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 31, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

  14. As for the West lifting fingers, the US aid for Russia in the 1990s, consisting mostly of interest-bearing loans for purchasing US agricultural products now paid off, would have covered our spending in Iraq for a month or two.

    And we aren’t getting the Iraq money back, let alone any interest.

    Comment by rkka — July 31, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  15. As an advocate of comparative analysis in economics, esp. institutional/policy economics, it is pretty much imperative that I do that. Avoiding the Nirvana Fallacy was a major lesson for me at Chicago. That said, it’s hardly a cheery conclusion. New Institutional Economics teaches that socio-political-economic systems are interlocking and self-reinforcing. Some strains of this school emphasize the role of beliefs (i.e., people’s expectations about other people, including expectations about expectations . . . ) All of this is very difficult to change, esp. when one considers the immense coordination problems. And this means that if you are stuck in a bad equilibrium–and I think that the equilibrium in Russia is objectively inferior to that in the US, say, or even parts of Eastern Europe–it is extremely difficult to get out.

    I completely agree with this paragraph.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 31, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  16. Professor

    I was being rhetorical as stated. Besides the “Mongol Yoke,” Russia’s neighborhood has been a tough one and not just because of Russia.

    BTW, I appreciate how you at least note how Biden is wrong for assuming that Russia has little choice but to feel squeezed.

    On “whataboutery,” the folks who’ve highlighted this often do their own versions of it.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — July 31, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  17. It wasn’t just that notorious San Francisco pinko lefty Anatoly Karlin who pointed out the demographics of Ukraine are objectively worse than in Russia and that the Russians are showing more signs of slowly increasing the birth rate. That honor belongs to the Asia Times columnist and First Things associate editor Spengler, aka David P Goldman, who had the temerity to question his fellow Beltway conservatives penchant for praising Ukraine and Georgia as model Western client states while damning Russia. Goldman also came out as perhaps the only conservative in Washington, save for the excommunicated and perhaps extreme Patrick J. Buchanan, who openly admired Putin, for showing that the U.S. and Russia really have nothing worth fighting a hot war or Second Cold War about last August when Max Boot and other neocon crazies were calling for us to ship more Stinger and anti-tank missiles to a region that, as La Russophobe is constantly reminding us, still has lots of bearded men dreaming of shooting down airliners for the goal of jihad. However, Goldman wrote his “Putin for President of the U.S.” column when he was still anonymous.

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/KD18Aa01.html

    “As for the West lifting fingers, the US aid for Russia in the 1990s, consisting mostly of interest-bearing loans for purchasing US agricultural products now paid off, would have covered our spending in Iraq for a month or two.

    And we aren’t getting the Iraq money back, let alone any interest.”

    We are getting some new oil production coming online from Iraq (mostly Kurdistan, something the Prof may know something about since the Texas-based Hunt Bros and Perots did that deal, with the latter on the logistics side), though I am still convinced that the vast bulk of new Iraqi oil (and Iranian gas that the Professor naively thinks will go through Nabucco to Europe) is bound for India and China. So once again, the U.S. fought a war in Iraq and a New Great Game against Russia in former Soviet Central Asia for access to energy resources there, and China came out the biggest winner on both counts. The U.S. borrows money from China to send to Saakashvili, while Russia throws Khodorkovsky in jail to prevent him from selling half of Russia’s oil industry to Cheney and co while posing as a martyr, and then Rosneft signs cut rate oil deals with Beijing (though the Russians can probably repudiate those more easily then they could kick out Exxon — or maybe not? Maybe in a few years if the Russians say “screw you” to the Chinese America will side with Beijing, since they have us by the balls now? How exactly Gaffney and co will explain the freedom loving logic of that move from their old folks homes, after Brzezinski has departed this mortal coil?).

    Was it all worth it? Would it not have been better for the U.S. and Russia to become allies after 9/11? Is there not a much greater gap between the values of the U.S. and say, the Gulf Arab countries than between the U.S. and Russia? Or do the former just have better lobbyists and more money invested in U.S. government debt?

    I respectively disagree with rkka. I think Russia, by becoming the 7th largest holder (correct me if I’m wrong Professor) of U.S. sovereign debt and, at the time that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed in September 2008, the 4th largest holder of U.S. mortgage backed securities behind China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, HAS MORE THAN PAID THE U.S. BACK FOR ALL IMF LOANS AND WMD SECURITY AID EXTENDED FOR THE PAST TWENTY YEARS. In fact, if Kudrin gets fired, it will probably be because he invested too much of Russia’s oil windfall from recent years in American dollar-denominated assets. But don’t hold your breath for the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post, with their perpetual anti-Russian slant, to admit that a Russian leader could invest too much in Uncle Sam!

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — August 1, 2009 @ 5:18 am

  18. Steve, as I said, Russia paid back the loans, with interest, only a few years after they sent Aslund et all packing.

    Comment by rkka — August 1, 2009 @ 7:44 am

  19. rkka–what about the small matter of billions of $’s in assistance under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to dismantle/destroy nuclear and chemical weapons? Chicken feed?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 1, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  20. One other brief remark. Russians frequently exhibit a split personality on these issues. On the one hand, they resent being considered charity cases. On the other, they chide the US and the West generally for behaving in a niggardly way towards Russia during the 90s. I would also add that any additional assistance to Russia would have almost certainly disappeared into the maw of the kleptocracy, and benefited the average Russian exactly bupkis.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 1, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  21. Well, SWP, that last comment is right on target.

    More on whether Biden got Russia right:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/803tfwfc.asp?pg=1

    In their descriptions of current Russia, both Biden and Franco were on the mark. Russia’s economic troubles (the World Bank
    predicts GDP will decline 7.9 percent this year) are compounded by its continued dependence on the export of raw materials (energy, metals), leaving it vulnerable to outside factors beyond its control. Over the past eight years despite the bounty from high oil prices, Russia’s leaders failed to diversify the economy or invest in its declining infrastructure and energy sector, production in which has flattened out and likely to decline in the next several years. At the same time, Russian corporate debt is estimated at $500 billion, $130 billion of which is due this year.

    Meanwhile, Russia’s population has been declining by an average of 700,000 per year and may reach a low, in worst case scenarios, of 100 million by 2050 from roughly 143 million today. This will have enormous implications for Russia’s labor force, its military, and its ability to control restive regions like the North Caucasus, one of the few places where the population is on the rise. Corruption remains a huge problem, while civil society activists, journalists, and opponents of the government deal with regular harassment, attacks, and even murder. Russia, in other words, faces a very difficult future.

    Comment by elmer — August 1, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

  22. what about the small matter of billions of $’s in assistance under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to dismantle/destroy nuclear and chemical weapons? Chicken feed?

    Why does Russia need to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons at all? Because it is the US which has most to fear from loose WMD’s on the market (given that Islamist terrorists are more against it than against Russia). As a bonus the US got nuclear fuel from former Russian warheads. Hence this assistance was motivated by pure self-interest.

    It wasn’t just that notorious San Francisco pinko lefty Anatoly Karlin who pointed out the demographics of Ukraine are objectively worse than in Russia and that the Russians are showing more signs of slowly increasing the birth rate.

    I don’t think I’m a pinko. I’m far too schizophrenic to classify. ;)

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 1, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

  23. CTR? The threat being reduced is that to the United States. Otherwise, not a dime would have been appropriated. It is intended to benefit the USA, and no one else.

    Comment by rkka — August 2, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  24. rkka & S/O. No doubt enlightened self-interest was the primary driver behind US funding of CTR. But it was of mutual benefit to Russia. S/O. Come on. You need to ask why Russia needs to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons? Could it be because they could not afford the bloated arsenals amassed by the USSR? (Indeed, that’s a main impetus behind Russia’s current desire to cut weapons. It’s the only way it can afford parity with the US.) Could it be because it is in fact Russia that has most to fear from loose nuclear material on its own territories? (Just think of the fun some Chechens could have with that.) Could it be because both nuclear and chemical weapons material was not only an immense security threat, but an impending environmental catastrophe? (I would think Mr. Green Socialist would have some sensitivity to this issue.)

    So yeah, the US did it out of self-interest. But in the bargain–and it was a bargain for Russia–Russia benefited substantially.

    And, rkka, regardless of the motives, it is a clear example of billions of US tax dollars going to Russia for other things than “interest-bearing loans for purchasing US agricultural products now paid off.” Thus, as I originally noted, your characterization is woefully incomplete.

    And please remind me of an example of selfless Russian generosity.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 2, 2009 @ 9:51 am

  25. I note that Russians, and Ukrainians and Balts, lived longer, died less, and had more kids back when they were maintaining that “bloated” Soviet military.

    Getting rid of it dosen’t seem to have been any help to anyone but the West.

    Comment by rkka — August 2, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  26. You need to ask why Russia needs to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons? Could it be because they could not afford the bloated arsenals amassed by the USSR?

    Dismantling them is expensive. Throwing them around in a few remote, high-security warehouses is much, much cheaper. And that way in the case of total war they could be brought into action, whereas the dismantling now going on hurts Russia’s national security.

    Could it be because both nuclear and chemical weapons material was not only an immense security threat, but an impending environmental catastrophe?

    My main environmental concerns are about CO2 emissions and the sudden catastrophic climate change this could unleash in the next few decades. Nuclear and chemical pollution is localized and if stored in remote areas well away from water sources present no danger to human life.

    And please remind me of an example of selfless Russian generosity.

    It has canceled such a huge number of Soviet-era debts that it turned out to be the third (IIRC) most generous international aid donor to developing countries in the past decade, if debt forgiveness is counted as part of aid. This is especially impressive given that its per capita wealth is only 25-40% of the developed nations.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 2, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

  27. SO, along that line, for a good decade after the Soviet collapse, Russia provided vast amounts of cheap natural gas to Ukraine and the Baltics.

    Comment by rkka — August 2, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  28. rkka–you win the non-sequitur of the year reward.

    Canceling Soviet era debts that were never going to be repaid. And the various aid projects that S/O mentions definitely had a geopolitical component to them.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 2, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress