Staunton, July 22 – Provoking a further deterioration in relations with the West will have “catastrophic” consequences “not for those who take these decisions but for the Russian economy” because Russia is far too dependent on the West to act as independent superpower, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.
In an article posted online July 22 in Moskovsky Komsomolets, the noted Moscow economist says “the political elite of the country” considers Russia to be a superpower but its members need to “keep in mind that contemporary Russia is not” one.
“A country which has 2.8 percent of the global GDP, only two percent of the earth’s population, and cannot settle and dominate more than 60 percent of its territory, one that is supported by its [export of raw materials] and which does not produce any high technology goods, except arms,” cannot be a superpower, he continues.
To be sure, Inozemtsev says, Russia ranks fifth in terms of its monetary reserves and second in the export of arms, “but this does not give it additional possibilities. The reserves can be frozen,” and its weapons like Buk, “thank God, are not used as massively as mobile telephones, portable computers or tomographs, none of which Russia has learned how to produce.”
Few want to acknowledge it, but it is a fact that “today Russia critically depends on the external world, and this dependence is incompatible with ‘superpower status.’” It imports much of what it needs in key sectors, and there is little chance that it will be able to substitute for any shortfalls in these by developing domestic producers anytime soon.
Because Russia depends on the export of oil and gas, the Moscow analyst continues, it is vulnerable to an embargo, and its domestic market is not large enough to make up for the shortfalls that would produce. Indeed, “powerful sanctions against the resource sector would be a death sentence to the Russian economy.”
But its dependence in these sectors is not the main thing, Inozemtsev says. Much more critical is Russia’s financial dependence because it has promoted consumption relative to investment throughout Vladimir Putin’s term in office. That may be popular but it hasn’t created the basis for a superpower.
Finally, Inozemtsev says, the West has another “and the most powerful weapon” against Moscow’s pretentions: the Russian people who have gotten used to being able to travel and having their country viewed as part of the international community rather than an outcast. They are not the Soviets of 40 years ago, and they don’t want to go back.
Russia has been able to make its way in the world only because “the leaders of the West are still not prepared to go for broke and seek a radical change in Russian foreign policy,” he argues. But that isn’t a given if Moscow continues to give the West a reason to change, and “present-day Russia could not oppose the West for very long” if that happened.
“By an evil irony, those who have promised to save the country from the cursed liberals who supposedly want to destroy it are putting it at much greater risks than all the supporters of radical market reforms taken together,” Inozemtsev says.
Russia is currently being saved by only one thing: “the inability of the West to believe that the country which was always considered a European one is acting at odds with the existing world order” and that a country which is not in the first rank of powers is throwing its weight around as if it were.
Leaders in world capitals have been repeating “the mantra that there must not be a new ‘cold war.’” But they will stop doing that if Russia continues to violate the rules of the game and if they then reflect that they won the cold war in the past and against a much tougher opponent than Putin’s Russia.
The Russia of today, Inozemtsev says, is “not a new ‘defender of stability,” but a country that needs the preservation of the status quo that existed a decade ago which “guaranteed [it] the ideal conditions for its present flowering. To destroy this order is difficult, but to fall out of it is very easy.”