Is Russia Really the Dark Power it is Presumed to Be?

With the introduction of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, the cohesiveness of the USSR was splintered eventually leading to its demise in 1991. The USSR was then broken down into 14 independent republics and since then “has shifted its post-Soviet democratic ambitions in favor of a centralized
semi-authoritarian state in which the leadership seeks to legitimize its rule through managed national elections, populist appeals by President Putin, and continued economic growth,” according to the CIA World Factbook.

Although about 1.8 times the size of the United States, Russia is a region that only houses  roughly a third of the U.S. population (143 million in comparison to a U.S. population of 316 million). The percentage of citizens that live in urban areas is whopping 73.8% as of 2011 according to the CIA WF.

In the backyard of Russia’s oil paradise: Pavlovo village was once a quiet backwater in the forest-steppe of Perm Region. In 1997, however, ecological disaster struck, with oil and chemicals entering the local river and food chain. Photo: ODR

Despite Russian predominance in world news, economically Russian industries are a failure, according to Texas A&M University professor of Russian, Brett Cooke. Following the fall of the USSR, which ended state-ruled enterprises, oligarchs seized these franchises. However, Russian industries never sufficiently adapted to the modern economy. Russia is comprised of a great expansive land mass, but because of its comparatively small population density, diversification of industrial growth has faltered. Today, Russia’s exports and economic wealth are reliant on the production oil related products.

“Russia produces oil, basically nothing else,” said Professor Cooke.

Professor Cooke proceeded to ask; why would Russia be importing agricultural products? Why from Latin America? According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Russia’s main imports aren’t even food related; the top imports consisting of goods such as: cars, packaged medicament, vehicle parts and computers.

The level of Russia’s food independence is stable, according to Tass, a Russian news agency. Russia’s main agricultural good is wheat. However, the country is lacking in other crucial food areas.

“…the level of self-sufficiency regarding certain types of dairy products (cheese, butter) was significantly below the required margin. Moreover, the figures of food independence concerning certain meat products, namely beef, were twice as low as the required margin.”

In recent times, Russian food security has been questionable due to Western sanctions implemented in August in response to the Crimea invasion; these sanctions have pushed Russia to realize its alienation. In the wake of these sanctions, Russia has doubled its imports of Argentinian beef (Global Meat News), while seeking out new strategic partners, which has been previously investigated in this blog.

Argentinian beef production company. Photo: Mercosur

Russia has allotted 1.5 trillion rubles ($42 billion) to invest in domestic agricultural production/development. Despite the investment, local producers are weary of the promise for greater production and efficiency within the country.

“It is extremely difficult to compete with foreign producers due to the investment factor in Russia, loans and infrastructure costs are much higher than in Europe and the U.S.,” said Artyom Belov, CEO of the National Association of Milk Producers, according to The Moscow Times.

Russian food sector. Photo: ITAR-TASS/Nikolai Alexandrov

This news from the agricultural sector only illustrates part of the problems facing Russia and the great depreciation of the ruble. Russia is seen as a dark illusive power, with an untouchable leader, Putin, at the head of the country whom steals the spot light and fills the tabloids of Western media. However, behind the Putin mask, the physically enormous country is vastly underpopulated and in a “time-freeze.”

Putin/Russia is painted by American media in three ways. Firstly, Russia is a country that reacts in a manner that is interpreted as it trying to maintain/regain influence over former Soviet spaces. Secondly, Russia wants to reemerge as a world power like during the Cold War times! And lastly, Putin reacts to the west in order to fight the spread of basic democratic/capitalistic ideals.

Recently with Putin’s visit to Latin America in July, the nation has shown that it is expanding beyond its former Soviet realm. Putin has sought to rekindle old flames while establishing new relations with countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Brasil, Argentina and Chile. During this “Latin American Tour,” Putin and his new presidential confidants discussed partnered development in sectors such as energy, education and trade.

Throughout the past century, countries such as Chile and Argentina received waves of fascists according to Professor Cooke. The first wave of fascist influenced Europeans landed in Argentina in the 1920’s. A reemergence of fascism later appeared with President Juan Peron in 1946.

In Chile, leaders such as Carlos Keller and Jorge Gonzalez Marees  transitioned Chilean politics and took a position similar to that of Adolf Hitler in 1932. Later in 1938 the country’s growing fascist movement attempted a coup; it inevitably failed. Starting in 1974 the infamous regime of Augosto Pinochet controlled the country under what were argued to be fascist ideals until 1990.

A rally for Argentine populist leader, Juan Peron, when the country faced difficult economic times and a series of unstable governmental leaders. Photo: Wikia

Virtually all countries in Latin America have faced movements from the spectrum of socialism to communism. Today there has been a steady movement back to populist ideals, ideals of which President Putin is found of.

This shift of relations has been caused by many things. One of the root issues being that the United States and other western nations have acted as if Russia no longer matters, says Professor Cooke. This isolation and ostracization has caused Putin and the country to react.

There is a great contradiction within Russia itself. Why should Putin be the select? Putin with a 65% approval rate in his country, greatly over shadows the reality of his nation. Professor Cooke, who has been to Russia more times than countable, commented not only on the centralization of the population in the cities, but also the isolation of the people themselves.

“The country [due to its governmental policies] has developed a separateness…and its people are out of touch,” said Professor Cooke.

Cooke expressed how there is no checks and balances, the current government under Putin stifles growth and the opinions of those appear to be heavily influenced or intoxicated with western ideology are targeted. The country itself is moving in a fascist direction, Cooke said in a worried manner. It has recently started with bans on alcohol, to curfew times within the cities…all things that appear to be good for the people.

However,  these policies have evolved into the banning of certain “alien groups.” The Putin administration has tried to dismantle one of the most prominent human rights groups in Russia known as the Memorial Human Rights group in Russia which has been threatened to be dismantled as it is an “alien agency.”

The statistics report that Putin is at a 65% approval rating, but this neglects the opinions of those who remain unheard. Article 80 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that,

“The President of the Russian Federation shall determine the guidelines of the internal and foreign policies of the State.”

Therefore, if Putin decides to ban western books from the country, arrest and condemn those who speak out against him or advocate for ideas that aren’t aligned with his political propaganda, he can rightfully create whatever policy he wants under the Russian constitution to silence these people.

  • Capturing of those in protest of Putin led government. Photo: Washington Post

Cooke compares the situation within the country to that of basic historical fascist leaders. Under Hitler the Autobahn was created and under Mussolini trains ran on time.

However, Cooke continues, “fascism is sloppy and mediocre.” It appears great at first until the efficiency of the system breaks down. Russia, like the situation of Germany before the rise of Hitler is feeling isolated and underestimated; inflation and violence have perpetuated the rise of fascism in the country.

The world sees the movements of Putin, but is ignorant to the realities of the country of which he represents.

“The alienation and sanctions have just started,” Cooke said.

Putin is represented on most propaganda of him riding shirtless on a bear is what inspires the Russian Putin followers and fuels the ideology of the power of the Russian nation. Russia perpetuates arms trade with the Middle East and has growing relations with China. However it is important to note the power switch of China in the globalized world.

China itself does not condone the intervention of one country into another country, case and point Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Power changes have happened in the past two decades with China moving to the top with the largest GDP in the world, however the Chinese dragon itself may not be as aggressive as once perceived.

Putin Propaganda

Russia will continue to create allies and seek relations with new partners such as those in Latin America, but the contradiction between governmental actions and media hype compared to the actual socioeconomic situation of the country are questionable. Maybe Russia is not the great dark power it is presumed to be. As Cooke mentioned, the people self regulate. The Putin regime may be stifling the checks and balances system, but eventually something’s gotta give.

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