13 August 2008

Russia Running on Fumes

For all its big-power bluster, Russia is weak and vulnerable. Russian tanks and aircraft may have smashed the fledgeling Georgian Army with ease, but most of the weaponry was Cold War-era and many of the troops conscripts. Anyone who has seen the Russian Army operating in the Caucasus knows that the military will need a generation to modernise. Meanwhile America, and its main Nato allies, are decades ahead in military technology and combat experience.

Russia is also facing a severe demographic crisis. Its population is shrinking by 700,000 people a year. The UN estimates the population will fall below 100 million by 2050, down from around 146 million today.

As for the economy, it is booming thanks to natural resources that account for 70 per cent of the country's wealth. But the oil price is in a state of flux. Russia has failed to diversify. Should energy prices fall sharply, the economy could collapse, as it did a decade ago. _TimesOnline
Russia has been building up to its invasion of Georgia for several months. It managed to scrape together enough tanks, planes, and elite troops to subdue one tiny neighboring country. Putin hopes that this act will send a message to Europeans and the rest of the west, that the Russian bear still has a mean bite. But is that the message that comes across?
Western powers may not do much immediately about his squeeze on Georgia, but over time he will find he has created conditions for the emergence of a coalition to contain Russian energy power. His immediate neighbors, with fresh memories of Soviet domination, will be even more eager to align themselves with the West and NATO. Possibly even the myopic Germans will discern they've gone too far in putting themselves in energy hock to Moscow. _WSJ
Russia's weapons are old technology. Most of its ships, submarines, and large transports are poorly maintained. Its men are mostly draftees, lacking basic equipment and almost entirely unmotivated to fight for a country in decay.

Russia depends upon its energy resources for most of its wealth. But Russia lacks the technical expertise to develop its own resources. It must contract with outside corporations to develop oil and gas fields--then inevitably Russia nationalises (steals) the assets from the multinationals. Eventually, Russia will find it hard to get business partners, and the flow of oil and gas will drop rapidly.

Russia's rapidly shrinking population can no longer supply the manpower needed in defense, technology, energy, and other vital fields. As related here before:
The share of high-tech products in Russia’s exports is only 0.6%, “a shameful rate” according to Vladimir Fortov, a member of the Russian Academy of Science. Over the past 15 years, he says, Russia has not brought to the market a single significant drug. The average age of Russia’s scientists is well over 50. One of the main commercial activities of Russian research institutes is leasing or selling their property and land.

Scientific inventions tend to be developed abroad. The chain that turns a scientific innovation into a marketable product simply does not exist, says Mr Fortov. And the key to creating it, he argues, is not setting up state corporations, but unshackling the system from bureaucracy and letting private companies operate freely. “We have tried everything else and we know it does not work,” he concludes. _Economist
But Russia under Putin will never allow private companies to operate freely. Free enterprise creates wealthy individuals, who could develop their own powerful networks of people and resources. Putin would never stand for rivals of any kind.

So Russia is a doomed country, with not much time left for this strutting and posturing. Even the invasion of tiny Georgia required almost a year's buildup, and severely stressed Russia's logistical capacity. When Russia falls from overreach, its neighbors will rush in to loot the country. But Putin and his cronies will be gone, living on billions in Swiss bank accounts. The Russians still alive inside Russia will pay once again for allowing corrupt leaders to sell them phony national greatness for their sheeplike complicity.


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Blogger kurt9 said...

Perhaps they should all learn to speak Beijinghua.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger Bruce Hall said...

An aging bear is still dangerous.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

China certainly has its eyes on the mineral wealth of Siberia, Kurt.

Yes, and so is a wounded bear, Bruce. But if an opponent understands the bear's injuries and limitations, and plays the bear correctly, he can seize the advantage.

There is a reason that bears never built cities, nor domesticated animals and plants. A reason why there are more bearskin rugs in human dens than humanskin rugs in bear dens.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

"An aging bear is still dangerous."

And possibly rabid. Likely smelly.

But Europe is in no state psychologically to stand up to Russia, no matter how crappy its military has become and they would likely play their (now traditional) obstructionist role if America tries to be too helpful to Georgia.

And then there are the nukes. Even if some of them are nonfunctional and even if the Russians are nowhere near as likely to use them as jihadis would be, just having them makes Russia a problem politically.

Russia may be rotting on its feet but it is still a threat to many. NATO may be of some worth after all if only that giving immediate membership to Georgia and the Ukraine would be an unmistakable line in the sand and enrage Putin (When your enemy is quick to anger, seek to annoy him - The Art of War, I think).

What will likely happen instead is a lot of palaver, placation and procrastination.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

Russia has been building up to its invasion of Georgia for several months.

Are you aware that Saakashvili shelled Tzkhinvali with Grad launchers for 15 hours before the Russian army intervened?

Do you know that over 1500 Ossetians were killed during this bombardment? This was completely ignored in 95% of the western media. ( Here's why: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4518254.ece )

JFYI, the Grad launcher is not a pinpoint-accuracy weapon, but basically a rocket artillery, an area of effect weapon. Anyone who gave an order to use such a weapon against a civilian town is a murderer.

If you don't belive me (I'm Russian and live in Russia), ask Ossetians.


Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger J said...

The Russian Nation has gone through many ups and downs. It is now in a retreat phase, but it will surely rebound. Fact is that even now, when it is coming out of generations of destruction, still has the willpower to fight and win.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Vladimir: The story you linked to did not verify the 1500 Ossetian civilians killed by Georgian shelling. There are certainly a lot of claims of atrocities flying around.

The Ossetians do not love Russia any more than they love Georgia. They merely want autonomy. If Russia wants to adopt them, Russia will eventually regret the intervention.

J: When Russia is losing almost half its population every generation due to low fertility and high premature deaths, it is difficult to predict a rosy long term future for the bear.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger neil craig said...

This was certainly the view a week ago & I agree that, successful though Russia's economy is, it is too dependent of gas & oil. Nonetheless it is growing considerably faster than Americsa & very much faster than Europe's.

However the military achievement here was quite outstanding. Georgia may be a small country, though the US was training & upgrading it, but big countries have tripped over their own toes in taking on small ones before (Somalia, Lebanon & indeed Vietnam come to mind).

Russia has, in 4 days, at a time & place set by Georgia, in mounaineous defencible territory, completely annihilated Georgia's army.

The comparisons the Russians will take are with Stalin's Winter War with Finland & NATO's Bombing War with Serbia. Neither went to plan & both took 3 months to wear down a tiny enemy.

The "uni-polar world" is dead & America will have to get used to not being able to poke the Russian bear withn impunity any more.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger kurt9 said...

There is an element of truth in what Vladimir has to say here. Georgia is not entirely blameless in this debacle. Georgia granted autonomy to South Ossetia about two weeks ago, then turned around and invaded them. The reason they did this is because they did it once before with another breakaway province and they thought they could get away with it again.

Also, Russia's invasion was not "excessive" use of force. Historically the best fighters in the Soviet military were Chechen and Georgian. Since the Russian army knew what they were up against, they used more force than they would have against another opponent.

It is worth noting that much of the "Russian" mafiya is actually Georgian. Something that Vladimir is no doubt aware of.

In any case, Al Fin is right that the Ossetians are one of these tribal ethnic groups seeking autonomy from everyone else around them. The whole area is full of these tribal entities that have been around for thousands of years. Tribal entities and politics which the not so pretty heads of Washington DC and the beltway are completely incapable of understanding.

This is good enough reason for us (the U.S.) not to involve ourselves in these places.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Clinton's Kosovo caper was a textbook lesson in administrative ineptness. The Albanian mafia now has a larger foothold in Europe thanks to the wag-the-dog bombings there. Clinton wanted to make up for dropping the ball in Bosnia, and ended up making twice as big a mess.

As for losing Georgia's mafia, Russia does well enough in the mafia department with its former KGB thugs. The stray reporter in Russia who is too outspoken against Putin's tyranny is rapidly dispatched by the criminal regime in place in Moscow.

At any rate, Russia is a dying land. Consider this latest saber rattling an early death throe.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

The story you linked to did not verify the 1500 Ossetian civilians killed

That's not why I posted that link. The article points out that Saakashvili hired a Belgian PR agency to provide 'war coverage' to foreign media.

The Ossetians do not love Russia any more than they love Georgia.

There's a simple test for this. What country did the Ossetian refugees flee to? Georgia or Russia?

Also, here's the best article I found in the western media on the topic:

Here's the most important quote:

"President Saakashvili blundered into South Ossetia, sending in an army to shell, kill and maim on a vicious scale (against US advice and his promised word)"

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger Richard Morchoe said...

I thought this was your science site, not your jingo site.

George is screaming and yelling for Vlad to make nice. Vlad is saying, "You and what army?"

I'm betting on Vlad this time.

Whatever you want to say about the Russkies, their intel was on the money here and ours looked inept.

But, hey, if it makes you feel good to put a shine on a sneaker, go ahead.

Might want to look at stratfor's latest. Friedman nails it. http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/russo_georgian_war_and_balance_power

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Yeah, what Friedman said. The US is a fairly small country compared to the whole rest of the world and we have to let China and Russia mind their business in their own backyards.

Maybe if we didn't complain about them doing stuff in Tibet or Georgia we wouldn't have to hear them complain when we do something in the Americas.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, but it doesn't work that way. Agitprop/misinformation nations like China and Russia will complain regardless of what the US does or says. Their governments are unsure of the loyalties of their own citizens, of course, so they must continually guard against deviant thoughts and acts.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  

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