Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On All Things Russia

In this post, I'll be talking about the geopolitical financial aspects of Russia alongside it's position to and relationship with the rest of the world, especially the United States. Before I get into this discussion regarding Russia's position in the world and its relationship to the world, I'll first need to get into the geopolitical financial structure of Russia.

Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of landmass, is home to ~143 million people, and has an economy whose size is ~$2 trillion. Russia's the largest producer of energy in the world, and has the second most nuclear capability in the world. The Russian geographic landscape is very sparse and it's very harsh as roughly half (probably more than half) is frozen half the year. It's geographic terrain combined with its heavy reliance on commodities, natural resources, and energy extraction/production makes it a very fragile economy that sinks very quickly when the prices of commodities and energy come under pressure. To emphasize Russian reliance on natural resources extraction and commodity exports, we'll note that 2/3rds of Russian government revenue came from oil, oil products, and oil/natural gas exports in 2013. Of course, Russia also extracts oil and other commodities that feed into aggregate demand for the Russian economy more generally.

Also notice that the sheer size and scope of the Russian landscape imply large borders that're mostly indefensible and virtually impossible to protect. In other words, Russia really has no choice but to have open borders because defending, monitoring, and policing its borders is just unrealistically costly based on sheer size alone. Hence, if we go by Donald Trump's view that you can't have a country without borders, Russia's not really a country.

Now that we've established Russia's dependence on natural resources, commodities, and extractive industries, it becomes important to note that the current international economic situation is one of depression in half the world with large asset bubbles and excess capacity (that's begun collapsing) in the other half of the world. In other words, there's supply/demand imbalances globally where supply's much larger than demand and the adjustment occurring is that aggregate supply is beginning to collapse globally, as I've written before. Of course, commodities, energy, and natural resources are all inputs to production--and hence aggregate supply. So what's the chance that, in the middle of a worldwide depression unseen in ~80 years, we see a sudden rise in the prices of energy, commodities, or natural resources? If you legitimately think high commodity prices are just around the corner, you're delusional (the only chance of this is if there's a very large price split that occurs between Brent and WTI, but even that's something which I find unlikely though it's remotely possible).

Also note that Russian demographics are downright horrible with the population already having peaked. The public health crises in Russia are numerous with alcoholism and STDs rampant across the population. When you add in Russian economic reliance on commodities, energy, and natural resources with a rapidly aging country and a falling population, you get a financial system that's built on a pile of sand. In other words, Russia's utterly incapable of maintaining defense expenditures at current levels, which's why the Kremlin's even begun to cut defense spending. These financial pressures are forcing the Russian government to slash defense spending by ~25-30% in 2016.

Essentially: Russia's barely able to maintain its current geopolitical structure while its economic difficulties will continue to persist for at least the next decade although Russia still does have a lot of nuclear weapons from the days of the USSR. Russia doesn't have the financial power to maintain its current empire for the next few decades. If we look at the current map of Russia, we'll notice that the current borders are less than the ones agreed upon at Brest-Litovsk after Russia lost the war on the Eastern Front to Imperial Germany in World War I. In other words, after a prolonged period of peace in the region, Russia's current borders are what they were after the loss of a war ~100 years ago.

Russia's the weakest it's been--in terms of borders and military power--since before 1775, which was ~250 years ago. And this weakness isn't something that happened to Russia after the loss of a war and internal collapse like after Brest-Litovsk either. On the contrary, this weakness has occurred after decades of peacetime with the world under American hegemony. When you add in Russia's structural economic issues, it means Russia's barely able to financially survive.

From an imperial standpoint, Russia may temporarily be able to make some territorial gains and grab some loot now, but demographics make a military move even 5-10 years down the road virtually impossible. So if Russia doesn't move now, it'll won't be able to expand later. Considering that Russia's cutting defense spending while updating its nuclear capabilities, I doubt they'll even have the financial power to move forward even if they wanted to unless they're willing to risk a total revolution and likely wars on all of its borders. I can spend a lot of time going through the scenarios, but my point is very simple: it's questionable whether Russia has the financial means to maintain its current empire nevertheless expand out further.

As I stated above, Russia's the weakest it's been since the days of Catherine the Great. In today's geopolitical climate, Russia's only a regional power with serious internal difficulties. Russia's a very fragile empire being held together geopolitically by its financial system of oligarchs who're able to hold the space together via financial control over the natural resources, energy, commodities, and the supply lines to transmit all of those resources.

TO SUM UP: Russia isn't really a country. It's a gas station (by gas station, I mean energy more generally) masquerading as a country.

Russia isn't really a world power anymore. It's a regional power that only has power on the world stage because of its nuclear stockpiles from the Cold War Era in the 20th century. Russia is waning in strength and facing lots of internal difficulties. This's why Russia's now being outspent by the US, China, India, and Saudi Arabia on defense spending today. Russia's naval capabilities are virtually non-existent. Hell, the entire country has only one warm water port at Sevastopol which Russia only recently got with the annexation of Crimea.

However, there's plenty of areas of common interest in regards to the relationship between the US and Russia. It's pretty clear that the Kremlin did not want Hillary Clinton to be President and did everything possible--like using a front for the GRU (*cough* Wikileaks *cough*) to leak "hacked" emails by John Podesta--due to Putin's personal dislike of Hillary Clinton and out of fear for her foreign policy. With that being said, on places like the Middle East or in ideological battles against Jihadi Islamists, there's lots of common ground for Russia and the US to work with one another.

So while Russia has basically been reduced to a regional power, it still wields a decent amount of power globally although that's only due to its nuclear stockpiles from the Cold War. It's having difficulty keeping itself together, but it's not in the interest of the US (or any other country for that matter) to fragment the Russian Federation simply because of the nuclear problem.


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  3. Somehow the ww2 with German invasion in the USSR are not even mentioned in your musings. Also you forgot the blood-letting Afghanistan adventure that bled Russia substantially, and the "Cold war", the sole purpose of it being bleeding Russia.

    1. This isn't a historical post. It's a post detailing current geopolitical issues Russia faces. And Germany's invasion of Russia isn't new. Napoleon invaded Russia too and it ended in a similar light. Invading Russia is stupid.

      So the way you beat Russia is to basically force them to fight on all fronts at once and use the country's economic backwardness to maintain military power that it cannot sustain. Then, you play the waiting game. Before the US, the British Empire did the same thing in The Great Game. Russia is a very poor country that, by decade's end, will have a lower GDP/capita (nominal terms) than China (a country that has ~35-40% of its population live in dire poverty).