Saturday, May 9, 2009

Russia Profile

Eurasia Group’s Apocalyptic View of Russia’s Future Is not Unfeasible....?

It appears that Russia might be in for some grave consequences of the raging financial crisis. It won’t be long until the country is hit by a new wave of protests forcing President Dmitry Medvedev to resign, and paving the way for Vladimir Putin back to power. The country will dispose of any liberalist sentiments after Putin carries out some political purges, and will turn more authoritarian in order to combat separatism and deep public discontent. Or at least this is the scenario that the experts at the Eurasia Group believe has a 20 percent chance of coming to pass.

The report, titled Fat Tails in an Uncertain World, released by the global political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, outlined some rather dreadful scenarios for ten countries, including Pakistan, UAE, Japan, Ukraine and Russia.

The report also incorporated some details of Russia’s political meltdown. Russia’s demise would originate in the small, one-company towns in the Urals and in Siberia, which have been the hardest hit by the crisis. Growing unemployment and a worsening economy would trigger social unrest, which would then “spread to some regional capitals with demonstrations in Moscow and in St. Petersburg.”

That might be good news for the so-called “hardline siloviki camp,” which would gain more influence and find support not just in the United Russia party, but amongst the “embattled regional elites” and even the communists. Putin would have to “acquiesce to public pressure” and oust the liberals, such as the First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, from the government, replacing them with figures favored by the siloviki. Foreign policy will likewise get tougher. A turn to an “arrogant and revisionist tack” is expected, along with a possible refusal to cooperate with the NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan if Moscow does not get substantial political and economic benefits from the United States. Another military conflict with Georgia and expanded influence over Ukraine are also possible.

With a one out of five chance, this Russian scenario was the second most probable of all, just trailing a military coup in Pakistan. But this is not the first time that Russia has dealt with gloomy forecasts coming from foreign think tanks. Back in late 2007, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report called “Alternative Futures for Russia for 2017,” authored by the former director of the Moscow Carnegie Center Andrew Kuchins. He predicted that the country would plunge into chaos, resulting in a siloviki coup following Putin’s assassination, which would supposedly occur in January of 2008 at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Though an entirely fictional scenario, this report received intense media coverage. The General Director of the Center for Political Information Alexei Mukhin suggested that this is exactly what the Eurasia Group was after. “Such scenarios are mostly based on the notion that Putin appointed Medvedev as temporary vicar, and he’ll be ready to reassume office in 2012 or even earlier. Consulting agencies often use it to promote themselves, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with this kind of case this time,” said Mukhin. But there is more to it than just publicity. “We believe Russia is indeed in for hard times economically, so this part of the forecast makes sense and adds credibility to the report. Such projections set up a certain media background directly influencing the government, which closely monitors the public opinion about itself in the West, and it has to adjust its behavior accordingly. It is repeatedly apologetic about its own actions at international forums, but we can also expect it to soften its take on some political and economic issues inside of the country,” Mukhin added.

The report also warned of another collapse of the stock market, along with a severe decrease of investment. The government will partially nationalize troubled companies, causing businesses to fight over state support. The government has already drawn considerable criticism for giving too much money away to banks, failing to diversify the economy and continuing to rely on commodities, hoping for a price rebound in the oil and gas market. Russia has already seen a wave of protests in winter, when people openly expressed discontent with the handling of the financial crisis, forcing United Russia to retaliate by holding pro-government rallies.

The protests have since calmed down, but members of the political opposition make their own predictions as to what will happen in the fall, consistent with those of the Eurasia Group. But while a deteriorating economy is something not so hard to believe, the group’s predictions of the political aftermath seem to miss the mark. “It is too early to call, but mass protests are in the works for the fall. Anything could happen, but if this scenario comes to pass it will most likely be the opposite, with Putin being forced to resign. The government and the prime minister are directly responsible for the economy,” said Oleg Kozlovsky, the coordinator of the Oborona movement and a leader of the Other Russia coalition.

It is not unlikely that the country will slide into authoritarianism, since neither Putin nor Medvedev could harness the wave of discontent in a democratic manner while being blamed for the economic hardship. “The opposition cannot follow anybody from the ruling elite, as it is directly responsible for the crisis. As of today, I can’t see any real difference between Putin and Medvedev,” said Kozlovsky.

The Eurasia Group failed to define what exactly it meant by the “siloviki camp.” This term has been commonly used to refer to influential members of the political elite coming from military and security backgrounds, particularly the FSB. Some of the key figures associated with the group have seen their influence weaken as a result of a series of personnel decisions made by both Putin and Medvedev. For example, Nikolai Patrushev no longer heads the FSB, now serving as secretary of the Security Council instead. The former Head of Putin’s administration and his advisor Viktor Ivanov was appointed as the head of Federal Narcotics Control Service. The former head of that body Viktor Cherkesov also got a new job last year—he now leads the Weaponry Procurement Agency. “That leaves only [Deputy Prime Minister] Igor Sechin, but he has been loaded with work to the point where he has no time for any political projects. Neither Putin nor Medvedev wanted to keep a force that has been getting out of control. When somebody in the West talks about siloviki, they’re simply talking about something that doesn’t exist,” said Mukhin....

On May 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss strategic offensive arms.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that in the second and third week of May, the two sides will hold the first round of full-scale talks on signing a new treaty on strategic offensive arms. At their forthcoming summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama will focus on the same subject.

The intensity of the negotiating process will grow as December 5 approaches, the date when the 1991 Soviet-U.S. treaty on strategic offensive arms expires. There is very little time left for the drafting of a new document, which is designed to become a cornerstone of the international security system.

Who needs this treaty and why? What it should be all about?

Even in the late 1980s-early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was hit by a severe crisis and conducted a policy very favorable for the United States, Washington was upgrading its nuclear missile potential, and quickly increasing a tentative gap in the military potentialities of the two countries. In 1991, U.S. national security strategy was built on the premise that modernization of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, and nuclear submarines would be vital for deterrence in the 21st century.

Later on, despite statements about U.S.-Russian strategic partnership, and the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of May 1997, the need to keep U.S. nuclear forces in Europe was continuously justified by the argument that Russia would remain a strategically "unknown quantity" even if it further reduced its nuclear potential. In real policy, the Russian nuclear capacity was viewed as a potential threat, although in principle it could never be materialized.

R&D in the United States, and military operations in Yugoslavia and Iraq produced a fundamental change in its defense policy. Throughout the 1990s, the United States was consistently modernizing its nuclear triad, while deploying theater missile defense systems (TMD). In effect, it was the Bill Clinton administration that embarked on the formation of a limited missile defense system in violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty. However, reluctant to antagonize Russia and China, Washington suggested differentiation between the national missile defense system and TMD. At that time, the 1972 ABM Treaty was still being viewed as a major instrument for maintaining strategic stability.

The team, which came to power under George W. Bush, openly proceeded from the premise that arms control agreements were good as long as they defended U.S. national interests. Neoconservatives were ready to waste no time in creating absolute security for the United States without thinking about the reaction of other key international players.

Withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty signified a switch to the testing and deployment of a global missile defense system, with a view to fully removing the deterrent potential of China, and partially that of Russia. In the aggregate military potential, the United States had already exceeded all other countries, but Washington was still trying to eliminate international legal restrictions on the formation of a system, which would theoretically make it invulnerable towards an act of retaliation, and even a launch-under-attack strike.

Washington's stubborn refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty testified to its intention to continue developing fundamentally new nuclear warheads without international legal restrictions. Today, it continues to upgrade them through simulations of nuclear explosions on a computer. For this purpose, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is going to place an order for a supercomputer, which can carry out 20,000 trillion operations per second. This, the world's fastest computer, is designed for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The United States is trying to integrate into its missile defense system interceptor missiles and radars, which have or are being deployed on the ground and on ships all over the world - from Alaska and California to Japan, Britain, Norway, and Poland. Since 2005, it has conducted a series of tests of its missile interceptors - out of 27 launches, only one was a failure.

Full-scale deployment of a missile defense system in Alaska and California will cover about 90% of U.S. territory. If such a system is stationed in five or six regions, the ratio between the Russian and American nuclear potentials will be one to 10, or even one to 15 in favor of U.S., depending on its configuration.

When a draft budget was endorsed for the new fiscal year last fall, the Pentagon and the White House seemed to have proceeded from the premise that the United States can afford to further increase its military appropriations. This was done with the support of the Democrats who already had a majority in the Senate and the House.

In reality, under the circumstances these military appropriations should be reduced, and during the next fiscal year President Barack Obama may even encroach on the expenses designed for the further development of the missile defense system. Disarmament initiatives addressed to Russia may be accompanied by the revision of the missile defense deployment strategy. Probably, Washington will again lay more emphasis on R&D and improvement of ballistic missile interceptors.

The impression that Washington is giving up its missile defense project will be no more than an illusion. This is clear from statements made by Obama himself, not to mention members of his team. At the international conference in Munich last February, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden said that the United States would continue developing its missile defense system to counteract Iran's growing potentialities. On April 5, Obama repeated this point, saying that America will continue implementing its missile defense program, which has proved its effectiveness, as long as the threat from Iran exists.

Now Washington is revising the prospects, costs, and possibly some technical parameters of its missile defense system. It wants to use this time for pause for conducting talks and legally sealing the established strategic imbalance of forces, and for suggesting a system of verifications, which would help its clandestine intelligence. It also wants to carry out space and airborne reconnaissance to identify as precisely as possible the potential of Russian nuclear forces and opportunities of their development.

A considerable part of the Russian ruling class is oriented towards cooperation with the United States - and the Russian leaders cannot ignore this factor. At the same time, there is an obvious link between offensive and defensive armaments; this fact was introduced at Russia's initiative into the Joint Statement by President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation and President Barack Obama of the United States of America. The two sides are in for complicated, and, most likely, lengthy talks.

It is not only Russia which is interested in the signing of documents to promote long-term stability rather than in sealing a prospect of weakening one of the sides. This will benefit the whole world, or at least all those countries, which are devoted to freedom in international relations....