Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 1

Russia’s Future: Fighting to Keep Pace

by Alexander Zhilin

Experts and analysts from the apparatus of Presidential National Security Aide Yuri Baturin have analyzed the so-called "untraditional" aspects of Russia’s national security and have drafted a report on the issue to be submitted to President Boris Yeltsin.

Demographic Prognosis

To begin with, the experts estimated the potential resources available to assert her position in the world and protect her security during the period between the years 2015 and 2020. In addition, the experts considered what particular dangers to her security (as a society and as a state) Russia may encounter in the foreseeable future. In the opinion of the experts, the analysis of the above stated objective factors is necessary to determine what system of security may be required if Russia is to remain capable of resisting both "traditional" and new dangers.

In estimating Russia’s future potential, the experts based their analysis on objective parameters which they believe to be the least dependent on political or ideological factors as well as on the character of social forces that are prevalent in the society and the type of the ruling regime. In short, the study was based on analyzing the following indicators: The numerical strength and structure of the population; the consolidated economic potential and its quality; and the dimensions and specific characteristics of the country’s territory.

Alas, the analysts were forced to conclude that Russia’s demographic prospects are rather poor for the period up to 2017. In their opinion, the Russian population, which currently numbers 148 million people, will at best increase to 153 million by the year 2017, while at worst it may shrink to 143 million people. Fairly authoritative demographers argue that the combined effect of the unfavorable factors may well result in the Russian population diminishing even below the above stated minimum figure. At least, it can be concluded that the country’s population will at best remain nearly unchanged during the next 20 years. However, the percentage of able-bodied persons in this population will definitely decrease.

Economic Forecast

Economists believe that, if no cataclysms occur and if genuinely well-considered and effective reforms are implemented, it will be possible to restore the economic potential (in terms of GDP volume) that the country had in 1985 by not earlier than 2003-2005. Experts, however, are very cautious about making economic forecasts for Russia. Currently, Russia is rapidly expending her previously amassed stocks and reserves (she is also expending just-obtained credits). At the same time, given present economic and financial conditions, it is virtually impossible to expect any substantial investments. Therefore, analysts are prone to conclude that a badly needed sweeping restructuring of the economy is only possible if the state retrieves its former role. The experts stress, however, that they do not mean a reversion to a dictatorship over the economy by the state.

The specialists are prone to conclude, that even in that case, the economic gap between Russia and the West (with regard to both the quantity and quality of the goods produced) will in all likelihood increase. Russia’s GDP, the experts note, currently equals 15 percent of that of the US Furthermore, the experts point out that the flight of capital from Russia acquired a threatening character during 1992 and 1993: Foreign currency worth 15 percent of the country’s GDP left Russia during each of these years. If this process is not stopped, the experts stress, Russia may well be left without any economic prospects for the future. Here it is necessary to note that with regard to ensuring its defense and development, including the problem of infrastructures and communications, the territory of Russia is one of the most difficult and fund-consuming areas in the world. Colossal capital investments are required to develop and even to maintain economic activities in the country.

Based on the above, the experts predicted that Russia’s economic possibilities (compared to those of other countries of the world) will decline during the next 10-20 years. This does not imply that Russia is doomed to become an economic cripple. However, the fact is that it will not be able to claim the role and status of the "Number Two superpower," even if Russia retains her nuclear potential. In all likelihood, Russia will join the group of countries of the so-called "second echelon," i.e., those which are fairly strong as regional powers but have limited opportunities on the global scale.

Military Threats

The analysts believe that Russia, being a nuclear power, is unlikely to face a danger of large-scale external aggression. Such a danger would emerge only in the event of a civil war breaking out in Russia. In the latter case, foreign countries might decide to neutralize Russia’s nuclear stockpiles. At the present time, the experts believe, the danger of Russia being dragged into a war has been to a considerable extent averted. Even less probable, according to the experts, is the disintegration of Russia from within. The experts conclude that the experience of 1992 and 1993 has shown that even the strongest regional conglomerates cannot exist as independent economic entities. The claims for sovereignty currently being put forth by the regions are nothing but a means of exerting pressure on the center in order to obtain political and economic privileges, not a manifestation of a real desire to secede from the Russian Federation.

The experts believe that the main source of external threats to Russia are problems that emerge or may emerge in the former USSR space or within the CIS. The reasons are obvious: There are a number of contentious questions, for example the issue of borders. The so-called "near abroad" countries are constantly describing to the West the dangers they face due to Russian neo-imperialistic policies. In view of that, the experts believe that the Western countries and the US use, and will continue to use, the "near abroad belt" as a means for deterring Russia and exerting continual pressure on her. However, the experts believe that possible mistakes made by the Kremlin in the area of foreign policy may well lead to a deterioration in international relations.

The analysts note that, although less overt (compared to the danger posed by conflicts within the territory of the former USSR) there is still a danger of Russia being dragged into a situation where it is necessary to expend too much on peacekeeping efforts in the CIS and inside the Russian Federation with the result that the country will be deprived of any prospects for development in the next several decades. External forces which (for various reasons) are not interested in seeing Russia become a strong country are well aware of this possibility. Therefore, Russia-sponsored peacekeeping efforts should be limited to those which have clearly formulated goals, criteria and limits.

The second serious threat to Russia, as presented by the analysts, is the possibility of Russia’s relations with the West becoming excessively close. Here the analysts do not mean a threat posed by the Western countries, but the danger of Russia’s relations with the West becoming recklessly and unnecessarily cordial. The experts note that the West for Russia is no longer a military threat, contrary to the situation which existed during the Cold War era. Nevertheless, the West should not be viewed as Russia’s friend or potential assistant for development. The West did not assist perestroika, although they could have done that; instead, they attached priority to weakening the USSR and preventing the Socialist International from strengthening its positions in the world. Russia does not need a confrontation with the West; in fact, Russia simply cannot afford it — this is obvious. At the same time, it is unrealistic to view the West as a strategic partner. The experts lean to the conclusion that the West is Russia’s competitor, a strong and dangerous one.

Russia and NATO

The analysts argue that Russia should refrain from becoming integrated into NATO. In their opinion, it is very dangerous for Russia to develop too close relations with NATO. The fact is that since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR this military bloc has had no real reason to continue to exist. New justifications for NATO are to a considerable extent artificial. The Western powers are seeking to give unprecedentedly broad powers to NATO as an international gendarme and to have these powers legally validated.

Later in the document the experts state that it is unrealistic now to demand that NATO be disbanded. In certain respects, they argue, the activities of NATO may be useful for Russia. Russia should even cooperate with NATO in those specific cases where she can obtain tangible political profit from it. Nevertheless, a full-fledged partnership (which in the opinion of the experts would give NATO carte-blanche in Russia) would not serve Russia’s interests. Such a partnership, the experts argue, would become a sort of a military-political alliance of the industrially most developed and militarily powerful part of the world against all the rest of it. In order to avoid that, Russia must not only avoid entering into an alliance-like partnership with NATO but also assume the role of a kind of a "micro-opposition" in the world. This role, however, would have nothing in common with confrontation.

Interior Threats

According to the experts, of all the dangers of internal origin, the most important is that stemming from the "state’s delusions of grandeur," in other words Russia’s claims for an obviously overstated role in Europe and in the world. The experts remark that with all her ambitions, Russia will have to work hard to remain even in the group of the top 10 countries of the world, especially in the long run. Instead of continually repeating, like an incantation, that Russia is a great power (by the way, nobody has openly denied this so far) it is much more important, in the opinion of the authors of the document, to seek actually to remain a great power. In pursuance of the latter goal Russia should permanently and consistently orient itself to using (and taking support from) law-based democratic and collective forms of international relations. Later in the report the experts remark that Russia should not look for allies because countries that seek to ally themselves with Russia at this point are those which have been rejected elsewhere in the world: An alliance with such countries will only weaken Russia.

The second serious internal danger, as the experts put it, stems from a lack of consensus within the Russian elite. The re-division of power and property in the country that followed the collapse of the USSR was inevitable. Moreover, this re-division was destined to take place along both "vertical" and "horizontal" lines. This process has not been completed at this point. As long as this is the fact, there cannot be a normal and efficiently operating state as well as a system for protecting national interests. These goals cannot be achieved by the efforts of detached groups within the elite or by the individual branches of power but only as a result of a balance of the major forces within the elite and between the elite and general society. The lack of such balance, the analysts stress, is in itself a major threat to the country’s security both from the inside and from the viewpoint of her interests in the world.

The third internal danger, the experts believe, is the threat to Russia’s ability to preserve and strengthen our "intellectual security," i.e., the ability of the society in general and its elite and state power structures in particular to demonstrate independent political and historical thinking. The latter implies the availability of the country’s own information base as well as methods and means for analysis, including independent and critical analysis of the country’s activities. The authors of the report believe that Russia should not dissociate itself from the outside world, but it also should not copy Western models without subjecting them to necessary critical analysis. The authors of the report conclude that if the natural and technical sciences played the leading role in the world in the 20th century, in the 21st century they will be replaced by the sciences pertaining to human beings and society.

What to Do?

The experts are united in the view that the more complex the organization of society the more sophisticated and reliable is the protection needed for the entire organism, including its major functional subsystems. One of the factors providing for reliable support from the state is a guaranteed acquisition of the most complete and trustworthy information concerning the real situation in society and its dynamics. The value of such information as well as the cost of ignoring it will steadily increase. Experience, as the analysts remark, indicates that one cannot rely entirely on state departments or local power structures. A nation-wide service to monitor the social, political and psychological state of the society, including that of the elite, is needed. In addition, the specialists consider it necessary to establish a service, the major task of which would be making forecasts of major problems that are in the offing. Society is becoming increasingly complex, therefore, anti-social activities (although remaining dangerous in themselves as leading to a loss of human life, material damage, etc.) tend to cease to pose a threat to society’s foundations. In the opinion of the specialists, the greater danger comes from the possibility that earlier adopted decisions, laws, schemes or approaches (having exhausted their positive potential) might begin to work to the detriment of the basic cause. Therefore, it is necessary to forecast the date after which these earlier adopted decisions may become counter-productive and to keep track of such situations and trends from the viewpoint of the security of the state and society.

Furthermore, the experts conclude, that for Russian society not to be pushed out of competition in the world, it is necessary to forecast, from the viewpoint of the country’s future security, what types of rivalry within the society are most dangerous for its stability. It is necessary to analyze both the strong and weak points of Russian society. Therefore, the analysts conclude, that the security system should have the possibility to take prophylactic measures against the part of the elite, including the government and non-governmental structures, which, without violating the law formally, act to diminish country’s competitive potential in the world. The experts stress that the question is not one of punishment, persecution, reprisals, etc.; the idea is for society to be able to figure out problems which pose a danger to it in a timely fashion.

Later in the report the analysts direct attention to a paradoxical situation in Russia today. In their opinion, the structures which are supposed to be responsible for the country’s general security should reclaim and start effectively fulfilling the functions which have been taken up by the leftist forces; the latter situation has in most cases resulted in damage to social stability, sometimes even in violence. The analysts consider that a situation of this kind will persist in the society until we come to understand that a sensible path of reforms is the best guarantee of stability in the society. In the interests of society, the experts state, the security system should develop into an institution which monitors and controls social development.

* * *

The problem of creating an efficient security system in Russia has become a pressing one. However, the above discussed document is, in my opinion, designed primarily not to resolve the problem but to please the president of Russia who is currently changing his political stance. It is not a secret that in the current situation where nationalistic and radical-patriotic forces are gaining momentum in Russia, Boris Yeltsin is increasingly moving toward the left politically. He needs a foundation to advance new initiatives to emphasize his devotion to statism and other principles which have become popular in Russia today. In my opinion, it is precisely in order to serve this purpose that the above described document was prepared. The main idea of this report is, regrettably, rather stale: Russia has no friends. Our historic experience indicates that this concept has no future–unless one considers a return to confrontation to be a good prospect.

Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor for Moskovskie novosti.