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Unformatted text preview: Russian Power, http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/2 009-141-11.cfm)
Russia has been an economic wreck for most of its history, both under the czars and under
the Soviets. The geography of Russia has a range of weaknesses, as we have explored.
Russia’s geography, daunting infrastructural challenges and demographic structure all
conspire against it. But the strategic power of Russia was never synchronized to its economic
well-being. Certainly, following World War II the Russian economy was shattered and never quite
came back together. Yet Russian global power was still enormous. A look at the crushing poverty
but undeniable power of Russia during broad swaths of time from 1600 until Andropov arrived on
the scene certainly gives credence to Putin’s view. The problems of the 1980s had as much to do
with the weakening and corruption of the Communist Party under former Soviet leader Leonid
Brezhnev as it had to do with intrinsic economic weakness. To put it differently, the Soviet Union
was an economic wreck under Joseph Stalin as well. The Germans made a massi ve mistake in
confusing Soviet economic weakness with military weakness. During the Cold War, the United
States did not make that mistake. It understood that Soviet economic weakness did not track with
Russian strategic power. Moscow might not be able to house its people, but its military power
was not to be dismissed. What made an economic cripple into a military giant was political power.
Both the czar and the Communist Party maintained a ruthless degree of control over society. That
meant Moscow could divert resources from consumption to the military and suppress resistance.
In a state run by terror, dissatisfaction with the state of the economy does not translate into either
policy shifts or military weakness and certainly not in the short term. The czar used repression
widely, and it was not until the army itself rebelled in World War I that the regime collapsed.
Under Stalin, even at the worst moments of World War II, the army did not rebel. In both regimes,
economic dysfunction was accepted as the inevitable price of strategic power. And dissent
even the hint of dissent was dealt with by the only truly efficient state enterprise: the security
apparatus, whether called the Okhraina, Cheka, NKVD, MGB or KGB. From the point of view of
Putin, who has called the Soviet collapse the greatest tragedy of our time, the problem was not
economic dysfunction. Rather, it was the attempt to completely overhaul the Soviet Union’s
foreign and domestic policies simultaneously that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And that
collapse did not lead to an economic renaissance. Biden might not have meant to gloat, but he
drove home the point that Putin believes. For Putin, the West, and particularly the United States,
engineered the fall of the Soviet Union by policies crafted by the Reagan administration and that
same policy remains in place under the Obama administration. It is not clear that Putin and
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev disagree with Biden’s anal...
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- Spring '14