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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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