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Russia is not a credible superpower in the 21st century

19 March 2014

19 March 2014

The West has really got to get its act together in its dealings with Russia. It is simply not credible for us to pretend that we are confronting a threat on the scale posed by the USSR throughout the cold war.

Of course, President Putin is dangerous – any charismatic, nationalist strongman with expansionist ambitions and a nuclear arsenal is worth worrying about. But Russia is also Europe’s largest failing state, a country riven by corruption that permeates every aspect of its civil and public life. Its oligarchs have not built their fortunes through honest endeavour. They have plundered their nation’s natural resources aided and abetted by a governing class that is keen to take its share of the spoils.

There is no better example of Russia’s political failings than the £31 billion spent on the Winter Olympics when, just four years earlier, Vancouver put on a great show for £4 billion. How could a country that wishes to be regarded as a great nation squander such precious financial resource on the Sochi vanity project when male life expectancy within its borders is barely more than sixty, nearly twenty years less than across the EU? And it is demographics that are at the root of Russia’s problems. This vast and often beautiful country may be blessed with plenty of natural resources but to be a global superpower you need a global population and it is in this category Russia falls well short. Its enormous acreage is home to a population of only 143 million – a figure that is diminishing rapidly with the country’s plunging fertility rates and one that is forecast to be little more than 130 million in twenty years time.

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President Putin may have persuaded his compatriots that their most pressing problems are to be found on their western borders but this is at best a technique in distraction. The real threat to Russia’s long-term stability and territorial integrity comes from China, a country that will increasingly cast covetous glances towards the largely empty lands of its under populated northern neighbour. Indeed, where the Chinese have been invited to cross the border they have succeeded in making parts of southern Siberia “bloom” in a way that no Russian, past or present, has been able to achieve.

President Putin strives to project strength but he is a limited politician who, in common with so many of those who went before him, lacks the imagination and capacity to establish Russia as an admired, serious and constructive player on the global stage. Beating up your weaker neighbours abroad and suppressing homosexuals at home are hardly the actions of a self-confident and serious world leader on top of his game.

In acknowledging Russia’s weakness there is no excuse for appeasement. If Russia wishes to act as a pariah then the West must treat it as a pariah. There are 900 million of us and only 143 million of them. So, if returning its oligarchs to Moscow and St Petersburg means some discomfort for the City and Europe’s financial institutions then so be it. If BP looses an oilfield or two then, quite simply, tough – high shareholder returns come with high risks. If Germany has to pay more for its fossil fuels then it only has itself to blame for its naivety in its domestic energy planning.

President Putin wants his Country to call the shots but Russia simply lacks the real demographic muscle to sustain itself as a credible superpower in the 21st century. President Putin should be taken seriously because he is dangerous but not because he leads a great nation. He does not.

Charles Walker is the Conservative MP for Broxbourne


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  • r3r

    What a stupid article, this idiot who wrote this propaganda junk needs to be imprisoned for promoting hate speech. This spectator is nothing more than a propaganda hub.

  • Hoya123

    It is likely an oversimplification to believe that Russia’s
    role within the 21st century is necessarily marked by a lack of
    credibility and potential as a result of demographic factors such as “plunging
    fertility rates” and a shrinking population.
    According to Mark Adomanis, a contributor for Forbes, if we
    observe the dependency ration within Russia (population aged 65+ as compared
    with the working age population), we will see that it does not, in fact,
    represent an outlier as compared to its neighboring eastern European nations.
    And, in July of 2013, Adomanis even compared Russian birth rates with US birth
    rates. He found that in 2012, for the first time in years, the birth rate in
    Russia exceeded that of the US. Some key indicators that can be used to
    interpret trends in birth rates and fertility are unemployment/wage (labor)
    statistics. And, while conditions within Russia have improved since the
    financial crisis, with lowering unemployment and rising wages, the US has not
    experienced a similarly significant trend.
    Essentially, if we follow the logic proposed here and see
    dropping fertility rates in Russia as an indicator of weakness/non-credibility,
    then can we similarly choose other demographic variables—such as the high
    dependency ratios within eastern Europe, or decreasing birth rates in the US—as
    necessarily indicative of weakness within these regions as well? The basic
    danger of an approach like this is the oversimplification of the very complex
    and multidimensional matters at hand.

  • Randy McDonald

    “The real threat to Russia’s long-term stability and territorial
    integrity comes from China, a country that will increasingly cast
    covetous glances towards the largely empty lands of its under populated
    northern neighbour.”

    Why? China is actually about as interested in taking over Siberia as the United States is in taking over Canada.

  • ncknck

    Indeed, Russians should not be allowed to spend their money without asking “Charles Walker” of The Spectator first.

  • an ex-tory voter

    Any expansionism is on the part of the EU and not Russia. The entire mess has been created by the EU’s imperial ambitions and it’s political naivety in assuming Russia would not eventually call a halt.
    Russia does not see the EU and in particular (with good historical reason) Germany as an ally, it sees them as a threat. The EU knows, or should have known this and acted with more restaint instead of stoking an international crisis.

    As for their being only 143 million of them and 900 million of us. I am British, I am not European and I want no part of any conflict created by the EU, so you are down by one before you start.

    No doubt Putin and the Russian economy have shortcomings, but as you say “he is the charismatic, nationlist, strongman with a nuclear arsenal”.
    If there is to be a conflict who is the “charismatic leader of the 900 million Europeans”. Who will you put up to face him down?

    The answer of course is that there is no leader of these 900 million, because there is no EU nation. As for charisma, stand up Barroso, stand up Van Rumpuy, stand up Ashton, need I say more?

  • Denis_Cooper

    If Russia was so weak then clearly the EU/NATO/US troika would be able to exploit that vulnerability and pursue its strategy of Drang nach Osten, expanding the territory under its control through Ukraine and across and around the Black Sea and across the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea and across the Caspian to Central Asia so that the Russians are completely encircled from the south; then some time later when Russia had been further weakened to a sufficient degree it could be broken up, with the European part eventually being absorbed into the EU, thus Cameron would see the realisation of his stated dream of an EU stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals; and as for the eastern or Asiatic part of Russia, presumably that could be further divided up in various ways, maybe with some it being absorbed into China while the rest could become nominally independent states but in reality vassal or client states either of the EU/NATO/US troika or of China, depending on what could be agreed.

    Here’s a handy map of the Caucasus and Central Asia for anyone who’s a bit vague about the geography:

    http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/caucasus_central_asia_pol_2009.jpg

    Note that the Kazakhstan capital Astana where Cameron made his “I want the EU to stretch from the Atlantic to the Urals” speech last July:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/01/eu-extend-soviet-union-david-cameron

    is already some way further east than the line of the Urals – Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk are on the eastern side – and 1200 miles further east than Stalingrad where the Soviets put a stop to the last attempt at a southern encirclement.

  • http://batman-news.com The Commentator

    More naive and ill-informed nonsense from our lazy MPs. Germany (the only solvent country in the west), has through commercial ties more than 20 billion Euros invested in Russia, doubt if they will write that off in a hurry! Interesting to note that the international community (what the BBC understands to be the USA and the EU) is largely supportive of Russia and Crimea’s reunion. China and India have made no criticism and Japan’s suport for sanctions is luke-warm to stone cold. Both the EU and US are effectively bankrupt with collapsing economies and rapidly shrinking defence budgets. Russia on the other hand has a massive budget surplus and huge foreign currency reserves as well as an increased defence budget. Oh to be a failing state!

  • FF42

    The argument should be about respect for International Law, and not about superpowers, demography, or even whether Crimea wants to be part of Russia. Other countries at least pay lip service to International Law because they realise the alternative is chaos. Russia’s actions are a particularly egregious breach of International Law. We can’t pretend to act as policemen and haul Russia off to court and possible prison sentence for not obeying the Law. But if you don’t respect the rules you don’t get respected yourself. There are and should be consequences to that lack of respect and we should be clear about those consequences.

  • The Bellman

    And I suspect that he *wants* to be taken seriously – rather than to be treated like a c***, which is what the EU and the US have been doing for the last few years. And I haven’t heard any informed observers suggesting this is a crisis on a par with the Cold War.
    Russia isn’t a superpower but it is a major regional power, and has a reasonable expectation that its national and regional interests are taken into account. It might not be ‘indispensible’ but – a combination of luck and bad decisions in the west – it is ‘unignorable’. A credible foreign policy would take that into account, and, if we are going to disregard them, at the very least we should have an idea of how to respond to the inevitable friction. And when her interests are ignored, we can hardly be surprised that they are asserted in ways which utterly disorientate the jejune work-a-day-for-world-peace adolescents currently responsible for British, European and US foreign policy.
    ‘When you’ve got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.’ But the western hammer has been mothballed: all we’re left with is a vanity case packed with make-up and a manicure set, so every problem looks like it can be solved by a sleepover. Consequently we are completely adrift when our supposed ‘soft power’ meets the calibrated use of hard power.
    Honestly, you’d have thought people might have got the message after August 2008.

    • FF42

      Respect is a two way street. See my comment below.

      • an ex-tory voter

        When it comes to hard power respect is almost always “a one-way street”. Crying for the international police to uphold international law will get you nothing in the world of power politics. It is called real politik and in that game Russia has power and the EU has none.

        • FF42

          Not entirely. Most countries don’t grab bits of territory from their neighbours simply because they feel like it. It’s not just bashfulness that prevents them.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Hmm. MP in a party that has emasculated his country’s military capability complains that Russia is not a super power. Yet she does still have an aircraft carrier and the aircraft to put on her. Which is somewhat more useful than Mr Blancmange’s HMS Tomorrow and Maybe with not a fleet aircraft in sight.

  • swatnan

    Russia must embrace multiculturalism; so far it has treated its ethnic minorities with disdain. That is its next big challenge. Its a bigger challenge than the space race or the arms race. But the Era of Superpowers is over, even for America.

    • an ex-tory voter

      Try telling them that in Bejing, they will laugh you off Tianenmen Square.

  • Andrew Kennedy

    ‘If BP looses an oilfield’ – we’re seeing ‘looses’ more and more where ‘loses’ is meant. A clear trend.

  • jazz606

    Mr Walker, Did you get paid to write this rubbish ?

  • Tom Tom

    Can we turn the same critical eye on a flailing state in the North Atlantic to the left of Belgium and almost as corrupt as that little plantation between France and the Netherlands ?

  • Pootles

    This focus on demographics is very interesting. Putting on one side the fact that a reasonably united nation of 143 million people actually counts for more than 900 million people from a large number of different nations, the stress on population size gives an insight into just why the UK politicians of all hues are more than happy with the out of control population growth of the UK (particularly England). Whereas most of us oiks do not wat to see any more mass immigration, more housing shortages (only to be solved by concreting over the countryside), more over-stressed social resources, the elite want big numbers to keep them at gobal top tables. If Labour want mass immigration to boost its client base, the Tories also want it to help keep them on the world stage. As far as they are concerned, England and the English count for nothing.

    • ADW

      “Reasonably united” Mmmm under the Putin jackboot more like it. There are actually a lot of minorities in Russia, who have never had a look in with that country’s contemptible political history. The Czars nicked all the money for centuries, the Bolsheviks destroyed all wealth, and now we have kleptocrats who are Czars by any other name.

      • Pootles

        Wasn’t the fellow voted in ? And, yes, the country does have a contemptible political history – but so do the majority of countries on the planet. The sort of corruption that characterises the country is actually only of direct concern to us when the UK is affected by it – as, for example, when we are in the same EU ‘club’ as countries, like Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania etc, who are aso pretty corrupt. Not to menton the corruption the UK has ingested from countries like Pakistan. But, Russia?

        • ADW

          See what I wrote in reply to JMJM below. I don’t think Russia has enjoyed what we would call free and fair elections, free expression etc. Not our problem, I agree, I was just disagreeing that Russia was a “reasonably united” nation when it is actually quite diverse, united mainly by everyone being dirt poor save the tiny corrupt elite.

          • Pootles

            OK, I’ll go with that. However, I would still argue that one country of 143 million stacks up better than a divided, multi-national network of western countries. As for the huge gap between the elite and the rest, well, we have our own problems in relation to that – a good indicator being the fact that the mechanic who won £109 milion on the lottery yesterday can only count himself as the 754th richest man in the UK.

            • ADW

              I don’t really disagree with either reply, I think we’ll end up playing bottom trumps over who are the worst-governed people around. I think Putin is worse than the West, but I’m not unaware of our own problems with a bloated, out of touch bureaucracy, excessive population growth fueled mainly by immigration, and a thieving elite in both the public and private sector.

              • Pootles

                Well then, we agree! Hearty slaps on each other’s backs, and slightly smug expressions all roun.
                The world’s mad – I’m off to a monastery.

                • Wessex Man

                  I’m guessing neither of you have ever set foot in Russia because you don’t have a clue about the place.

                • Pootles

                  Wrong. Funny enough, I went to Odessa as a schoolboy. Why don’t you enlighten us, though?

                • Wessex Man

                  Good for you, one of my cousins is married to a Russian.

                • Pootles

                  How marvellous! And I worked for five years with a very patriotic Russian. What does that prove? Or my 40 years ago visit to Russia ? If you look at my original post, you’ll see I’m picking up on the demographics bit of the esteemed MP’s article.

                • Wessex Man

                  Yes and if you looked at any of my previous comments on these and other European matters you would know where I’m picking up things and I know you do as you’ve commented on mine.

          • Adam

            Oops. Upvoted when I tried to jab reply. Ah well.

            Anyhow, c.80 per cent of Russians are Russian so it isn’t particularly more diverse than the West, on a par probably with the UK and far less so than the USA.

    • Martin Adamson

      The whole point about Russia is that it is NOT ethnically united. Even within its current reduced borders, it is still a colonial empire – large parts of what is now Russia only became so as recently as the mid-19th century – the same era as the British conquest of India and the French conquest of Algeria. Within a few decades the “Russians” – ie Slavs of Orthodox religious background and European culture – will be in an overall minority. The main reason Putin is so eager to change his borders is to reinforce the Russian ascendency by recruiting more “Russians” from Belarus, the Ukraine etc.

      • Pootles

        A better comparison than with Britain ad India, or France and Algeria, would be with the United States. Just as the US drove west in the 19th Century, so Russia went east. Nobody is suggesting the USA should retreat from its 19th Century expansion, and it’s difficult t see why Russia should either. As for the ethnic/cultural issues, if we are trying to look int the futue, I suspect that western Eurpe ma well need Russia as a barrier to Chinese expansionism – a much greater threat.

        • Jambo25

          The US created a ‘melting pot’ as it went West though so that the overall culture and loyalty of the various US states is pretty standard. There really are no large minorities who would wish to secede from the USA although that might change if the Hispanicisation of the South West gains momentum.

          • Desyduk

            Proof?

            • Jambo25

              Modern US society: though the major victims were Native Americans.

      • Adam

        It is as ethnically united as we are – the percentage of ethnic Russians has stayed steady around 80.

        You’ve been reading Daniel Pipes, I presume, for your forecast – the chap from Forbes I quoted below disagrees and appears in my opinion to use the evidence better – http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2013/10/23/is-russia-turning-muslim/

  • jmjm208

    How can we condemn Russia over Crimea when we acted as we did in Ireland?
    We occupied Ireland, we settled people in Ulster who drove Catholics off their land. We annexed the N.E region when we pulled out of the other 26 counties. We enforced British rule with troops – what is the difference between that and Putin’s actions in Crimea?

    • ADW

      So forever and ever we are unable to condemn anyone for anything ever because our forefathers did some bad things (of which Ireland was only one).

      That rules out the US, because of Vietnam and Iraq II; France and most of the rest of Europe because of their empires; Germany because of two world wars; the Northern African Arab countries because of the Barbary Slave trade; just about all of Africa because of their endless corruption and civil wars; India and Pakistan because of their wars, Kashmir, etc …. do I need to go on? Or do we accept that all nations have committed wrongs in the past and, learning from those, should try and stand up for what is right now.

      Of course there isn’t actually anything we can do to Russia, so it’s more a pious aspiration, but the principle remains.

    • Tom Tom

      Ireland ? Try Gibraltar, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, Falklands

      • jmjm208

        You have reinforced by point about British hypocrisy. I could add to the list the fact that we set up concentration camps during the Boer war in which 28,000 afrikaaner women and children perished.

        • McRobbie

          Pretty desperate to refer back so far back in history to try and prove a point relavent to today..there were many bad thing happened in history, try the inquisition, try the use of leeches in medicine, try hanging. Mistakes are made and we should learn and generally have..Putin hasn’t. Russia signed a treaty with the ukraine confirming its sovereign integrity..Russia, putin, has just signed another that is in breach of all the previous treaties..for spurious and unfounded reasons. Putins has enemies now with right on their side..russia’s breach of trust and honour..and his so called “allies” and “friendly” nations who have with similar treaties with russia will have taken note of how much value putin puts on pieces of paper. Thats todays news not yesterdays.

          • jmjm208

            Have we really learned from the lessons of history? If we had we wouldn’t have gone into Afghanistan.

            • McRobbie

              I recall why it happened.. 9/11 enraged and horrified america and it was always going to be war against al queda after that atrocity, and afganistan was then their home, ..and we, thanks to a self serving and arrogant labour PM who wanted to establish his post PM career as a well paid bulls***er on the US seminar circuit, decided to back them.

          • ClausewitzTheMunificent

            Wouldn’t call 1902 far back in history. That’s barely 110 years ago! Think it couldn’t happen again?

            • Zero sum

              Think it shouldn’t.

        • Desyduk

          Are you a Brit? What are your credentials?

      • Fergus Pickering

        Oh God! And what we did to the Picts you just wouldn’t believe> Or was it the Scots? Or the Jutes?

    • FF42

      WE didn’t occupy Ireland or drive Catholics off their land. What our ancestors did in Ireland WAS wrong. What Russia is doing in the Ukraine IS wrong. Check the pronoun and the tense.

      • jmjm208

        To say we didn’t occupy Ireland is to ignore the facts of history. I suspect you are just upset because Ireland won the 6 nations and not England.

        • Wessex Man

          I rather suggest you are an idiot.

          • jmjm208

            People who resort to silly name calling have lost the argument !

    • Fergus Pickering

      But I support Rusia over the Crimea. Mind you, your comparison is witless.

    • La Fold

      And then there is that thing about the Irish sympathising with Nazis but hey ho, swings and roundaboputs eh?

      • jmjm208

        They probably couldn’t see any difference between what Hitler did to occupied countries and what Britain did to Ireland as, indeed, there isn’t.

        • Wessex Man

          see my previous post as to your intellect, you’ve rather proved it here, are you saying the British worked to death millions of Irish in Slave Labour Camps, or gassed millions or made them go into bombed out buildings as living skeletons to clear out the dead from Allied Bombing Raids, or experimented on living prisoners.

          You have a particularly sick mind or a very dense one + a deep hatred of all things British!

          • jmjm208

            I’m a British subject myself (unfortunately) and I’m well aware of the dreadful things that Brits have done in the past.

            I could mention the murder of 28,000 afrikaaner women and children in concentration camps, or the Amritsar massacre, or the bombing of children in Iraq Or Dresden etc etc etc.

        • ADW

          Except where the Jews, disabled, etc were concerned. And everyone else.

          You haven’t answered my point above. I wonder why not?

        • La Fold

          So that makes their choice morally justified then?
          Christ, when will the Oirish ever stop playing the bloody victim? The potato famine was over 250 years ago, GET OVER IT!
          I tell you what, i’ll never forgive the Beaker folk for emmigrating from the Iberian Peninsula and colonising my ancestors lands, the oppressive imperialistic bastards.

          • El_Sid

            1845 to 1852 actually. But the Catholics’ problem with their neighbours to the east goes much deeper than their encounter with Phytophthora infestans – and there’s plenty of more recent causes of complaint.

            • La Fold

              fair enough, got my arithemtic wrong, think im going to sit and write dirges about my misfortune for the next 150 years now.
              Christ my dads side of the family are irish, my last name is even the name of an Irish county but I dont go around trying to desperately find some sort of victimhood. For instance, this post is all about Crimea and the Ukraine and some mud farmer comes on maoning about his imaginary Irish oppression

      • ClausewitzTheMunificent

        The Irish free state stayed out of the war and interned German agents. They had no interest in the war, which was above their head, and so rightly stayed out of it. Call this sympathising? I’d call it common sense.

        • La Fold

          Or like refusing to black their lights out so the docks in Glasgow could be bombed? Oh yes, they let the Luftwaffe do their fighting for them.

          Id call that collusion.

          • ClausewitzTheMunificent

            Ehm thats more than slightly illogical. How can blacking or not blacking out lights in Ireland affect the accuracy of bombers in Glasgow? Since the intensity of radiated light falls off as 1/r^2 and the distance between the Irish coast and Glasgow is at least a few hundred kilometers I doubt that even were the Irish shining huge searchlights in Glasgow’s general direction that they would in any meaningful way light up the docks even for a ground observer to see. And if you talk Irish agents in Glasgow deliberately not closing the curtains, one it would be impossible to prove, and secondly would hardly affect the outcome of a bombing raid. Blacking out was of more psychological than physical significance. Moreover any air raid over Glasgow was completely trivial in both scope and impact.

            • Jambo25

              Yes the Clydebank raid was a bundle of fun.

    • Jambo25

      And how can the Irish complain when they invaded my country; fair Pictland, in the post-Roman period?

      • Desyduk

        I am Irish and I do complain! Is there no one you will not offend?

        • Jambo25

          Your nationality is irrelevant. Your state of mental health is more worrying.

      • Desyduk

        What month and year? Proof

        • Jambo25

          Back just before Saint Columba arrived.

      • Desyduk

        Are you related to the Black and Tan that held my father’s mother at bayonet point while he was in her womb in 1922 so that the other Scottish soldiers could harass the family and count the heads of the other kids to ensure they tallied with the list and demand to know what my grandfather was doing? Do you want to open that can of worms? My father never complained to me about the Black & Tans or the British, he would not permit a rebble song to be sung in his house because he was grateful to the British nation for naturalising him as a citizen and giving him and my brothers a better life, but it remains in our memory and we have not sought or received an apology and never will. But don’t be trivial because me and my children will never forget what my father and his mother had to endure from those Scottish Black & Tans. Don’t complain to me about your post-Roman Pictland you fool.

        • Jambo25

          I am that very Black and Tan. I am now 145 years old.

          • La Fold

            And the award for the first mention of a black and tan goes to… DESYDUK!

            • Jambo25

              He’s been on-line stalking me for a couple of days. He’s also unaware that my grandparents were Catholic smallholders from what is now the Republic.

              • La Fold

                There are some proper mentalists on the internet.
                Always amuses how as soon as someone starts losing an argument about their misplaced irish victimhood the black and tan stories start coming out.

                • Jambo25

                  Yep. Mind you this started on another discussion over Scottish independence where he claimed to be English.

                • La Fold

                  I much like yourself have a very mixed heritage, part irish, part scottish, part english, part french. which is probably why ive always found people flaunting their nationality a bit weird and sad. Ultranationalist Scots, victim hood Irish, little englanders, chauvinistic French…all very tedious.

  • Adam

    I rather thought that the demographic crisis peaked four or five years ago and that the Russian birth rate is now climbing; this is not incompatible with continued high male mortality which of course if it occurs at 60 would tend, if viewed utterly coldly, to be an asset to the Russian state by removing social care and pensions liabilities.

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