Unlike the steady rise of China, Russia has had a bumpier ride from the clutches of Socialism. This was partly due to the sudden changes introduced towards the end of the 1980s, with Gorbachov’s glasnost and perestroika reforms, ultimately leading to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. In the 1980s, the USSR was reaching economic turmoil, after having virtually bankrupted itself in the arms race against the USA. On top of this, the failed occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989 proved to be a very costly mistake, one that strategic US hawks like Zbigniew Brezinski exploited unashamedly by arming the Taliban and various foreign mujahedeen like Osama bin Ladin against the Soviet army. This would later haunt the US with karmic venom.
Post-USSR Era Of Chaos
As the iconic Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the mighty Soviet Socialist empire collapsed officially in 1991 and the US was the self-declared winner of the Cold War. While the US was enjoying the 1990s as quite possibly the only decade of unchallenged US power, it was a completely nightmarish and chaotic time in Russia. The first few years after the failed counter-coup in Moscow by the old guard were marked by long bread lines, empty shelves in shops, a brief period lacking currency followed by inflation, mob rule, anarchy, assassinations, crime, rampant corruption, extortion, scamming, a full blown constitutional crisis in 1993 and a drunken President Yeltsin, who was used by crony Oligarchs and US elites to further weaken Russia. To add insult to injury, Russia lost all her former territories in eastern Europe, the Caucuses and central Asia, all declaring independence within a matter of years. It’s “iron curtain” buffer states, once covering its most vulnerable western-most flank, became exposed and easy pickings for the US, who used the opportunity to buy off corrupt leaders in newly independent eastern European states, as well as intervening to break up and weaken pro-Russian Serbia. Russia also underwent years of brutal war, insurgency and terrorism with Chechnya. Events culminated in 1998, when the Asian financial crisis spread to Russia, which couldn’t bear any more stress and defaulted on its debt, followed by a complete re-denomination of the Rouble, which collapsed and lost over 80% value against the US Dollar. During this chaotic time for the struggling man and woman in Russia, a mafia of highly conniving, enterprising and corrupt Russian-Jewish Oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky rose to prominence by way of thieving and consolidating numerous Russian state assets entrusted in their management, through fire sales in the aftermath of various privatisations, with insider knowledge. It was an era to be forgotten.
Vladimir Putin Enters the Scene
As the Berlin Wall collapsed, a young, patriotic East German KGB agent by the name of Vladimir Putin was working in Berlin at the time. Sensing deep political change in the air, he left his post at the KGB and entered politics with the mayor’s office in his hometown of St Petersburg. Vladimir Putin was a very shrewd man who understood power politics in Russia extremely well. He resented the mismanagement of President Yeltsin’s administration for two main reasons; overseeing a disastrous first war in Chechnya with the signing of a humiliating treaty for Russia in 1996, and an administration that saw the encroachment of corrupt Russian-Jewish Oligarchs into the Presidential office, – Oligarchs who controlled Yeltsin and owned companies in important industries purchased during the privatisation corruption of the early 1990s, such as media, oil and gas. Putin wanted those industries to instead fall under the control of the Russian State. But he knew he had to work with the Yeltsin administration that he despised, in order to work his way up before he could enact any change, and he had the requisite patience to do just that. In 1998, Putin was promoted to FSB director. He further proved his ‘loyalty’ to the Yeltsin-Oligarch mafia and was eventually nominated by an ailing Yeltsin as successor, finally becoming President after elections in 1999. His coup on power was almost complete. He now needed a bit more patience to depose the Oligarchs from power, who still owned vital infrastructure like media, oil and gas.
These Oligarchs, having no military-intelligence background and easily carried away by the extravagant riches of power, mistakenly believed that they could control Putin like they controlled Yeltsin. Putin began his journey by immediately consolidating power, image and honour, for Russia and for himself. In 1999, he successfully waged the second Chechen war after terrorist attacks in Moscow, and imposed Russian control back to the restive region. With his new Presidential powers and his brilliant KGB intellect, he swiftly imposed Russian State control over the oil and gas sector and forced the Oligarchs to relinquish control over the media, essentially smashing the Oligarchs’ grip on power, forcing most of them into exile or incarceration for embezzlement. President Putin was finally in control and could now focus on re-building Russia as a resurgent power again, after the hellish 1990s that brought the country to ruin and shame. It could only take a strongman like Putin, with Russia’s long term national interest at heart, to turn things around. This is the major reason why he is so hated by the Western establishment.
Russian Resurgence from the ashes and US disbelief
The Russian people have gone through so much pain and turmoil within barely a decade, something that would have broken the backs of most optimists. Thus the Russian spirit is one of underlying cynicism, but sharp realism. Western people would have much difficulty in understanding the level of resilience this can build with the right people in charge. The Western world has not yet experienced post-empire collapse to fully appreciate what Russia has gone through, or how far it has come ever since. As such, US leadership, media and society has fundamentally misunderstood and consistently underestimated Russia under Putin, and this level of disbelief carries through today’s policies, with US behaviour towards Russia. Like China left behind the ruins of its former Maoist ideology, Russia too has left behind the ruins of Leninist ideology, and has learnt vital lessons from the days of the over-stretched USSR empire. Putin does not seek to re-impose an ideologically motivated global empire anymore as Western media commonly claim; rather, he seeks to secure Russia economically and militarily to be able to withstand any threats to its immediate region of influence and its long term interests. This is something the US doesn’t seem to understand, nor wants to understand. China and Russia both play the long game, and are willing to lose the odd battle to win the war. The US on the other hand, cannot fathom losing any battle, let alone the war, so to speak. For the US, Russia should not be allowed to recover from the post-USSR collapse and must be kept weak on the ground. However, little does the Anglo-American leadership, which is too used to dictating terms to others and having its way all the time, understand the Slavic or Eastern mentality of defiance when pushed or disrespected. Thus, the US cannot understand that pushing on Russia for example, by way of sanctions, military pressure, color revolutions, arm-twisting and disrespect, actually encourages more defiance and resistance, rather than the intended aim of submission.
Russia’s greatest security concern, – a very legitimate one, has historically been its extensive, porous and un-policeable borders. This has ultimately lead Russian leadership, from Tsarist to USSR times, to have friendly buffer states in central Asia, the Caucuses and particularly eastern Europe, – its most exposed flank to its capital Moscow, secured. This has been the traditional and historic route through which Russia has seen aggression against her ever since the Mongol Horde invaded from the east, with the armies of Napoleon and Hitler having marched through these hinterlands to unsuccessfully attack the motherland. Thus, the vulnerable western flank is deeply and painfully ingrained on the Russian psyche, and when the US empire arrogantly meddles and treats this eastern European region as its own backyard, it is almost guaranteed to invite a serious Russian response. US political leadership of course fails to acknowledge Russia’s genuine security concerns here out of lack of empathy, due to the US being flanked by two oceans on either side and having friendly states, Canada and Mexico, above and below the mainland. History proves time and time again that in any major conflict on the European continent, betting against Russia and not working with her, is ultimately self-defeating. Napoleon and Hitler both learnt this the hard way. The Allied forces have also understood this in both world wars; having sided with Russia in both instances have lead to decisive victory. Moreover, eastern Europe, Caucuses and central Asian regions have sizeable populations of ethnic Russians, where Russian still remains a lingua franca, and for the US empire to expect Russia to not have any influence or interest here would be highly misguided. Russia feels an obligation to defend ethnic Russians anywhere in the region, much like for example, Turkey feels the need to defend Turkomen minorities in the Middle East and the Caucuses.
Russian Military and Economic Capabilities
A Formidable Nuclear Power
Russia still remains the undisputed and foremost existential threat to the United States compared with any other country in the world, and so I will go into more detail regarding its military capabilities. These nuclear statistics highlight the reason why Russia is still number one military threat; Russia has a slightly higher stockpile of nuclear warheads. In terms of capably delivering those nuclear weapons, both the US and Russia have a nuclear triad deterrent – meaning a combination of fixed and/or mobile ground-based ICBM silos, SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles) and nuclear-capable aviation. The bulk of Russia’s modern ground based ICBM nuclear arsenal are the Topol-class ballistic missiles, namely the Topol-M and Topol-MR (or Yars-24). These are Russia’s modern and upgraded variants to replace its outdated Soviet arsenal. The newer Topol-MR is an MIRV extension of the Topol-M (meaning the missile can split into multiple warheads). The US equivalents are the Minuteman-class ICBMs. The Russian navy is in the process of currently upgrading its submarine fleet. The bulk of Russia’s SLBM nuclear arsenal is to be deployed on the Borei-class nuclear-powered submarines, which are a new class of submarines currently under construction, capable of carrying up to 20 nuclear warheads each. The US on the other hand, has most of its SLBM arsenal deployed on Ohio-class submarines, set to be upgraded as well. The deterrent with SLBMs lies in their surprise potential, – the fact that they are nuclear-powered and do not need to resurface for very long periods of time, enabling them to roam around the world’s oceans where the adversary cannot know their exact locations consistently. In addition to this, the Russian navy is also currently constructing very advanced nuclear-powered non-ballistic missile submarines, the Yasen-class submarines, as well as new diesel-powered stealth submarines, project 636 of the Kilo-class. The Russian navy has only one aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, a far cry from the 11 aircraft carriers the US possesses, with two more Ford-class super-carriers on the way. The Russian strategic nuclear forces, or aviation-deployable nuclear arsenal, includes the Tu-95, Tu-22 and Tu-160 long range bombers, which have all been upgraded with new systems.
Advantages and Disadvantages over the US
The obvious disadvantage is that the US has a much higher defense (read: offense) budget; it has a global empire to service, unlike Russia. The US is also the prime global naval power, possessing superior naval projection power. However, Russia is renown for its advanced submarine technology, which is on par if not exceeds that of the US, especially nuclear-powered submarines.
The US also holds prime air superiority, having simply more aircraft by way of a larger budget. This does not mean that it holds superiority over technological development and design. The Russian air force possesses aircraft that rival and exceed their US variants. The bulk of Russia’s multi-role fighters have traditionally been the Su-27 Flanker, MiG-29 Fulcrum and MiG-31 Foxbat. Currently, Russia is in the process of replacing the MiG-29 with the new MiG-35, the Su-27 with the new stealth Su-57 and the MiG-31 will be getting an upgrade, as no replacement models are in the works. The Su-57 is one of the newest, most advanced 5th generation stealth fighters in the world, rivalling the American F-22 and F-35. The bulk of Russia’s ground attack fighters have been the Su-24 Fencer and Su-25 Frogfoot. Currently, Russia is replacing the Su-24 with the new Su-34, while the Su-25 will be receiving an upgrade. The bulk of Russia’s bombers have been the cold-war dated Tu-95 Bear, Tu-22 Backfire and Tu-160 Blackjack, all currently being upgraded. A new stealth bomber is being developed by the Tupolev design bureau to eventually phase out all dated bombers, the PAK DA project. Russia also boasts a competitive edge in attack helicopters, operating the very advanced Ka-52 Alligator and Mi-28 Havoc helicopters.
Russia also leads the US in tank technology and development. The US operates the dated M1 Abrams as its main battle tank, while Russia operates the newer, more advanced third generation T-90 battle tank and is rolling in an even more advanced tank, if not the most advanced main battle tank in the world, – the T-14 Armata, protected with the most advanced explosive armour and the first of its kind to have a completely unmanned turret.
In terms of missile technology, such as for example, cruise missiles (the Russian Kalibr versus US Tomahawk) and anti-tank missiles (the Russian Kornet versus US TOW) are pretty much on par.
Russia looks beyond conventional power to offset US power by asymmetric methods as well, with cutting edge electronic warfare (jamming) capabilities, a field where the US trails extensively due to its overt focus on stealth technology. Russia also is the world leader in anti-missile defence, with the S400 and S500 (only for Russia – no export versions) being the most advanced anti-missile defence system in the world. Like China, Russia is inferior to US naval power and must develop asymmetric methods to render aircraft carriers useless and provide deterrents against US missile defences. One such area it leads in is the pursuit of hypersonic missiles, along with China and India. Russia and India have collaborated on a hypersonic missile, the BrahMos, and Russia is soon to roll out one of the most advanced hypersonic missiles, the Zircon, soon to be fitted on its naval and air forces. The US lags in this area due to its dominant position, of not having to develop such asymmetric weapons in the first place.
Russia has a notoriously effective intelligence and cyber hacking force, which acts as a powerful deterrent in the modern digital economy. As the next generation of warfare moves to unmanned vehicles such as UAVs, robotic tanks and autonomous fighting vehicles, Russia is working to maintain a competitive market share in this emerging field, currently dominated by the US and UK.
And finally, a note on space technology. As space is the ultimate theatre of control, after land, air, sea and cyberspace, it is not yet militarised, and there are frameworks and treaties in place to prevent space arms races and the militarisation of space in general. Russia of course has its own peaceful space program, satellite fleet and essentially provides the rockets to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Russia has also developed through its satellite network, its own satellite navigation system, GLONASS, as the only other viable competitor and alternative to US based Global Positioning System (GPS), which is the Western industry-standard in global positioning.
Russian Power Set To Rise
With a powerful military in the process of the biggest modernisation program since the fall of the USSR, President Putin has re-gained Russia’s place as one of the top-tier military powers in the world for decades to come. Russia has also entered the information space, with the commissioning of Russia Today (RT) as a global media outlet that offers a Russian perspective on world events to Western audiences, in an industry traditionally dominated by the US and its group-think. The Russian economy is also positioning itself to be one of the world’s most foremost energy and mineral providers for decades to come, being endowed with the world’s largest landmass that is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, timber, minerals, agriculture and precious metals. In addition, Russia possesses advanced technological know-how to be able to have a strong manufacturing industry. And while its stock market is not yet fully developed or liquid enough, there is much upside potential for its financial system to grow and mature. The Russian central bank has already implemented reforms such as floating the Rouble, and abandoning the fix against the US Dollar. It is developing its own “SWIFT-alternative” in response to US sanctions. The sanctions levied on Russia by the US empire are essentially politically motivated economic weapons intended to tie down the Russian economy and prevent a level-playing field, one where Russia can “compete” with the US. This is born out of ultimate US insecurity and weakness at not being able to handle opposition to its hegemony, sensing the new, resurgent Russia a real threat to its former monopoly.
Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil and natural gas. With Putin consolidating the oil and gas sectors to majority Russian State control, with Rosneft and Gazprom being the biggest oil and gas companies respectively, this has provided the adequate revenues to cover the budget. More importantly, with the melting of the Arctic ice sheet, the Arctic is set to become one of the last battle-grounds of energy-rich deposits in the world, and Russia oversees a mammoth’s share in the ice sheet. There is an estimated 22% of global undiscovered oil and gas in the Arctic. Sensing an even bigger role in world energy supply, Putin has taken the lead in securing Russia’s place in the Arctic ahead of all other Arctic littoral countries, setting up Arctic military bases, dedicated Arctic troop contingents and building the largest fleet of ice-breakers, including nuclear-powered, in the world. Another potential economic windfall for Russia over the next century lies with the melting of the ice sheet, – this potentially opens up a new planned shipping lane that could cut travelling time by a third from Europe to Asia. Russia will be strategically placed next to these new trade routes, giving it even more importance and power on the global stage, powering the new engine of the world economy, China. For this reason alone, Russia sets to become the central energy linchpin of Eurasia, and the world, and cannot be ignored. US sanctions will eventually wear themselves thin and prove ineffective, even backfiring on the US itself, as they ultimately promote the stimulus to find alternative ways of doing business. Like China, Russia is stockpiling gold reserves, highlighting forward strategic thinking.
The greatest strategic weakness of the Anglo-American empire is its lack of natural resources, particularly oil and gas. This is partly why it sees the endless need to meddle in the Middle East and promote regime change, to help secure energy supplies. Despite the US presently being one of the top producers of oil and gas alongside Russia, this trend will not last, given that the US has run out of easy, cheap energy supplies, and is now pumping record amounts of lower quality output, such as Shale, through controversial drilling methods like fracking, a practice illegal in some European countries, known to cause mini-earthquakes and contaminate the ground-water basin. The US is thus in the unenviable position of having an long-term unsteady energy supply and even eventually having to possibly turn to Russia for energy. The US is envious of Russia’s strong position in this regard, having already secured its fundamental place for the next century.
If the US continues to antagonise Russia and China, this is setting itself up for future strife, as Russia and China bind together as the work horses of a rising Eurasia, the future hub of global energy, population and trade. Russia has managed to survive post-empire collapse, and has recovered thanks largely to the brilliant statecraft of Vladimir Putin, and is now on track towards re-inventing itself as a powerful regional player with global clout in an increasingly multipolar world.