Russian Death Spiral

No, the title doesn’t refer to a new computer game fresh out of St. Petersburg. Instead it’s a reference to this exceedingly gloomy op-ed by Mark Steyn. He says that Russia is going down the tubes. It’s all caused by a population riddled with disease, a plundered economic base, and a lack of prospects. According to Steyn, the only real choice facing the Russians is who they should sell out to: the Islamic extremists or China. Maybe even all of them at once.

I’m not qualified to comment on either the health or economic woes facing Russia today, but I do know a little bit about security issues. And by “security issues” I don’t mean whether or not to invest in blue chip stocks or real estate to plan for your retirement.

The biggest concern is the state of Russia’s armed forces because they control the nuclear weapons that the Soviets built during the bad old days of the Cold War. Let me tell you, things don’t look good. Everyone interested in matters military had been passing around stories for years about Russian troops that hadn’t been paid and Army bases that had their electric cut off because the bill was overdue. It was tough to separate fact from snarky rumor because the Russian government, as you might expect, was rather reluctant to own up to any problems. The first crises that was too loud for anyone outside Russia to miss was the Kursk disaster.

After it was all over, it was obvious that Russia’s military had fallen to some very alarming depths. (No pun intended.) The reason why the disaster occurred in the first place was because one of the torpedoes on board had rusted so badly that it sprung a fuel leak, which set off an explosion and fire. None of the crew which managed to escape to unaffected compartments of the Kursk was saved due to the terribly deteriorated condition of their rescue craft, particularly the batteries that were needed to power the mini-submarines that tried to descend and dock with the stricken vessel. Even when one of the rescue subs managed to finally get down there, it was found that the rubber gasket required to form a seal with the Kursk’s escape hatch had rotted away.

Two other incidents that have raised questions in the security community were the Moscow theater siege and the Beslan school massacre. In both instances the rescue efforts were led by the SPETSNAZ counter-terrorist unit Alpha Group, the best that Russia has to offer. While opinions on the theater siege are mixed, it is pretty certain that the school hostage situation was handled very badly indeed. Notice how all of the accounts mention that civilians took part in the final battle with the terrorists who were firing from inside the school, an amazing admission of the slipshod methods and lack of control that Russia’s finest antiterrorist troops employed during the crises.

Will Russia start selling off parts of the country to the Chinese, or weapons grade nuclear material to terrorists? Beats me. But I do know that al Qaeda’s requirement in their plan for the destruction of Western civilization is to secure territory from which to launch more attacks. They seem to be focused on Iraq since the US led invasion, and the jihadis certainly aren’t making any headway there. If they make common cause with the Chechen terrorists, unlikely though that might be, they might just be able to carve off a piece of Mother Russia for their very own.

17 thoughts on “Russian Death Spiral”

  1. “According to Steyn, the only real choice facing the Russians is who they should sell out to: the Islamic extremists or China. Maybe even all of them at once.”

    I’m sure this is naive, but why don’t they sell out to us? Pride? Wouldn’t we be willing to throw lots of money at them to forestall an even more horriffic collapse?

  2. Great question, lindenen, but Steyn says that the Russians figure their best chances are with someone opposed to the US. I have no idea if that’s true, or if it will turn out that way in the end.


  3. The Russians won’t sell out to anybody. Their national identity is to powerful. If their current experiment fails, they will simply revert to a more authoritarian form. Putin seems to be trying this route.

    The real question is whether culturally, Russians can routinely cooperate with one another without the coercion of the state. If not, they may go through successive cycles of liberalism followed by authoritarianism.

    Russian might make the breakthrough idea that they don’t really need a large military. The don’t need a blue water navy, they don’t need a large nuclear force. A much smaller but much better supported full time military backed by civilian reserve would be better for them than what they have now.

  4. Russian and Japan are on again/off again with regards to Sakhalin Island. Maybe Russia could get something for selling Sakhalin Island back to the Japanese. Same with the Kuril Islands.

    Just tossing out an idea…

    True, it still doesn’t fix the fundamental structural problems with the Russian society.

    However, Mongolia is frankly going to have a bigger dilemma with China than Russia will. Robert Kaplan’s “Imperial Grunts” follows a soldier in Mongolia there to help train the Mongolian troops in American techniques. The Mongolians are extremely worried watching China settle Inner Mongolia with farmers in waves. The border between Inner and Outer Mongolia is barely even imaginary… (Sorry for that tangent…)

  5. Selling off their far eastern territory (which is not the same as Siberia) before China up and takes it (say in 75-100 years), would be smart. But, it won’t happen, not in their current state. The Russians know they have problems, so all that they have left if their pride.
    Maybe, if there was some way to homestead a lot of those areas, say, to any immigrant taker, to give them a stake in Russia or something like that; then it could be kept. However, right now it is underdeveloped, underpopulated and underguarded and far, far from Moscow.

  6. Russia’s demise has been predicted on numerous occasions over the last three centuries. I suspect Mark Steyn’s is somewhat premature. The problems are serious and arrangements over the islands in the Pacific is not really top priority. But problems have been more serious before. Somehow, Russia seems to overcome them to the extent it needs to in order to survive. It is possible that we have reached a stage that most Russians actually want a better life but, what Mark Steyn does not seem to have noticed that a lot of Russians do have a better life than they did most of the twentieth century.

  7. So, given the parallels that Steyn presents us, perhaps we win this war against Islamofascism the same way we won the war againts Communism – containment combined with ideological debate butressed by evidence of the superiority of our ideology – capitalism and Western Civilization.

    I’m not sure that the Bush doctrine of deep penetration and overthrow (Iraq and Afghanistan) is working all that well. But, I confess, I am not sure what containment of the Islamofascists looks like when WMD are on the table.

  8. You have to ask the question, can we contain something that really has no boarders. The answer is no. Another question, if terrorists really wanted to blow something up, is there any way we can protect everything in the US that they want to blow up, no. Even if we do what is to stop them from walking into a mall and start shooting?

    Offense is always the best defense, and maybe our only effective defense in this case.

  9. Also, do not forget that there are many experts predicting that China as we know it won’t survive without the commie central authorities. With 1 billion people and no democratic plurality like India is developing is dangerous.

  10. It’s simplicity itself to solve the population problem. Ban abortion and birth control. The elite may get around it with foreign abortions but the poor and middle class will not.

    There. Was that so difficult? It’s only Western cultural myopia that doesn’t see the obvious. The real trick for Russia’s political class is in getting the popular will to embrace that sort of step.

    All the nightmare scenarios are for Russia to become politically authoritarian, then lash out in unwise adventures. The authoritarian levels needed for those adventures would be sufficient that implementing a strong pro-natal policy would be survivable for the government. Heck, with enough xenophobia, it might even be popular. The adventures then become unnecessary.

    I’m not judging this course of action. I’m just putting it on the table. Somebody needs to.

  11. I can never hear about Russian demographic problems without thinking of that Dead Kennedys song. Lex, this one’s for you.

  12. “Maybe, if there was some way to homestead a lot of those areas, say, to any immigrant taker, to give them a stake in Russia or something like that; then it could be kept.”

    The Mexicans tried that, and didn’t like the results. I doubt that the Russians will be any more eager to jump at the chance to create the next Texas.

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