Writing in the Moscow Times, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, points out that Russia’s impulse to neo-imperialism is self-destructive because it diverts needed ressources away from domestic investment.
There seems to be more geopolitical pluralism in the former Soviet states than there actually is. The United States doesn’t have a very good handle on what is happening, and its hands are bound by other foreign policy problems. The EU is divided. Russia’s position could be strengthened not by its own successes, but exclusively by the difficulties of others. Despite its growing self-confidence, however, Russia is not prepared for expansion. If it is driven in this direction by external factors, expansion will compromise internal development, as has happened many times in Russian history. The temptation to engage in geopolitical “charity work” is great; for some reason this is always more appealing than solving tedious but pressing problems at home. Russian officials have already begun to change their tune. Sergei Rogov, director of the USA and Canada Institute, said last week that a NATO failure in Afghanistan could open the way for Russia to return to regional politics. In discussions of the Caucasus region, some have begun to argue that in the early 1920s the Red Army brought peace to the region, which couldn’t live in peace without an external patron. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the victors in the Cold War set out zealously to carve up its geopolitical legacy. But they didn’t have the strength to digest it. Now a newly strengthened Russia is ready to join the battle for what was lost but has yet to find a new master. It this happens, the development of Russia will proceed further along the same old historical spiral.
Everything old is new again in Russia. The same wealth disparity, the same autocracy, the same crazed lust for territory by the country that already has the world’s largest supply.