Stratfor Blasts Putin’s Russia

George Friedman, founder of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, blasts the long-term total failure that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and warns of short-term Russian aggression against Ukraine:

Russian power is in long-term decline. Compared to the Soviet Union in 1989, the Russian Federation has less than half the population, one-third the economic bulk, lower commodity production and vastly decreased industrial output. Demographically, Russia is both shrinking and aging at rates that have not been seen outside of wartime since the time of the Black Death. The educational system has stalled, so Russia is facing an impending slide in labor quantity and quality, which will make it difficult if not outright impossible for Russia to keep up with its advancing neighbors. The long-term prognosis is, at best, very poor.

But “long-term” is the operative term. Russian power today must not be measured in the terms that will dominate its existence in the future. Instead, it must be assessed dispassionately in relative terms against its neighbors and competitors. Of those neighbors, only China can compare to Russia regarding military and economic capability, and the two states are bending over backward to avoid an adversarial relationship. True, in 2009 Russia faces the most dire economic challenges since the 1998 ruble crash and debt default, but so do all the states in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Central Europe and the Baltics. In fact, since Russia maintains more reserve funds and currency reserves than all the states in this arc combined, Russia even maintains a financial edge over the competition.

And even with the global recession placing very real limits on what Moscow can achieve financially — both at home and abroad — Russia has myriad tools that place countries of interest to it at the Kremlin’s mercy. The Kremlin (rightly) fears that Russia’s days are numbered, but it has a simple plan: Re-establish as large of a buffer zone around the Russian core as possible while the balance of power remains in Russia’s favor.

For Russia, most of the post-Cold War era was a chronicle of retreat from previous prominence, culminating in the West’s decision in 2008 to recognize the independence of the former Serbian province of Kosovo — a decision that Russia campaigned long and hard to prevent. But in August 2008, Russia invaded its former territory of Georgia and proved to the world that Russian power was far from spent, marking the inflection point on the question of Russia’s resurgence. The year 2009 will be about Russia using its military, intelligence and energy might to extend its influence back into its periphery.

Russia’s primary target in 2009 is Ukraine, a country uniquely critical to Russia’s geopolitical position and uniquely vulnerable to Russia’s energy, intelligence and military tools — and then there is the influence Russia can wield over Ukraine’s large Russian-speaking population. Russia has many other regions that it wants to bring into its fold while it can still act decisively — the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Balkans, the Baltics and Poland — but Ukraine is at the top of the list.

Ukraine occupies a piece of territory that is completely integrated into Russia’s agricultural, industrial, energy and transport networks. Its physical position makes it crucial to Russia’s ability to project power. A Ukraine at odds with Russia constrains Russia’s position in the Caucasus, limits Russian power in Europe, threatens the entire Russian core and puts Moscow within spitting distance of a hostile border. A defiant Ukraine not only forces Russia to be purely defensive, but actually makes Russian territory indefensible from the west and south, as there are no natural boundaries to hide behind. In contrast, an acquiescent Ukraine allows Russia to project power outward into Central Europe and gives Russia greater access to the Black Sea and thus the Mediterranean and outside world.

Russia lost the territory in 1992 with the Soviet collapse, but managed to keep Ukraine a political no-mans-land. In 2004, however, the Orange Revolution brought to power a government not just oriented toward the West but downright hostile to Moscow. This sparked a panic in the Kremlin that prompted a foreign policy leading to Russia’s resurgence. That resurgence is now stable enough that the Kremlin feels it can return Ukraine to the Russian orbit — forcibly, if necessary. Russia has no shortage of tools to use on Ukraine to mold it into a shape more amenable to Russian interests. Russia backs and bankrolls Viktor Yanukovich, Yulia Timoshenko and Rinat Akhmetov — three of Ukraine’s four most powerful political forces. Russia supplies Ukraine with two-thirds of its natural gas and four-fifths of its energy needs, and is not shy about using that control to damage the government. Ukraine is integrated into the Russian industrial heartland, and Russian firms directly control large portions of the Ukrainian metals industries. Russian control over several of Ukraine’s ports links several Ukrainian oligarchs — and some Ukrainian organized crime syndicates — directly to the Kremlin.

Ukraine is not well equipped to resist Russia’s efforts. The United States has been working with Ukrainian intelligence (which is currently under President Viktor Yushchenko), sparking a fierce battle within the Ukrainian intelligence services, which spun off from the KGB. Yushchenko is trying to purge ex-KGB forces and put in younger, American-trained staff members, but the Russian intelligence surge into the country since 2004 has been massive and is hard to counteract. Other Western intelligence agencies are simply too far behind to make much of a difference; only the Turks have made a notable effort. The rest of the “Western” moves are largely limited to bureaucratized American processes, largely financial and social, which simply are no match for the powerful, multi-vectored effort that Russia is making.

Russia is perfectly capable of achieving its goals in Ukraine on its own. The natural gas crisis at the start of 2009 is a testament to Russian capability, but Moscow has shown that it is willing to accept a deal that will make Ukraine more malleable. Specifically, the United States is attempting to forge a means of supplying its growing troop commitment in Afghanistan without becoming more dependent upon Pakistan. Russia is willing to allow American supplies to transit Russia and Russian-influenced Central Asia. But the price is Yushchenko’s ouster and an agreement that the United States will not parlay its transit routes across Central Asia into actual influence over the region. And just in case the United States decides to push for more, Russia has established a network of options in the Middle East to complicate American efforts there should the need arise (for more information, see the Middle East section of the Annual Forecast), and is even putting some flags in the ground in Latin America.

Under the Obama administration, American foreign policy’s initial focus is on fighting the Afghan war. So the question regarding the Russian resurgence is not what the Americans will give the Russians, but how much and how publicly. This will give the United States greater leverage in dealing with what it has identified as its prime concern, but at the cost of both creating a greater challenge in the future and undermining the strength of the Transatlantic alliance structure.


20 responses to “Stratfor Blasts Putin’s Russia

  1. Pingback: Ладушки.Net » Blog Archive » Posts about Russia as of 09/02/2009

  2. That resurgence is now stable enough that the Kremlin feels it can return Ukraine to the Russian orbit — forcibly, if necessary.

    I’m not so sure about that.

    It would mean Russia literally occupying Ukraine which would be bloody and protacted. The consequences of that action in the west would be catastrophic for them even if the Euroweenies stood on the sidelines.

    I saw in the WSJ today that Latvia is officially in a depression, not a recession. It is worrisome what is happening with this global economic meltdown, but, poorer or richer
    I would think eastern Europeans aren’t going to be re-absorbed by Russia without a fight.

    elmer, do you have an opinion about that?

  3. yes, penny, I do.

    First, I agree with you.

    Second, I think the article seriously discounts the mood of the people in Ukraine.

    The comment about Yushchenko’s ouster being the price to be paid for transit of American supplies across Russia and Central Asia is way off base.

    Yushchenko has severely and sorely disappointed the Ukrainian people. He was elected to implement the platform of the Orange Revolution. Instead, he made a deal with Yanukovych, for some unknown reason, after sacking Tymoshenko, his erstwhile Orange Revolution ally. People were willing to wait for him to make up for it – but he didn’t. As a result, his “ratings” are severely low – 3%. It is widely – very widely – known in Ukraine that he has virtually no chance of being re-elected.

    In other words, he did not deliver what he promised – and will pay the price at the polls.

    One example – he promised to put “bandits in jail.” But the widespread joke is that the bandits are all in Parliament.

    Don’t get me wrong, he has done some good things, and made some efforts to fight corrupt government.

    Second, to say that Tymoshenko is in the grips of the Kremlin is – well, puzzling. I’m sorry I don’t have the link handy, but at one point, she was afraid to travel to Moscow, because Russia was going to arrest her.

    I’m not sure where Stratfor is getting its intelligence that Moscow is financing her. She just hired the Blackstone Group (will provide link if requested) to advise the Ukrainian government in its relations with the IMF.

    She recently met with George Soros, arch enemy and favorite target of sovok rooskies everywhere.

    She just got rid of RosUkrEnergo and Firtash, who is, indeed, one of those Ukrainian oligarchs closely tied in with Russian oligarchs.

    Third, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the following in Ukrainian blogs and forums – just because we speak Russian does not mean we don’t feel Ukrainian.

    Russian was forced down everyone’s throats in the sovok union. Ukraine is ethnically 17% Russian.

    But more and more, especially over the past 5 years, people no longer feel intimidated by “big brother” from Maskva.

    In fact, they like freedom of speech, and having fun – and they are demanding good government.

    Even Yanukovych, from the somewhat pro-Russian Party of Regions, publicly admitted not tool ago that the people in Ukraine 1) don’t trust the government and 2) are sorely disillusioned with it.

    The “ratings” of the Party of Regions have also fallen – and, from what I can see, the Party of Regions is beginning to see that the vote is a powerful thing, and that they can’t simply use the same old sovok propaganda and strong-arm methods.

    For the most part, political parties in Ukraine are not really so much political parties as they are collections of oligarchs and their proxies.

    There are no campaign finance laws, which breeds much corruption in government.

    And the people have been beating a steady and increasing drumbeat against that.

    They have not yet found a viable alternative to Tymoshenko and Yanukovych (Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine faction has fallen apart and abandoned him, except for a few).

    But, trust me, they are looking.

    No question that roosha is still trying to exert its influence any way it can.

    But, from what I can see, the overwhelming opinion is that people in Ukraine see “government” in Russia – and they would much, much rather have Ukraine and its freedom and democracy, and the continued improvement and development thereof.

    I think Stratfor underestimates the Ukrainian people.

  4. One more thing – Tymoshenko just met with Vice-President Joe Biden in Munich at a European Union conference (picture included in link).

  5. To obtain all those US and Euro dollar reserves, Putin subjected Russia to elevated rates of inflation for years. This has had a very harmful effect upon the finances of Russians and Russia.

    Putin is running out of money and time, and he knows it well. Rather than conserving funds and easing the pain of Russians, he is squandering vast sums of money trying to recreate the Soviet Union.

    This downturn is going to last a long time. How long before not only discontented groups outside of the Government, but more crucially discontented groups within the Government begin to dissent and revolt?

    Were I the US, I would let him over the next few months spend all the money he wants. The less money he has the more precarious his Government becomes.

    When the funds are almost exhausted, the US can then move in and supply Russia’s mercenary allies for comparative pennies.

    Gary Marshall

  6. Thanks, elmer. Your posts are always appreciated.

  7. Elmer, informative assessment, so thank you. Besides the Donetsk/Donbass and Crimea, I just don’t see Ukraine being willing to suspend its Westward movement to return to being robbed and controlled by Moscow. To my historian’s eye, these trends are deep-seated and almost impossible to reverse. I’d love to see Ukraine in the EU; among other things, it would make it easier for me to visit the Crimea, which I’ve still not been to.

    One question – why has Yanukovych (who even Kuchma used to call a ‘bandit from the Donetsk’) hung on so well following the OR? Is it just that he’s popular in the NE regions?

  8. Adrian, the “ratings” for the Party of Regions and Yanukovych have actually dropped.

    That said – good question. One answer that someone threw at me was that it’s the “sovok narcotic.”

    I think that it’s a combination of catering to the pro-Russian/sovok mindset, which assigns some sort of “superior” status to everything Russian – even though Yanukovych himself uses Ukrainian haltingly.

    Plus, you have to look at who controls jobs. Akhmetov, worth $31 billion, is a member of PoR, and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament – even though he never shows up. The other oligarchs who are in PoR control metal, coal and other industry located in the Donbass (Donetsk/Dnipropetrovsk) region where they are centered.

    Many coal mine explosions, and death, eroded some of the support. Loss of jobs will probably erode more.

    Here’s Yanukovych catering to Russia by sucking up to the newly elected rooshan orthodox wizard in Moscow, Kiril.

    In the article, picture included, he is quoted as telling the wizard that their task is a framework in which the government and the church would be equal partners in creating Good.

    The wizard expresses his thanks to God, and is extremely pleased with the activity of the Ukrainian delegation and the “unity” of all orthodoxy.

    This, of course, is blatantly political, using the church for political purposes, and is supposed to bring in all of those in Ukraine who are still under the Moscow patriarchate.

    And that’s one of the big problems in Russia, for example – they never went through the idea of separation of church and state. They went through DESTRUCTION of church, by the state, under Stalin and thereafter, but couldn’t quite accomplish it.

    So – largely they’re catering to the purported “superiority” of everything Russian, relying on control of jobs by oligarchs, and on a rooshan church.

    But the message is wearing thinner and thinner, as even their supporters begin to see those oligarchs for what they are, as people die in the mines, and as they lose jobs.

  9. Thank God I'm not Russian


    Yanukovych was actually a political non-entity after the Orange Revolution, his support around 10% and dwindling. He was then artificially resurrected by president Yushchenko as a counterbalance to Tymoshenko’s blackmailing in her bid to redistribute the power.

    Lack of any focus on the much needed reforms and the fierce backstabbing within the orange “team” are the only reasons for Yanukovych’s being a significant political figure today.

  10. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Pavel Korduban’s excellent analysis of the Party of Regions, which is having internal squabbles, and which he notes is essentially a business corporation driven by the interests of assorted oligarchs which do not always coincide.

    There seems to be the “gas group” and the “anti-gas group”

  11. Ladies and gentlemen, from Paul Goble, quoting Victor Chernomyrdin:

    Russia won’t be able to bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence:

  12. Thank God I'm not Russian


    it is true that the Party of Regions is essentially a commercial enterprise privately held by a bunch of oligarchs, but so are the other major parties. That is why they never got around to implementing any vital reforms and consequently Ukraine has the dubious distinction of being the only country in Europe whose economy has been hit worse than that of Russia.

  13. Thank God I’m not Russian,

    Ukraine’s “dubious distinction” is not the fault of Ukraine. While under Russian rule, they suffered more than the russians themselves. Even today, they are still heavily influenced, if not controlled by russia due to the gas lines that run through it.

    Russian soldiers guarded silos full of grain that the Ukranians filled, while three million people starved to death(in 1 year). If a russian ever tells you that Ukraine ripped them off, tell them that they need to learn how to read.

  14. That may be, Sean, but the fact remains that Yuschenko failed to deliver on his promises, and instead resuscitated the political career of Yanukonvict (with some help from a McCain advisor of all people!) Ever since it’s been one round after another of the kind of Parliamentary infighting that killed the Polish Commonwealth in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Russia, Europe, the US, or whoever wants to need merely buy the affections of one of the three factions in the Verkhovna Rada to reduce the whole building to political chaos.

    In the end that meant while the Ukrainian economy got better on a micro level (people opened more stores because they had a greater amount of hope), the steps needed to be taken on a macro level never materialized and Ukraine is now suffering because of it.

  15. Thank God I'm not Russian

    seanquixote ,

    while I agree that the abysmally low quality of Ukraine’s current political leadership is largely the result of genocide and negative selection under the Russian Horde, this does not change the fact, that this quality is, like I said, abysmally low. Pipelines have definitely nothing to do with this, they run through Germany as well.

    Orange Revolution could have become a beginning of national revival, but this enormous energy spike has been completely wasted by the corrupt and inept Yushchenko and Tymoshenko teams.

    The next leaders, should such appear, will find it ten times more difficult to overcome the inertia of disbelief and cynicism to effect any real change. And that only in the optimistic scenario under which Russia’s military intervention fails.

  16. scott and TGInR, the words hope and change have no tangible meaning. They are empty words that inspire dimwits to flock to a personality cult.

    If either of you believe that Russia does not have influence in Ukraine with an opposing party in power, you have never heard of the word subversion. You are either fellow travelers, or useful idiots(not my words).

    Condemning an idiology that never even took affect is ignorance. Reverting back to an idiology that enslaves Billions is sheer idiocy.

  17. My hope, one day the people that accuse me of being greedy will realize just how greedy they are.

    One day, the people that tell me I’m pushing my views on others, will realize that they are using the power of government to do that to me.

    One day, the people that tell me I’m inhumane, will see the inhumanity perpetrated in the name of the profit(pun intended) Marx.

    One day, the people that tell me I’m selfish, will see the long days that I worked to keep my family fed. They will realize just how selfish they are.


  18. Thank God I'm not Russian


    you seem to be pushing some personal issues here, which I’m frankly not interested in.

    Hope and change are the only vehicles that can bring a third-world country that Ukraine has become back to civilization. The difference between Russia and Ukraine is only that Ukraine’s democracy gives it some chances, albeit small, to develop now, whereas Russia will first have to go through total collapse again before the territories it now consists of have any such chance. Which does not at all preclude that Russia will pull some neighbors into the vortex as it goes down the drain.

    Russian influence in Ukraine is just another name for corruption, of which there is plenty in all the major political parties. And as long as this remains true, change is impossible and hope is groundless. That is my point. What is yours?

  19. TGInR, I believe our misunderstanding is out of your duplicitous use of these words.

    The words Hope and Change encourage people to sit on their asses and wait for some godlike figure to lift them out of their lazyboys.

    You seem to disagree with me in one paragraph, then you echo me in another. I Hope you understand my confusion.

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