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The Russia-is-a-great-power verbiage is plausible merely because a remarkably large number of commentators become agitated and overawed if any nation resorts to force. There seems to be a tacit (if very naive) assumption that if one country boasts about its weapons and activates them, and others do not, the active country is more assertive and hence more powerful, even if the other countries are not involved in conflict at all. Unfortunately, far too many journalists are swayed by military fireworks and glorify aggressors regardless of their actual strength, economic, diplomatic, military or whatever. (The same pattern was found in early 1991 ahead of the first Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm. Preposterous exaggerations of Iraq’s military capability appeared in the international media and arose, so it seems, simply because it had been a vicious bully to a small neighbour.)

Looked at objectively, Russian intervention in the Crimea and Ukraine has been a disaster for both Russia itself and the areas it has annexed or supported. As the Novorussian republics have no international recognition, their formerly close trade ties with the rest of Ukraine have not been replaced by other commercial links. Living standards have slumped, causing emigration — reportedly of as much as two million Russian-speaking people — to Russia itself. In the main Russian cities the influx has created a refugee problem, which coincides with the severe economic downturn and heavy job losses. The budgetary cost of the refugee population, as well as of expensive aid to Crimea and Novorussia, has come just as tax revenues from the energy sector are being squeezed.

Meanwhile Russia’s alignment with Assad in the Syrian conflict has resulted in barbarism, including the bombing of innocent women and children, which has infuriated world opinion. Again the sequel to its actions cannot, logically, be in Russia’s interests over coming decades. Aleppo may be flattened by Russian bombs and Assad may “win” in some sense. But the Alawites are less than 20 per cent of Syria’s population, while an Alawite-led Syria will always be neighboured by more powerful Sunni countries that are potential enemies (and also of course by Israel).

Nevertheless, Foreign Affairs commissions expert articles to speculate on Russia’s next move, and the Sun warns that Russia is about to overtake the US in power and prestige. This is bizarre. It seems that the more suicidal are Russia’s militarism and assertiveness, and the greater the damage that these do to its long-run prosperity, the more its fan club proclaims its immediate power, importance and success. In the case of Vladimir Putin, the gap between hype and reality has reached absurd levels. He is said to have a “strategy” which results from “deep thinking”, with Russia outsmarting the West. He is characterised as “wily”, “crafty” and “disciplined”, but above all as “a strongman”. Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for Putin was indeed one theme in his presidential campaign and, amazingly, it did not seem to do him much harm.

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Tom Burroughes
March 28th, 2017
2:03 PM
The article is fine as far as it goes but misses an important point: a country doesn't have to be rich to be a nuisance, or be aggressive. Indeed, countries that are running out of money and have domestic problems can use foreign adventures/wars to try and distract a discontented home population. Consider Argentina in 1982 (Falklands), as an example. It might also be worth reflecting that when Putin goes, or is overthrown, whoever takes over is probably going to be worse.

Lawrence James
March 16th, 2017
4:03 PM
What was Russia's economic position in 1853 when it invaded Turkish Romania, in 1876 when it attacked Turkey and in 1905 when it fought Japan.

March 6th, 2017
5:03 PM
Peter from Oz: then imagine how proud the Russians can be: they have a tenth of Chinese population, and their GDP is just 6- or 5-fold less than Chinese one... Indeed, Russian GDP per capita make Chinese look like beggars...

March 6th, 2017
4:03 PM
Are we seriously to believe that Russia, with a GDP around that of Mexico’s, can develop advanced missile defence systems comparable to Nato’s? - But it's NOT doing it. Russia is developing missiles and warheads with an increased capability of "dribbling" the possible US ABM defense, Faster and more "maneuverable" warhead, etc. It's logical, after all. Since to produce new missiles is more or less mandatory (and so, it's an expens eyou can't avoid, if you want to keep being credible as a nuclear power), better off invest on better missiles (and warheads), with a small increase on the price you have to pay anyway, than on an huge and madly costly "star shield". It's "asymmetric" answer, again...

March 6th, 2017
4:03 PM
Jonty Corfield, if Argentinian generals would have had the weapons and the men displayed by Russians in Syria (Kalibr, Raduga, Su35, Buratino thermobaric rocket throwers, speznaz, etc.), it would have been a very harder work for the soldiers from the Queen to retake the islands... Besides that, you keep dreaming Putin can be fool enough to attack baltic states and trigger art. 5. But why should he do it? He does not need it. If and when he would like to get Balts cry uncle, he has economic leverages strong enough to set aside brute force at all: embargo on baltic goods on the Russian markets (right now, Balts are one of the most damaged countries for Russian countersanctions), custom tariffs, change of destination of Russian freight ships (no more Balic ports)... Less choreographic than an armored brigde marching on Vilnius or Tallin or Riga, but, on the long run, it hurts where it takes... And no art. 5 at all...

Shoigu's Cat
March 6th, 2017
9:03 AM
FYI, nobody in Russia cares a fig about Britain. You are just not that interesting.

Peter from Oz
March 3rd, 2017
4:03 AM
It's great to see that Australia with 24 million people is fighting it out with Russia (population 144 million) for 12 place in world's biggest economies.

February 17th, 2017
3:02 PM
"But, when its stooge in Kiev was removed by democratic elections" LOOOOOOOOOOL British guys . Author do not respect you . He lies in so basic things .

January 14th, 2017
6:01 PM
If Trump and Putin can normalise relations then the people can prosper and islamist terrorism will be eliminated. Stalin was necessary in the alliance that eliminated Nazism. Brexit inspired the USA, France and Holland in the 21st century. It was like the Civil War without muskets , magnificent and a glorious victory. A red,white and blue Brexit is what we will get. And a pro-Israel one.

December 25th, 2016
5:12 PM
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Mangled diction and all. I have to say I found no comfort in knowing that Russians have a lousy standard of living. Or that Putin has no "strategy." Russia's advanced (and advancing, we are told) nuclear arsenal trumps (sorry!) the economic story. Putin may be less popular, but since when has that mattered to a tyrant who makes a habit of liquidating his opposition?

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