Sunday, December 11, 2016

Whither Russia

                  I don’t claim to know if Russia deliberately attempted to interfere in the recent U.S. election. As Winston Churchill famously observed, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russia’s national interest.” Of the latter there is no doubt. Yet, it appears that Russia did take- or sanction- actions that could be seen as benefitting Donald Trump. That is what confuses me as regards this issue. I highly doubt that a resurgent United States would be seen as in Russia’s national interest by those in the large halls and dark recesses of the Kremlin. “Making America Great Again” wouldn’t seem to be a priority for a nation trying to reassert itself around the globe, a nation that has- for eight consecutive years- been able to push around a weak and feckless American leader. A (Trump-induced) growing U.S. economy and military isn’t a result for which a logical person would believe the Russians would strive. So, what animus is really afoot here? I am beginning to formulate my own ideas. Let me know via your comments what you believe.

                Here’s what we do know of Russia:
                Russia is, physically, far and away the largest nation on earth. It is also one of the world’s chronic underachievers. At over 6.6 million square miles, it is approximately as large as the United States and Australia combined, and the U.S. is the fourth largest nation on the planet…and Australia is a continent.
                That said, how can we account for the fact that Russia’s economy is only the 12th largest in the world, while relatively tiny Japan’s is third? Russia has a GDP equating to $1.267 trillion dollars as compared to Japan’s $4.73 trillion. (The United States leads the world at $18.56 trillion). Yet Japan encompasses only around 146 thousand square miles. Another way to look at this is: Japan generates roughly $32.42 million dollars of output annually per square mile, whereas Russia produces just under 192 thousand dollars of output per square mile. By that admittedly obscure measure, Japan is nearly 169 times more productive than the giant Russian bear. What’s more, Russia’s economy is significantly smaller than Italy’s.
                Why is this?
                This sad state of affairs results from…a sad State of affairs. Controlled for ages by Czars and- worse yet- communists, Russia is now essentially run by a dictator and a few of his oligarch comrades. Russia’s government has therefore never allowed its people true freedom- and responsibility. Tragically, this has resulted in citizens too willing to follow their leaders and likely now unable to function effectively if that freedom were somehow granted to them.
                Of course, Russia’s leaders believe that reabsorbing countries formally under their control will be the answer, but that is akin to an obese man believing that everything will be okay if he just swallows a few more pizzas. Obviously, Japan, Italy, Hong Kong, etc., give the lie to that line of “reasoning.”
                The only viable way forward for Russia is the route it is least likely to take: gradual transition to a free and open society with free markets, freedom of speech and ideas, and an economy not driven by nepotism and oligarchs. Even if its citizens aren’t ready for the change, it is better than what they’ve got now.
                We’ve recently seen an “Arab Spring,” Brexit, a Trump victory, and the rise of populism around the Western world. There once was a “Prague Spring,” in 1968, during which the Czechs attempted to throw off Russian rule.  Look it up. The Czech Republic is an independent nation now, and has had the likes of the brilliant and brave Vaclav Havel as its leader.
                If Russia is to have a viable future, there must be a “Moscow Spring” in the near term. There are only two likely alternatives to this: either the country continues to flounder, or it becomes ever more aggressive, rogue and unstable. It may, figuratively and literally, go ballistic and risk causing a global thermonuclear war. One would hope it realizes that the latter option is unthinkable and intolerable, and that the former is not optimal or even feasible in the long term.
                So, whither Russia?

                We must make America great again before we find out.
                We know that a Moscow-based technology initiative, partially funded by the Russian government,  funneled tens of millions of dollars into the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was "serving" as Secretary of State. This bears all of the hallmarks of a "false-flag" operation. As Warren Zevon said, "How was I to know she was with the Russians too."

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