Huge power Russia had in the past, was created by two important factors.
First, Russia managed to get the hand of the technological breakthrough of the Western world much earlier than its Southern and Eastern neighbors. As a result, Russia could spread its influence to the South and the East and encountered little resistance.
Secondly, Russia’s advance was caused by the Communist ideology which created allies and volunteer assistants for Russia throughout the globe.
After the collapse of the USSR – the last European empire, the Communist state with Russia in its center, Russia stepped into the epoch when its power in the world reduced greatly, and can reduce even more in future.
Between two giants
Russia’s weakening will continue even if we develop our economy much to keep up with the most advanced countries. Our weakness will be caused by the increasing power of the other countries.
Western civilization’s spreading inevitably weakens Western countries. This applies not only to Russia. One can hardly imagine today that in the past tiny Netherlands took over Indonesia, and a bunch of British conquered India. Russia’s Eastern and Western neighbors could not be taken into account 100 years ago as powerful countries, but now they are becoming powerful nations. China is already stronger than Russia, but for long-term perspective, its balance of power to Russia will be equal to the ratio between the population of China to Russia – 1:10. We will hardly be able to confront the Eastern giant should military conflict occur. There is not much probability of such a conflict, but still, it can happen. China is to go through the Communist regime collapse, and such periods cause outbursts of aggression.
Another giant is growing in the West – expanding and developing Europe. In case of economic success Russia can become stronger than any European country, but it cannot surpass the united Europe. Even if we achieve the average European level of development, Russia will still be several times weaker than the European Union whose population is 3 times bigger than in Russia. We lag behind the military power of NATO as well.
Meanwhile, NATO and EU will continue expanding whether Europeans like it or not. Nobody is eager to accept Turkey in the EU, but Turkey did much to correspond with the EU requirements and was begging Europeans so long that now they are not in the position to reject it from the EU. After Moldova and Ukraine keep up with the EU requirements, nobody will dare to reject them either.
Russia’s position among the two giants is not comfortable and poses danger. The interests of country – buffer zone between the stable Europe and abrupt Moslem South can be easily sacrificed. Uniting Europe creates bad consequences for Russia. The European countries are uniting to speed up their development by destroying the barriers between them, but making bigger the barrier separating them all from the other world. Uniting should contribute to development while being outside this process results in lagging behind. The role of supplier of energy resources is added to the role of the buffer. The only way to avoid this situation is fitting in the Western community (we cannot fit in China). We will lose big part of our sovereignty after this, but will gain more security, better perspectives for development and voice in the process of solving the common problems.
There are some obstacles to our moving Eastward. We do not desire this much and live by the images of the past – Russia as “the center of power”. It will take 20 more years to change the policy.
The West has no intention to accept Russia at all. Russia’s role as resources supplier is OK with the Western countries. Russia’s domestic problems are so complicated that nobody wants to accept the burden of integrating Russia in global economy.
Sometimes knocking at closed doors is beneficial
For the West, it is even beneficial to support the ideas of the “special way for Russia” and that Russia does not want and does not need to join the EU. Again, in 20 years, after all the new members of the EU fit in, and Russia’s population decrease, while people’s outlook become more European-like, the task of Russia’ integrating into the EU will be less complicated. Then the question “What to do about Russia?” will be solved politically. Europe will not close doors in front of Russia as it opened the doors for Turkey.
The main Russia’s problem is its big difference from Europe, while only the institution similar to the EU can join it. The country where the authority is inherited and the President has no alternative, where opposition is scarce, and legislative power is not independent from the state, cannot be accepted by a different system.
However, Russian society is developing towards democracy, in 20 years it will not feel comfortable under the current political system.
Russia as a democratic European country and part of the EU looks like Utopia today. However, this is not so huge Utopia as the idea of the collapse of the USSR and the world Communist system was in 1970.
Professor, Doctor of History,
R&D Director, Institute of Europe of Russian Academy of Science