International Relations > Specific Countries
Despite the decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its block in 1989-1991, Russia managed to recover and partially restore its previous status and remains on the most important powers in the world.
The problems affecting it are many. In geographic terms, Russia is a country that has a very difficult access to the open sea (to the point that it may be considered virtually land-locked), and this hampers its economic growth and power-projection capabilities. While it possesses an immense territory, the core of its economic activity, its most important cities and the largest share of its population are located in its European part; while the eastern regions remain largely underdeveloped. It also suffers from an old or lacking infrastructure. Its demographic situation is problematic, as its population, while being pretty large with 144 million people, is gradually aging. While it is extremely rich in hydrocarbons, its economy is currently too heavily dependent on energy export revenues and efforts are yet to be made to diversify the economy; moreover, the Western-imposed sanctions in the wake of its annexation of Crimea in 2014 have made things even more difficult. As a result, its overall economic condition is not the best, and Russia is ranked only 12th in terms of nominal GDP. This translates in limited resources to modernize its military and pursue its interests on the global scene.
Still, Russia remains a power to be reckoned with. It remains one of the Permanent Members in the UN Security Council, and therefore enjoys veto powers. As a primary actor on the global energy market, it has the ability to use its resources as a geoeconomic tool to exert its power; especially towards Europe, which relies heavily on Russian hydrocarbons. Its influence is still strong in its periphery, notably in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Most importantly, its military (while still affected by several problems) is being modernized and represents a powerful fighting force equipped with technologically advanced weaponry. In particular, its powerful nuclear arsenal is paramount to ensure Russia's status as a great power.
Moreover, it has a significant potential. Much of the natural resources in Siberia are still underexploited. Many sectors of the economy could be expanded to make Russia more competitive and innovative. Climate warming, while being generally harmful for the planet, may have some beneficial effect on Russia: it may allow a growth of the agricultural output, and most importantly it could result in an easier access to the Arctic and consequently to the development of the Northern Route for maritime trade, something that could generate important revenues for the country. The Arctic, a region where Russia enjoys an easier access and a stronger (military) presence than other countries, is believed to hold vast natural resources, notably hydrocarbons; and its exploitation could benefit Russia.
Nevertheless, the current situation remains problematic for Russia. In particular, it is facing international isolation following the Ukrainian crisis and its intervention in Syria's civil war in support of Bashar al-Assad. Since then, relations with the West have reached a low-point and Russia has been accused of fostering instability, pursuing an expansionist policy, preparing military offensives, spreading fake news and even meddling in the US Presidential elections. This has pushed Russia to close its ties with other powers, notably China, and to support rival institutions (like the New Development Bank) in the context of the BRICS grouping. This resulted into renewed tensions, especially with the US and its NATO allies.
Still, much of this is the result of a failure by the West to understand and properly take into account Russia's mind frame and interests. To avoid a further mounting of tensions which may have terrible consequences, it is therefore necessary to comprehend and consider these aspects.
My knowledge on Russia comes from a mixture of personal interest and academic lectures.
This page hosts my reports on Russia, that appear below.
Sino-Russian Relations: Toward a Second Split?
Good Sino-Russian relations are often given for granted. While it is true that they are cooperating out of common anti-US interests, there are various issues that threaten the long-term tenure of their strategic partnership.
It will probably take decades for them to produce their effects, but this may lead to a second Sino-Russian split akin to the one occurred in the 60s. And like then, this may give America a golden opportunity for a grand strategy move: to align itself with Russia to counter the main competitor (China), in a reverse scenario of what the Nixon administration did in 1971-72 (opening to the PRC to press the USSR).
Full article here (only for Geopolitical Monitor subscribers).
Photo credit: Kremlin.ru, modified