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Putting the Russian Bear in Perspective

Considering Russia’s economic problems, the country may not be able to sustain its aggressive international posturing indefinitely.

In recent months, much has been written about the dismal relations between the United States and Russia. The latter has carved up Ukraine and helped Bashar al-Assad to triumph in the Syrian civil war. More relevant to the United States was Russia's apparent attempt to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election by releasing thousands of hacked DNC emails (a charge that Russia denies). Whatever the case may be, Russia once again looms large in America's collective psyche and calls to get tough with America's old adversary abound.

It might be useful, therefore, to put the Russian bear in proper perspective. With some 5,000 nuclear warheads and close to 800,000 men under arms, Russia remains a potent adversary. But, as the Cold War showed, military might is, in the long run, dependent on economic performance. Considering Russia's economic problems, it is not a given that the country will be able to sustain its aggressive international posturing indefinitely.

After a long period of economic and social decline during the 1990s, Russia experienced something of a renaissance in the first decade of the 21st century. As its fortunes improved—driven, in large part, by global economic expansion and, consequently, hunger for Russia's natural resources—Russia re-engaged with the world in pursuit of national glory.

Following the outbreak of the Great Recession and subsequent slow-down in global growth, the price of natural resources, especially crude oil, hit the Russian economy very hard. Western sanctions that followed in the wake of Russia's misadventures in Georgia and Ukraine made matters worse. Today, Russia is once again in decline. The gap between the Russian and American economies that started to shrink during the last decade is widening again.

1. In terms of purchasing power parity, the Russian economy peaked in 2014 and has been shrinking since then. The United States, in contrast, is back in expansionary mode. (The situation is, presumably, even worse when comparing the two economies in terms of exchange rate. The ruble has much declined in value vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar in the last couple of years. Regrettably, I lack appropriate data for 2016.)

2. Income per capita tells a similar story, with Russian incomes falling from their peak in 2014.

3. Last, but not least, consider Russian life expectancy, which is an excellent measure of the overall health of the population and reflects the dismal state of Russian healthcare as well as very high rates of alcoholism.

None of this is to deny that Russia is capable of causing international mischief. Plainly, it can do so. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has become more belligerent abroad and more repressive at home. If its current economic and social problems continue, however, Russia may, once again, be forced to reduce its global ambitions. A "wait and see" approach by the United States may, therefore, be a wise approach to follow.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Despite what the graphs might suggest, Soviet Russia was rock bottom.

  • The Grinch||

    Maybe not trying to expand NATO up to the border of a nation that lost 30 million people in a war that some can still remember would help to reduce their belligerece and mischief.

  • Brochetta's magic (((pants)))||

    I'm currently arguing with people over Joey Porter's recent arrest. The argument is typical copsuckers/respect authority versus, you know, maybe you guys are pants-shitting pussies who overreact to dumb shit.

    Porter was arrested after the recent playoff game while drunk after arguing with a doorman. He apparently lunged/grabbed and picked doorman up momentarily before his friends pulled him away. Cop then started shoving him and separating them at which point Porter grabbed his wrists for some undisclosed amount of time. Porter let go and then backed away at which point the cop called for back-up and tried to arrest Porter. The rest went without incident.

    Now, Porter was likely behaving as a drunken ass, as alleged. But the cops proceeded to tack on every ridiculous charge that he could calling from aggravated assault and public intoxication to making 'terroristic threats' (dropped, and which presumably was about some past remark made to said doorman that he'd kill him).

    I dared to suggest that maybe...just maybe...this was and should have been treated as a no harm, no foul situation. As I believe it would have been all of 20 years ago.

  • WTF||

    20 or so years ago the cops would mostly try to de-escalate a situation like that. Now it's all "respect muh authoritah!" and escalation to violence.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    Porter has plenty of the same attitude.

  • Ted S.||

    He should have trashed a plane like the Giants instead.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    You are probably right, but speaking as a longtime fan and season ticket holder, I have no love for Joey Porter. He was, and still is, a loudmouth hothead. Trash talking to the point of getting himself suspended during a pre-game warm-up. Constantly running his mouth about 'respect', while doling out the most gutless cheap-shot I've ever seen on Todd Heap. The man is an embarrassment and I was surprised to see him on the coaching staff being that he was a Cowher guy. I hope this is the last time I have anything to say about him.

  • Ted S.||

    More gutless than Warren Sapp's hit on Chad Clifton?

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    I make no comparative claims.

  • Brochetta's magic (((pants)))||

    He gave him a shove. I think that's more than a tad melodramatic.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    I don't claim that is was devastating. Given the situation of that play, it was gutless.

  • Princess Trigger||

    Here is the most 'we-are-living-in-a-parallel-universe' paragraph this morning:

    Ukraine's Misanthropic Division, an extreme right group aligned with the Azov Battalion, an ultranationalist paramilitary group aligned with Kiev, was behind the recruitment drive, Mr Jardim, Brazil's foremost neo-Nazi hunter, alleged.
    Brazil neo-Nazi claim challenges myth of nation's racial harmony

  • Sevo||

    Paywalled.

  • pan fried wylie||

    apparent attempt to influence

    and "alleged" has become "apparent", tomorrow "obvious" or "blatant"?

  • Tejicano||

    The more they lie, the more you know it's true.

  • Jerryskids||

    Considering Russia's economic problems, it is not a given that the country will be able to sustain its aggressive international posturing indefinitely.

    Any other countries that might apply to? Any other country where it might be said that prosperity cures a lot of ills?

  • Jerryskids||

  • ||

    Never give up on Baltimore.

  • UnCivilServant||

    To be fair, there are a lot of people who'd react the same way if you took a bite out of their sandwich.

  • ||

    I hope that was one fucking awesome grilled cheese sandwich.

  • pan fried wylie||

    I've perfected the wonderbread grilled cheese.

    Melt butter in pan, swab up with outsides of bread. Assemble with cheese. Medium-low heat, 60secs per side, twice.

  • BearOdinson||

    I appreciate Cato's attempt, but frankly after looking at the data and the report, it is nothing more than GIGO.
    Examples:
    Freedom of Foreign Movement. Defined as freedom to leave the country. Are you telling me the US scores a 5 on the ability to leave the US?
    Freedom of Domestic Movement. Russia gets a ZERO. How is that?
    Freedom of Religion, Russia is given a 3.75, and Freedom to establish a religious org is 2.5. So new synagogues, non-Russian orthodox churches, Quakers, Mormons and others (like me) have that much difficulty in being allowed to set up? I find that very hard to believe.
    Interestingly, Size of Govt are almost equal for Russia and US, though the specifics are different.
    And how does the US have a 6.67 on Military Interference in the Legal System????
    And after all the stuff about Russia currency compared to the dollar, Russia scores an 8.95 on Sound Money, while the US is a 9.42. Not breathtakingly different.
    And how does Russia score a 5.62 on Labor Market regulations while the US is 9.2??? Are unions that powerful in Russia?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    tl; dr.

    Let's war.

  • GILMORE™||

    Over what?

    I think the piece could have skipped the graph-making and the throwing around weeny comparative data, and just addressed the question of "What reason for conflict is there"?

    The fact is that US and Russian interests are not actually all that directly competitive.

    Even if they have some mild expansionist ambitions, they're not in places where we have any significant interest. And the degree to which they actually threaten allies in Europe is actually better motivation for those allies to invest in their own defense rather than to demand US power serve as a permanent bulwark.

    I'd argue that there are probably more reasons for the US and Russia to simply set differences aside and learn to get along. In many ways blowing them out of proportion as our adversary simply serves their own political interests, allowing Putin to claim that he's vital to the preservation of the Russian state.

    The whole thing is stupid. They put up some scary headline #s, militarily, but they have the capability and readiness of a "lower-tier NATO state" (think, "Italy"). The war in Syria is probably at the limits of what they're capable of.

    This isn't the 1960s. I think the US would be better off ignoring the Russians and focusing on fixing our own domestic issues. which may be why democrats have decided to fixate on Russia at this point.

  • Conchfritters||

    Russian Bear.. Grrrr.... Somehow, I still find a way to sleep soundly at night. Call me crazy, but the US accusing the Russians of meddling in an election is rather strange, given that the CIA has meddled in elections in Iran, Guatemala, Hungary, Vietnam, Laos, Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Congo (Zaire), Brazil, Indonesia, Greece, Bolivia, Cambodia, Bolivia (again), Chile, Australia, Angola, Iran (again), Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, El Salvador (again), Iran (again), Honduras, Haiti (again), Panama, Haiti (again), Ukraine.... Wait, what were we talking about?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The problem with this basic premise is that, historically (or so I understand) the Russian bear has always been in financial trouble, and has traditionally sought to fix this by conquest. So, perhaps if countries made sense the premise would be true, but in practice I wouldn't bet on it.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The problem with this basic premise is that, historically (or so I understand) the Russian bear has always been in financial trouble, and has traditionally sought to fix this by conquest. So, perhaps if countries made sense the premise would be true, but in practice I wouldn't bet on it.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The problem with this basic premise is that, historically (or so I understand) the Russian bear has always been in financial trouble, and has traditionally sought to fix this by conquest. So, perhaps if countries made sense the premise would be true, but in practice I wouldn't bet on it.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    My profound apologies to the commentariat for the multiple post. Not sure why.

  • Anti_Govt_Rebel||

    After reading the first few paragraphs, i couldn't go on because this article's author so is woefully uninformed.
    To wit:
    Author:[Russia] has carved up Ukraine and helped Bashar al-Assad to triumph in the Syrian civil war.
    Me: Russia has not carved up Ukraine. Ukraine's govt has waged war on the the Eastern provinces which are mostly Russian, and Russia has provided aid to prevent a total massacre. The war in Syria is not a civil war. It is a war of conquest by the US and its use of al-Queda, al-Nusra, and ISIL proxies.

    Author: It is not a given that the country will be able to sustain its aggressive international posturing indefinitely.
    Me: What aggressive international posturing? It is the US that engages in "aggressive international posturing".

    Author: Russia's misadventures in Georgia and Ukraine made matters worse.
    Me: The short war in Georgia, which was orchestrated by the US with the intent of getting Georgia into NATO, was a response by Russia to the murders of the Russian peacekeepers that were in that area. Russia restored stability, then left.

    Author: Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has become more belligerent abroad
    Me: Where?

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