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In spite of that, Russia is described in the press as though it were still the giant that in 1945 could justify its status as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council at the United Nations. The cover of the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, one of the world’s most august and influential publications on international relations, averred that Putin’s Russia was “down, but not out”. Seven of the 15 articles in that issue were devoted to discussing Russia’s geopolitical positioning. Would Foreign Affairs’s editorial priorities allow it to commit half an issue to the geopolitical positioning of Brazil and Indonesia, or even of the UK and France, nations which have at least as much economic clout as Russia? At a less sublime level, the Sun carried a story on September 7 which judged that, because of their military expenditure, “Russia and China could soon rival the US in terms of power and prestige”. The newspaper’s verdicts on major geopolitical questions may prompt chuckles rather than cause concern, but a trawl of many British newspapers in recent months would identify statements that are similar in drift and implication, although not so direct.

Why is there all this guff? The pathetic truth is that the media have started to worry about Russia, and to talk about it in such a hyperbolic and overstated way, since it embarked on military adventurism. The invasion of the Crimea in late February 2014 was both unexpected and delinquent. In the Atlantic Charter of 1941 the US and Britain agreed that they would renounce the use of force in their own territorial disputes; they would instead always seek authorisation from a newly-constituted future body, the United Nations, if such disputes arose. This notion — that force is unacceptable without UN endorsement — has been crucial to world order for over 70 years. But, when its stooge in Kiev was removed by democratic elections, Russia ignored the niceties and just walked in. Fighting between Ukraine and Novorussia (as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lohansk People’s Republic sometimes call themselves) is much reduced, but tensions persist. No one doubts that Russia continues to back Novorussia and will do so with more weapons, if provoked. Over and above that, in autumn 2015, Russia started to back President Assad in the Syrian civil war. It fired 26 cruise missiles in early October — the first time it had used these weapons — supposedly aimed at terrorist targets. These pyrotechnics surprised and impressed many defence pundits.

It is only because of the use of force in Ukraine and Syria that Russia is again being talked about as a great power. Paradoxically, the period since early 2014 has been catastrophic for the Russian economy. In the last two and a half years it has been hit by the slump in oil and gas prices, the collapse in the rouble, and extensive damage to its international trade and financial flows due to the sanctions imposed after the Crimea invasion. Whereas GDP in current prices and exchange rates was at an all-time peak of over $2,200 billion in 2013, it fell in 2014, and crashed in 2015 and early 2016. Indeed, the 2016 number could be even lower than in 2015, with the IMF projecting $1,267 billion, little more than 30 per cent of Germany’s figure on the same basis.

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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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