Archive for October, 2008

House of Cards?

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

This morning’s Washington Post contains an editorial by Murray Feshbach on the massive internal challenges that confront the Russian Federation as its leaders struggle to re-establish their country as a global superpower.

In “Behind the Bluster, Russia is Collapsing,” Feshbach points to the volatile economic situation facing the nation’s oil-dependent economy and the host of public-health crises (ranging from appalling levels of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS to the more mundane, but rampant, scourges of chronic alcoholism and heart disease) that continue to fuel Russia’s demographic decline.

Money graf:

Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia’s army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin’s military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia’s economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it’s facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.

Feshbach’s broader arguments are already well-known to Russian area specialists. As Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (and Research Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service) Dr. Feshbach has for many years been the leading voice regarding the calamitous state of Russian demographics. Readers unfamiliar with his opinions, should give them their due.

“A Letter to the Minister of Defense”

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Against the backdrop of the late summer invasion of Georgia, the announced annexation of South Ossetia, and the Russian state’s ongoing efforts to expand military and economic influence into South and Central America comes a minor event that offers a slightly different perspective on the degree of Russia’s military resurgence.

A few days back a young Lieutenant named Vitalii Efremov posted a homemade rap video to the Russian-language site RuTube decrying the sorry living conditions and poor pay endured by Russian soldiers — and the Ministry of Defense’s apparent indifference to their suffering. As the UK’s Times OnLine notes:

The lieutenant modelled his video on Stan by Eminem, in which the rapper sends a letter to a frustrated fan. The Russian letter is to Anatoly Serdyakov, the Defence Minister, and is set against a backdrop of military decay: a crowded barrack room with peeling wallpaper, a scabrous bathroom, erratic shower water and broken equipment.

Just as Stan complains that Eminem does not reply to his post, so the lieutenant’s e-mail moans about a lack of response from the Minister. The video said that no progress had been made on granting cheap credits to professional soldiers, such as Lieutenant Efremov, who want to buy their own home.

The Minister was not amused. Efremov has since been deployed to Siberia.