A Geopolitical Nightmare: No Happy Endings If Russia Melts Down

 

“What happened in Crimea was a terrible thing. What happened in Ukraine was a tragedy. What is happening in Russia now is a threat to the global order.”

As the ruble plummets, there is a degree of satisfaction and even relish in the West at the sight of Russia’s difficulties. The balloon of Putin’s strategic genius is rapidly deflating in the face of harsh economic realities: now the Russians will be put in their place.

Today’s Russia is not the Soviet behemoth, comparatively disconnected from the world economy. Nor is it the struggling reform economy of the 1990s. It is the world’s eighth largest economy, well integrated into the global marketplace. If Russia goes into a prolonged recession, it is not just Russia itself that bears the consequences—it will be the rest of the world as well. First in line is the European Union, whose member states—some barely emerging from recession—have extensive trade links with Russia.

Ukraine’s economic fiasco has already put Europe under stress. Russia’s collapse will make Ukraine’s problems seem insignificant. In our days of global risks and mutual interconnectedness, “losing” Russia is like shooting yourself in the foot. Or in the head.

But it’s not the economic nightmare that we should be most concerned about: it’s the political consequences that follow from it. It is almost taken for granted in the West that the current crisis will lead to Putin’s demise, perhaps by means of a coup that could land someone more acceptable in the job: someone like the former finance minister Aleksei Kudrin or the ousted premier Mikhail Kasyanov or even, if we are lucky, the liberal darling Boris Nemtsov, the formerly jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or the anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalnyi.

Let’s not engage in idle dreams: whatever comes after Putin most likely will be worse than him, and much more like the xenophobic nationalists of the kind that have claimed power in eastern Ukraine. Just as the crisis of 1998 led to Putin’s spectacular rise (as the Russians welcomed “tough” measures to bring back stability), so the current economic crisis is likely to bring forth a new “Putin” who will seek to impose domestic order through draconian repressions and possibly external military adventures.

Keeping in mind that Russia, far from being just a petrol station as many unkindly assume, actually maintains one of the strongest militaries in the world, and owns (one has to be reminded of this from time after time) a big share of the global nuclear stockpile, the risk of a political chaos or a coup d’état with the likely emergence of something quite a bit worse than Putin, is one the international community should not take lightly.

Full article: A Geopolitical Nightmare: No Happy Endings If Russia Melts Down (The National Interest)

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