What Does Putin Want? Robert A. Levine
The answer seems simple. Putin has said several times that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century. As an old KGB officer, he would like to right what sees as this wrong and reconstitute Russia as a world power in the mold of the Soviet Union. Putin was angry when George H.W Bush said that the Soviet Union had lost the Cold War and was outraged when Obama declared that Russia was just a regional power.
Now Putin is trying to show the world that Russia is still a world power and that the United States and NATO cannot stop him from achieving his goals. He believes that Russia should have a sphere of influence that includes all the nations that surrounds it and that NATO troops should not be stationed in any of those countries, what Putin calls Russia’s ‘near abroad’. He also believes that Ukraine is part of mother Russia and does not want it to become a western democracy right on Russia’s doorstep.
However, while Putin has modernized Russia’s military to put it on a par with the U.S. and China, he does not have the industrial base or the economy to maintain his large army and fight wars. His economy is in the doldrums, the Russian people lacking many modern conveniences. His only exportable products are fossil fuels, oil and gas, which does give him a lever to use against European nations. But with the movement towards renewables, fossil fuels will only be of value to Russia for a few more years, or a decade at most. As energy from renewables goes up, fossil fuel exports will be going down.
Putin has not been preparing Russia for the day when fossil fuels will no longer bring in capital to Russia and will not be helpful as a bargaining point. He needs to diversify Russia’s economy and have high tech products that they can sell to other nations. And he has to stop spending so much of Russia’s funds on his military and subsidize other industries. He also has to tax the oligarchs who support him and distribute some of their wealth to the ordinary Russians. The quality of the average Russians life has to improve or there will be a breaking point in the future. People cannot live on the glory of military victories when they don’t have the conveniences of modern life. Social media and the internet allow them to see what the citizens of western nations have that they lack. And propaganda will just go so far.
Russia is a vast land and aside from fossil fuel, they have many different natural resources that have not yet been fully exploited. There is also plenty of land that can be utilized for agriculture. Putin should stop looking for military victories to sustain him in power and instead look inward to see how he could help Russians improve their quality of life. He should concentrate on new industries and welcome investors from other advanced countries to provide funds for Russia to achieve first world status in other realms besides military power. Of course, he would have to provide guarantees before wary westerners would consider investing. As a narcissistic dictator who does not brook opposition, it is questionable whether Putin would be willing to surrender military parity with the United States and put his money elsewhere in the Russian economy to generate consumer goods and high tech products.
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