How dangerous is Russia?

An analysis by Ilya Somin:

Let’s take the hard power first. The Soviet Union was able to pose a serious military challenge to the US by pouring vast resources into its military – as much as 40 or 50 percent of GDP, according to some estimates. Today Russian military spending is a tiny fraction of America’s (about 10%). Even if it wanted to, Putin’s regime lacks the power to impose the kinds of draconian sacrifices on its people that it would need in order to rebuild its military power to Soviet-era levels. The poor performance of Russia’s military in conflicts with weak adversaries such as Georgia and the Chechen rebels suggests that its forces have deteriorated in quality as well as quantity.

Russia’s “soft power” deficit is even more glaring than its relative lack of military power. Unlike Communism, which at its height appealed to intellectuals and others all over the world, the ideology of Russian nationalism has little if any appeal to anyone who isn’t Russian. Indeed, most of Russia’s neighbors find it offensive and threatening, which is why they are now uniting behind Georgia and drawing closer to the West. States such as the Ukraine, Poland, and the three Baltic countries are no match for Russia individually; but they can certainly hope to counter it collectively – especially given the poor state of the Russian armed forces. The more nationalistic and aggressive Russia becomes, the more its neighbors – most of whom have powerful historical memories of brutal Russian imperialism – are likely to unite against it. . .

Finally, it is far from clear that Russia will continue on the course set by Putin. If oil prices decline and Putin’s military adventures meet with setbacks, the political pendulum could swing back in favor of more liberal forces.

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