Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ukraine Moving Forward: Challenges and Opportunities under the Shadow of the Russian Bear

Not since the days following the collapse of the Soviet Union has the question of Ukraine, as an independent, sovereign state loomed so large.  After more than two decades much of the world, Ukrainians included, accepted the idea that Ukraine was here to stay.  Vladimir Putin as the embodiment of Russia, with the help of the inept Viktor Yanukovych and the success of the Ukrainian opposition, has turned the world upside down for Ukraine.  A string of other corrupt and ineffective leaders and an ever-faltering economy in Ukraine have contributed to the current set of issues and events.

People's Friendship Arch - Kiev

With the threat of Russian invasion and annexation, the Ukrainian government and people face a set of challenges and obstacles that seem to be approaching like an unstoppable mudslide.  In order to determine what they can do to protect and retain their independence and sovereignty, Ukrainians must first understand these challenges and then address them directly.  Failure to understand these challenges and threats will further exacerbate the current situation. 

Challenges and Threats
What are the challenges Ukraine faces?  What is threatening its ability to retain independence and sovereignty?

Unstable economy and massive public debt.  The inability of Ukraine to pick up and move forward on its own has made it dependent on outside sources for assistance.  Without significant assistance, the Ukrainian government is unable to meet its obligations both at home and abroad.  In order to keep both the government and economy afloat, Ukraine must turn to Russia or Europe for help.  This reality remains even after the opposition’s successful overthrow of the previously elected government.

Untested government.  The current government in Kiev is untested.  New leaders are struggling to understand and address the current situation.  Matters are made worse because a significant portion of citizens in the east do not consider the government legitimate.

Vladimir Putin, Russia, and History.  Vladimir Putin is not comfortable with an independent, sovereign Ukraine that is firmly set in the European sphere.  National interests and history push Russia to see Ukraine at best as a part of the greater Russian empire and at worst as a vassal state to be used as a buffer.  Equally threatening to Russia, and particularly to the presidency of Vladimir Putin, are the threats of foreign military forces based out of Ukraine and liberal democratic ideals spreading from Ukraine into Russia.  In actuality, the spread of an uncontrollable political ideology probably is perceived as the greater threat.

With the failure of Yanukovych to retain power and keep Ukraine out of the European sphere, Putin felt obliged to make good on insinuated and open threats that were delivered previously.  The invasion of Georgia in 2008 was staged primarily as a message to the West and to Ukraine regarding the proper role of Russia in the region.  In an effort to weaken Ukraine, increase Russian influence, and likely to annex all or much of Ukraine, Russia and Putin are using the following methods:

-       Ethnic and national divisions.  Manipulating ethnic divisions in the country, Russia is using propaganda effectively to further the split between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, particularly in eastern Ukraine.  The smooth annexation of Crimea has emboldened pro-Russian forces in areas where ethnic Russians are the clear majority.  Russia is using the media to paint the new Ukrainian government as clearly illegitimate and as a threat to ethnic Russians.  It is likely that Russia is issuing to passports to ethnic Russians in parts of Ukraine.
-       Special forces and spy assets.  In conjunction with their propaganda efforts it seems overwhelmingly likely that Russia as infiltrated the Ukrainian military and government with people loyal to Russia.  Additionally, proof is building, and previous tactics suggest, that Russia has placed Special Forces directly into Ukraine to help build up the unrest and increase ethnic divisions.
-       Energy and financial dependency.  Russia is poised to use Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy resources and its indebtedness to Russia as a weapon to weaken the Ukrainian government further.  Higher energy prices or a lack of energy resources will be used in attempt to decrease the resolve of the Ukrainian people and to increase their dissatisfaction with the Ukrainian government.  Any threat of disruption of supplies to Europe by Ukrainian nationals will be seen by Russia as a legitimate reason for Russian invasion.
-       Threat of direct invasion.  Russian forces remain massed on the Russia-Ukraine border.  This threat impacts discussions and decisions among all stakeholders.  It emboldens pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and impacts the willingness of the Ukrainian government to maintain law and order where their authority is challenged.  In a set piece battle it is unlikely that the Ukrainian military would be able to hold off the Russians for very long.
-       Russia’s threat perception.  Russian leaders tend to view the encroachment of NATO and the EU as a military, economic, and political threats.  The absence of buffer states and decreasing influence do not sit well with Putin and others.  Ukraine’s shift westward and European interest in Ukraine is seen as an immediate and near threat.  Allaying this perception will be difficult.

Increasing unrest and violence, much of it instigated by Russia and some of it now beyond their ability to stop or to control, potentially will be used by Russia as a reason for invasion.  They will be able to claim, as they did in Georgia, that the government or local Ukrainian nationals threaten Russian citizens.  Additionally, they can claim they are seeking only to establish peace and protect all parties, using arguments similar to those used by NATO to go bomb Serbia and to go into Kosovo and those used by the US to go into Iraq.

Reticence of the West.  The EU and US are hesitant to provide meaningful military aid to Ukraine.  Such hesitancy likely is due to the fear of escalating tensions and worsening relations with Russia and because of a lack of support among their domestic citizenry.  European and American voters will not support direct or indirect military support or aid for Ukraine at this point.  Sufficient financial aid from the West also will be slow in coming.  There is little desire to pour money into an uncertain situation where government and business leaders have a poor record of using such funds.  Money from the West likely will have a different set of strings attached to it than the money did from Russia, but it will come with a set of strings.

European strings.  Closer association with Europe comes with its own set of challenges.  Money from Europe, as mentioned above, will come with a set of requirements for austerity measures that will be hard for the citizens to swallow.  Additionally industry and manufacturing enterprises in Ukraine, specifically the eastern part, will struggle to compete with similar enterprises in Europe. 

Fair and open elections.  Ukraine will struggle to conduct national and local elections that are considered fair and open by all competing parties.  Some of the parties, on both sides of the major issues, will work to control the outcome of any election.  Russia will do its best to export its form of “managed democracy” into different areas of Ukraine.

Zero Sum Game.  Too many significant stakeholders are playing a zero sum game that allows no room for compromise.  These include many ethnic Russians, right wing Ukrainians, and Russian provocateurs.  Without significant compromise by all parties, the situation is untenable without the use of force on a large scale.

Threat of civil and partisan warfare.  All of these factors lead to the threat, before or after invasion or annexation by Russia, of prolonged and bloody partisan warfare.  Such violence would tear Ukraine apart and destroy any hope of an independent Ukraine based on its current geographic and ethnic lines.

Options and Opportunities
In the face of these challenges and threats, what can Ukraine do to maintain and defend its independence?  Below is a list of options and opportunities:

Give up the East.  Ukraine could simply divulge itself of the eastern provinces.  Allow a straight up and down referendum to allow the local citizens to vote on whether or not they wish to remain a part of Ukraine.  This would put them ahead of Russia and throw them off their game, forcing them to accept the results immediately instead of at a time and way of their choosing.  Ukraine would have to draw a firm geographic line that could not be crossed by Russia and hope that Russia honored that line. 

This option, however, comes with significant costs.  Loss of these provinces would leave a significant number of ethnic Ukrainians in areas no longer controlled by Ukraine.  It likely would result in a mass exodus and refugee problem that would be difficult for the economically strapped western Ukraine to absorb.  It may lead to increased civil strife between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in the east and it may embolden ethnic Russians elsewhere.  Ukraine would also lose the economic contributions of East’s industrial base, ripping out the foundation of an already struggling economy.

Clear communications.  The Ukrainian government must find its voice.  It must communicate its intentions clearly and loudly to its own citizens of all ethnicities, to Russia, and to the West.  Messaging should be focused on the inclusiveness of the body politic of all ethnicities and competing political goals.  Clear goals should be set to establish the rule of law, fair and open elections, and a sound economic plan.  The benefits of such plans must be communicated to each segment of society.  An open invitation to participate should be issued to all.

Commitment to rule of law and democracy.  Ukraine can’t simply indicate an intention to rule of law and democracy.  It must outline a plan for bringing about real changes and begin to implement those changes.  A halfway approach such as has happened in the past is insufficient.  Corrupt politicians and business leaders need to be brought down.  Every effort must be made to allow all citizens to vote in free and open elections.  Institutional attempts to control outcomes cannot be allowed.

Commitment to economic reform and necessary austerity measures.  The economic stagnation of the past must be turned around.  A solid plan that addresses government corruption, energy dependence and other issues must be formulated.  Personal wishes of wealthy oligarchs cannot be allowed to supersede national needs for reform. 

Dependence on Russian energy resources must be addressed.  Other alternatives are extremely limited.  The best must be made of the current situation until other sources become available and affordable.

Accept Russia openly as a neighbor and partner.  Russia has true strategic interests in maintaining relations and influence in Ukraine.  Unfortunately, Vladimir Putin has resorted to physical force and intimidation to gain influence and control when other methods don’t work to their satisfaction.  Ukraine must show that both countries can work together on areas of mutual interest.  Ukraine must also show that they will not present a physical threat to Russia.  Based on historical ties between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian ties to Europe could benefit Russia’s economy if handled correctly.

Clear communications.  Again, communication is key.  If Ukraine endeavors to tackle their challenges and threats using the concepts listed above, they must communicate their plans, progress, and setbacks clearly to its own citizens, to Russia, and to the West.  Russia must know that Ukraine will work with them for common goals.  The West, the EU in particular, must know that Ukraine will establish rule of law and free and open elections in order to justify billions of dollars/euros in aid.

Today it seems that Russia is intent on annexing all or some of Ukraine.  It remains unclear if the current government in Ukraine can stop them if they press forward.  Perhaps upcoming elections will bring a balanced result that will placate Russia for now.  Any results that will placate Russia, however, are likely to be seen as illegitimate by many Ukrainians.  Clean and clear options are not open and available to Ukraine.  Complex and costly ones are what remain.  Without a firm commitment to change Ukraine likely will fall back, all or in part, into the sphere of Russian control and influence.  Once again, as it was after the end of World War II, such a scenario would bring with it partisan warfare and unspeakable acts of violence. 

Ukraine cannot rely on the West to save it.  It must step up itself and make significant changes as best as it can in trying circumstances.  

Other posts on Ukraine and Russia:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ukraine and the Cost of National Dependency

Dependency results in loss of control and abdication of responsibility.  Dependency occurs at the national as well as the individual level.  Ukraine has been in the throes of dependency for decades.  As a state Ukraine has failed to obtain any sufficient economic and financial independence.  Today this dependence is resulting in a possibly catastrophic threat to their newfound sovereignty.  As long as the economy was held afloat by the “goodwill” of outsiders, primarily Russia, Ukrainians felt no overwhelming sense of urgency to make meaningful changes to their government. 

This dependency on Russia naturally put Ukraine in a position of weakness.  Russia has maintained the upper hand in its relationship with Ukraine by providing energy resources at a discounted rate, postponing the payment of debt, and other forms of aid.  All of this help from Russia has done little to make the Ukrainian economy stable or the government solvent.  

It is interesting to note that Russia was stuck briefly in this same cycle of dependency following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Accepting the consequences of a large-scale default on national debt and massive currency devaluation in 1998, Russia began to reassert its financial and political independence.  Today Russia is largely independent financially from the West.

Without a strong government committed to the rule of law, Ukraine has had little chance to gain economic, financial, and political independence.  Extended dependence on Russia, as well as other historical and cultural factors, has created a deep-seated sense of disdain for the relationship.  Ukrainians have tired of what is perceived as overbearing Russian influence. Ukrainian citizens, fearing a fall back into the full grasp of Russia, desire and are pushing for a closer relationship with Europe.  The hope was that the EU could pull Ukraine out of the muck and help form it into a true liberal democracy with a market economy.

The changes required by any type of meaningful relationship with the EU, however, will require significant changes—changes that, if carried out, will prove painful and perhaps unacceptable to many in Ukraine.

A meaningful relationship with the European Union will mean significant changes for the Ukrainian state—changes that will prove painful and perhaps unacceptable to some.  The EU will require the institution of the rule of law to a degree that many elected and other government officials in Ukraine, those who rely on institutionalized corruption and fixed elections in order to enrich themselves and their families, may balk at giving up the perks of office.  It is likely that this is one reason that Yanukovych was unwilling to go through with an agreement with the EU.  Russia would have allowed, even encouraged, continued corruption and controlled elections.

Conceivably more onerous would be the requirement for Ukraine to get its fiscal and economic house in order.  Requirements by the EU would include austerity measures—measures likely to create pain and suffering for a significant portion of the population as government welfare programs are reduced and brought into control.  Financial aid from Russia would allow the status quo to continue—an economy and government propped up in exchange for a degree of control and influence.

Today Ukraine is in no condition to be independent.  Whether it’s Russia or the West, Ukraine must rely on someone else to help them economically and financially.  This dependence requires that they turn some degree of their sovereignty over to others.  That is the nature of dependence.  Those giving the necessary support do so with some expectation that their wishes will be met.  Failure to meet their expectations may result in a withdrawal of the necessary aid.

The question isn’t what dependence on Russia means for Ukraine.  Rather, the question is: what will dependence on the EU and the US mean for Ukraine?  Initially, this dependence will be painful for the powerful and the not so powerful.  It will require a firm commitment.    Will the Ukrainians be able to bear the perceived hubris of the EU and the US?  Will the pain and sorrow be worth the ultimate goal of rule of law, free and open elections, and a working market economy? 

Russia will seek to keep Ukraine as dependent as possible.  The US and the EU will push Ukraine to seek greater independence and greater responsibility for their own welfare—but still within the limits of their association agreements.

Honestly, at this point, it is unlikely that the majority of Ukrainians who are pro-Europe understand the costs of aligning themselves with the EU.  Long term it is most assuredly a better option than remaining completely under the Russian umbrella, but once headed down that road it might not seem so welcoming.  Moving forward Ukrainians should come to realize and accept a close relationship with Russia.  There are shared interests, shared history, and shared opportunities that can be used to the advantage of both nations.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thoughts on Bundy Ranch: The Errors of Both Parties

Events in southeastern Nevada have shown how wrong both sides can be in a disagreement. 

First we are a county of law and order.  The rule of law allows us to get along as a civilized society.  For the greater good, laws should be enforced and followed.  At the same time, however, laws should reflect as best as possible the will of the people and protect the interest of the people.

Federal control of large areas of territory within sovereign states has the potential to cause a number of problems.  Laws and administration of the land is not based primarily on the desires or interests of the local population.  Think back to the British administration of the American colonies.  Laws and policies formulated by those seemingly a world away naturally generated dissatisfaction and resentment among the colonists.

We are seeing this play out on the Bundy Ranch today.  Cliven Bundy, his family, and his supporters resent the intrusion of the federal government into the cattle business.  For more than a century cattle ranchers managed to prosper in the area without the federal government.  With the transition to federal control of the property and the introduction of increasingly onerous regulations, the cattle industry in the area has vanished.

Without any proof at hand, my guess is that most local citizens, if not most Nevadans, would support the interests of the Bundy family and other cattle ranchers.

Second, the Bundy family has handled the situation poorly in terms of threats they’ve made against the federal government.  In the face of such threats federal authorities have little choice but to take it seriously.  Whether or not the laws are wise or the move to confiscate cattle well considered, once they made the decision to move in they were forced to move in with force sufficient to protect their agents and their contractors.

Moving forward, the citizens in the West and elsewhere should take note of federal laws and actions, particularly as it touches the administration of federal lands.  While there are some rational reasons for the federal government to have control of some pieces of territory in individual states, control of broad swaths of land will not protect the interest of the local population.  Rather it has the potential to generate significant resentment through the loss of local control.

Significant legal steps should be taken to remedy the situation insofar as it is possible.  Federal control of lands in the West should be reduced to those areas that directly impact the role of the federal government such as national security.  Control of land just for the sake of controlling it and protecting it should not fall to the federal government.  Creation of federally protected areas and any future national parks should be subject to the approval of the local state through a statewide referendum.

The current situation on the Bundy Ranch is unnecessary.  While legal in the technical sense, perhaps, it represents a significant overreach of federal authority as originally envisioned by the U.S. Constitution and Founding Fathers.  Federal authorities and members of U.S. Congress should rethink their entire role in the area.  The federal government should be required to make a case to the people of Nevada to justify federal control of those lands.

The Bundy family should back down their rhetoric and stop any and all threats.  Civil disobedience may help to bring the level of attention necessary to make real changes in the current situation.  It may, however, be too late for the Bundy Ranch.—another casualty of an overreaching federal government.  Rather than blame the federal government, the people of Nevada and the United States should blame themselves for allowing the servant to take control of the master.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ukraine: The Delayed Civil War?

**Check comments at the bottom for updates.***

As the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties, the world held their breath, waiting for the bloody civil wars that seemed sure to occur.  It seemed inconceivable that the Soviet/Russian Empire would collapse without a struggle.  The expectation was that Russia would be unwilling to let certain pieces go.  Stalin and successive Soviet leaders had made the possibility of peaceful dissolution difficult by planting ethnic Russians through out the Soviet Union.

Lviv, Ukraine

For the most part, however, the transition away from the Soviet Union and communism was not bloody.  This relatively smooth transition was made possible in large part to two factors:

-       Russia’s new leaders were too focused on obtaining and maintaining power at home in the face of economic and political crises

-       The new leaders in the former Soviet republics were the old leaders who had thrown off the worn and torn cloak of communism and donned the bright new coat of capitalism and democracy.

Outside of the Baltic states, the majority of former Soviet republics have struggled with implementing the rule of law, democracy, and a truly fair market system. 

Ukraine was of particular concern as the Soviet Union collapses.  The battle for national identity, separate from that of the Russians, is a long existing debate with many on both sides of the borders split in their opinions.  The problems of national identity in Ukraine are exacerbated by history, geography, ethnicity, politics, and ideology.

Ukrainians and Russians share origins.  The Kievan Rus’ state was dismantled and fragmented by the invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century.  Political and ethnic histories diverged between the Ukrainians and Russians from that point, but remained closely linked based through the eventual expansion of the Russian Empire. 

For a brief period following World War I and the fall of the Romanov Empire, an independent and sovereign Ukraine existed.  Ukraine with its present boundaries became part of the Soviet Union.  Stalin’s industrial, agricultural, and ethnic policies wreaked havoc upon the Ukrainian people.  During the early 1930s a combination of state decisions and natural factors created a famine, known as the Holodomor.  Somewhere between three million to twelve million Ukrainian peasants were killed as a result.

During World War II, Ukrainian loyalties were split.  Some Ukrainians viewed the Nazis as liberators from the Soviet Union.  They failed to understand Hitler’s goal to obtain and use the resources of Ukraine while gaining additional living room for ethnic Germans. 

Following World War II some partisan groups, particularly in western Ukraine, continued to fight against Soviet forces.  It is important to note that some Ukrainian national groups joined the Nazis in committing atrocities and acts of genocide against ethnic Poles and others.  Ukrainians were no longer perceived as trustworthy by Stalin.  The Ukrainian Liberation Army and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army had fought alongside the Nazis.  Also, they had been under foreign occupation which automatically made them suspect in the eyes of Stalin.  Forced deportation of tens of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians occurred with the intent of weakening nationalist sentiments and establishing the authority of the Soviet Union.  Stalin also sent ethnic Russians into Ukraine to live and help in administering the government and industry.

Following the death of Stalin, Nikita Krushchev sought to bring about better relations between Russians and Ukrainians.  He went so far as to give the territory of Crimea, traditionally seen as a Russian possession, to the Ukrainian Republic.

Since early in their history, there has existed a natural divide between the Ukrainian people.  The split generally occurs along the length of the Dniper River.  Those in western Ukraine have had multi-ethnic experience, belonging to multiple states.  Ukrainians in the east have identified more closely with their Russian cousins.  This relationship in the east is made easier by the presence of a greater density of ethnic Russians.

Lykhachevo Cemetery - Lviv, Ukraine

Returning to the collapse of the Soviet Union—it seemed unlikely that Russia would simply let Ukraine go without a struggle.  Defying expectations, Russia did let it go.  Successive leaders in Ukraine have sought to maintain sovereignty while balancing the national security needs and historical expectations of Russia.  Over the past twenty-five plus years, a strong undercurrent of competing interests between the two states has shaped policy and attitudes. 

Russia, recovering from it’s near complete collapses in 1991 and again in 1998 is seeking actively to regain its footing.  Using energy pricing and supplies as well as other forms of financial aid, Russia has sought to increase its influence in Ukraine.  These efforts suffered a steep setback with the Orange Revolution in 1994.  At the time, however, Russia was unable to do anything meaningful to bring about immediate change.  The failure of Ukraine’s duly elected leaders, Yushchencko and Timoshenko, to bring about real improvements in the rule of law, to avoid corruption, and to set the economy on stable footing, resulted in the election of a politician with closer ties to Russia.

All of the concerns and causes of disagreement and disaffection between Russians and Ukrainians and between western Ukrainians and eastern Ukrainians, long kept under wraps, has bubbled to the surface.  With the Russian annexation of Crimea and calls for referendums in eastern Ukrainian cities, the civil war that originally was avoided, may occur in the coming weeks and months.

If Russia truly plans to seize more of Ukraine, it will lead to civil war.  Russia may even view the outbreak of civil war in its favor, giving it a reason to send in their military to consolidate control of eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians.  Once eastern Ukraine is secure, Russia may justify moving into western Ukraine to protect itself from the spread of violence and unrest.

The new government in Ukraine seems ill equipped to handle the current situation.  They are, however, treading very carefully.  Few options to stop Russia remain.  There is little NATO, the EU, the US, or Ukraine can do to stop Russia if they decide to annex part or all of Ukraine.

At this point it appears that Russia is preparing to do just that.  The only other option is that they are putting the threat of further annexation on the table in order to gain greater concessions from the Ukrainian people and the West.  Any concessions they gain, however, will be obtained while they have their boot on the Ukrainian throat with the knowledge that the country is theirs for the taking, at least for the foreseeable future.

Please see my other posts about events in Ukraine:

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Marvelous Work: A New Blog Venture

I am transitioning to using multiple blogs for my different topics and themes.  As the first step, I'd like to introduce my new blog titled:

A Marvelous Work

This will focus on gospel topics and be a bit more personal in nature.  Please feel free to follow this blog and share your thoughts in the comments.

Here is the first post for the new blog:

The Love of the Father and the Son: April Conference 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Imperial Lessons: Russian and British Experiences

Russia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, underwent a complex transition as a nation.  As the inheritor of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union was one of the last great empires to fall.  Other nations have been forced to deal with the loss of empires, empires that largely defined those nations—the British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, and others.  Each of those has gone from positions of dominance across the globe to regional powers at best.

Under the dynamic and forceful leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is struggling with the concept of lost empire and influence.  The Russian/Soviet Empire was able to hold on for a bit longer than the others for some reason, even expanding when most were collapsing or had collapsed.   Perhaps the reason why it lasted so long, and the reason why it has been so difficult to let go, is because the empire was located in the near abroad rather than being strung out across the globe. 

Empires may be considered worth maintaining for a number of reasons.  Two of the most important are national and economic security.  Over the past few centuries, however, Russia missed out on the most important developments and lessons associated with an empire.  These developments directly impact national and economic security.

The impact of an imperial past, when comparing Russia to the Great Britain, is largely affected by geography.  Great Britain is an island nation with limited natural resources.  Development and control of natural resources for the purpose of trade and national defense was a necessity.  Since these resources could not be developed to a sufficient degree at home, they did it abroad.  The pursuit of wealth and security created the largest economic empire in the world.  Within the global and complex British Empire, capitalism and a market economy developed and eventually flourished.  As colonists and subjects enriched the empire they demanded and received greater political participation.  British political society, liberal democracy, is the result. 

Russia is a vast landmass with substantial natural resources.  It grew primarily in response to external threats.  Each piece was added to enhance national security.  While natural resources were harvested, utilized, and traded from vassal states and subjects, economic development was a secondary concern.  The command economy of the Soviet Union, while different in its focus on technological advancement as compared to that of the Russian Empire, was not an unfamiliar model to many Russians.  Economic and political power was the concentrated in the hands of a very few.  In response to internal and external threats, Russian political society was harsh and centrally controlled.  The general populace was not encouraged to participate in the economic or political system beyond the basic expectations that they work and comply with the will of the authorities.

Capitalism demanded the development of codified rules and expectations.  Law and order were essential to the participants in order to make risk taking in the development of wealth a worthwhile venture.  The command economy, combined with the strong central control, of the Russian and Soviet empires had the opposite effect.  Those in power felt free to exercise their will as they saw fit.  Rules and laws were not meant to bind the state, but to bind the subjects.

The collapse of empires, therefore, brought different results.

Many of the former colonies of the British Empire gained, along with their independence, a system of government and economics based on law and order and a market economy.  These former colonies, with some struggles, were able to move effectively into independence.  Some of Great Britain’s former colonies are now among their greatest trade partners and strong participants in the global economy—the United States, Canada, Australia, and India.  While the citizens of the United Kingdom no longer control a global empire, they do have in place a stable and secure society.

Many states and nations formerly controlled by the Russian and Soviet Empires, those who had limited history of independence, have struggled to develop stable economies and viable governments that maintain law and order.  The Central Asian states and Belarus have struggled to break free of the rule of totalitarian dictatorships.  Ukraine, despite efforts at the development of democracy and capitalism, has repeatedly elected officials who disregard law, order, and the needs of the nation in favor of enriching themselves and their families.  Economic growth remains stunted because of the lack of law and order. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians felt they made a good faith effort to embrace capitalism and democracy.  Rising and forward thinking Russian leaders implemented the tenets of the painful Washington Consensus in an effort to rip the economy out of a spiral and put it on the upward trajectory of capitalism.  The strict fiscal policies brought real fiscal pain to the average Russian people but were softened with the promise that things would get better.

Without the key ingredient of law and order, however, a successful transition to a market economy remained out of reach.  As Russia’s new political leadership, often the same Communist leaders with new political labels, took control, they used the state apparatus to enrich themselves almost beyond belief.  Market and democratic principles could not take hold in such an environment and the promises of something better fell apart drastically.  Newly wealthy and powerful leaders, instead of taking responsibility for their actions, lay the blame on the West and the decadent concept of a free market.

Vladimir Putin came to power as the people faced this second economic collapse.  He expressed the feelings of many Russians—that of sorrow at the passing of what had once been considered a great nation and state.  He desired and called for a return to stability and improvement.  By 1998 Russia was in a desperate situation as many internal institutions failed to perform their basic functions. 

Putin managed, to a noticeable measure, to bring a degree of order back to Russian government and to the economy.  Unfortunately, this change was not based on an increased role of the population.  Civil society in Russia remained largely a hoped for concept.  Central government control was reestablished.  The Russian government, however, was not completely subject to the rule of law and order.  While a form of a market economy and foreign direct investment occurred, economic growth was based on rising energy prices rather than on real economic development.

Today, with a sense of economic security and political control, Vladimir Putin is moving to reestablish Russia at least as a regional power with his eye toward perhaps something bigger.  In order to address the embarrassment of the 1990s and the encroaching threat of NATO and the EU, he has moved decisively to establish Russian willingness and capability to project its will abroad.  Central to his aims is to build a Eurasian Union, envisioned as an economic and security institution that will have considerable impact in the region.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Vladimir Putin has adopted a number of market economy principles, he has failed to learn the most important lessons of collapsed empires.  First, law and order matter.  Significant and sustained economic growth, despite cyclical ups and downs, requires the maintenance and state compliance with law and order.  Without this in Russia or a Eurasian Union, economic growth will be hampered and limited to the prevailing supply and demand of energy resources.  (With the advent of fracking technology, Russian dominance in the region may be nearing its end.)

Second, the use of overt compulsion and threats against neighbors and trade partners will not inspire confidence in potential trade partners who could help improve the Russian situation by opening new opportunities.  Such tactics will force existing trade partners to look for other sources as they become available and affordable.

Third, the invasion and annexation of a non-threatening state is unacceptable.  It sets you apart from the modern, civilized world.  Despite its problems, Georgia and Ukraine did not represent physical, imminent threats to the security of Russia or Russians.  Rather they represented opportunities to convey messages about willingness and intent.  In the case of Ukraine there was also the chance to regain a part of the empire, perhaps with the intent of gaining more.  Russian actions in Georgia and Ukraine did, however, highlight Russia’s perception that the principles of liberal democracy from the West are not acceptable.

Which leads to the fourth lesson Vladimir Putin has failed to learn—liberal democracies tend to be more stable, in terms of security and economics, than states that discount and discourage the participation of its populace. 

What are the likely results of Putin’s failure to learn the important lessons of ailed empires?  Russia’s managed democracy and managed economy will fail to keep pace with the West and China.  Once again the leading world economies will prefer not to do business with Russia more than is necessary.  The lack of law and order and uncertainty generated by the control of a few will discourage investment and partnerships.  Russia’s few remaining friends and “vassal” states will have little to contribute or be incapable of contributing.  Russia increasingly will fall further behind those who they will view as threats and competitors. 

The West has not performed overly well in its relations with Russia either.  After the fall of the Soviet Union the West managed to make Russia feel like a failed state.  The eastward expansion of NATO, while understandable based on the historical predilection of Russia to move west, was not done in a way to engender trust.  Perhaps worst of all, the West has failed to understand or countenance Russia’s legitimate national security interests, assuming that Russia would simply fall in line because there was no other choice.

Responsibility for the consequences of Russia’s actions lies largely at the feet of President Putin and his associates in the government.  Without the ability or willingness to act, the Russian people are unable to control events.  The Russian people, however, seem to support President Putin in his actions and intentions.  It appears that President Putin is willing to trade the prospect of long-term economic and national security for greater political control at home.

Please see the additional posts on the Russia-Ukraine issue:
The Limits of Russian Expansion
 Ukraine: The Prism of Russian National Interest