Ain’t no Soviet Union
Common Fallacies are terrible creatures. They infect minds and spread rather easily, helped by wishful thinking and receptive emotional triggers. One fallacy making the rounds in this neck of the woods these days has to do with Russia’s position on Syria.
It is not a fallacy that Russia is shoring up the faltering regime in Damascus, providing it with moral, political and material support. China, Iran and Hizbollah are doing the same, more or less. Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea can probably be added to the bunch.
This has led some to the fallacious conclusion that what we are witnessing is the beginning of a new bipolar world, with Russia leading one side and America leading the other. This is hardly the case.
The fact of the matter is that Russia neither wants, nor is able, to play that role. People forget that Russia is not the Soviet Union. To put things in perspective, Russia today is a middle income country with an economy roughly the size of Spain’s, about one and a half trillion US dollars.
It is true that the BRICs are acquiring increasing importance in today’s world. But it is also true that Russia’s economy is smaller than any of the other three BRICs, namely China, India and Brazil. In fact, Brazil is about a third bigger than Russia both in population and Gross domestic product. To add even more perspective, the economies of the EU and the US are about fifteen trillion dollars each. This is about ten times that of Russia.
This is not to belittle the importance of Russia. It is indeed emerging as an increasingly prosperous nation with a middle class that is rapidly acquiring the ways, attitudes and standards of living of more advanced countries. But this is being made possible by Russia’s rapid integration into the global economic and financial systems. The last thing that Russia wants is to lump itself with a group of inward looking ideologically oriented countries, largely isolated from the rest of the world. Russian leaders are very cognizant of that.
It is understandable that the Russian leadership may be apprehensive about the rather arrogant way the US often views the international system as if it were an instrument of US policy. It is also understandable that some Russian leaders may empathize with the Assad regime since they too are sometimes the target of domestic reform pressures supported by the west.
One can even appreciate the fact that the old guard in Moscow are probably still unable to digest the reality of today’s Russia, an important, but second tier, country. They cling to the remnants of the cold war Soviet status, including especially their veto power at the Security Council. All this is understandable.
And, surely, Russia’s military capability is still enormous. But its significance is relatively limited in today’s world. It is also not at the center of the goals and aspirations of the Russian people.
This does not mean that Russia's position on Syria does not matter. It obviously does. But it is absolutely wrong to conclude that Russia is interested in, or capable of, reviving the cold war and leading a group of ostracized states, which are likely to face their own popular springs before too long.