Russia Has Diminishing Options

Presumably the measure of an effective government in domestic policy or international relations is whether it has by dint of effort and inspiration expanded the potential for growth not only economically but also in overall political influence across the globe.

By that measure many states in the West have failed in the past. France under Pétain and various Socialist administrations. Britain under Chamberlain, Macmillan and Wilson. Or the United States under Johnson, Carter and Bush Jr.

By that measure Russia is failing now. The number of options has narrowed since Putin first came to power, not least because the commodity boom which he was so heavily  reliant upon came to an abrupt end a few years ago. And by compensating through a renewed arms race and a pugnacious forward policy, Russia has lost potential partners, gained adversaries and won over dubious dictators, discrediting over-exposed German social democrats on the way.

The threat often posed to the West from Moscow is that Russia will turn eastwards, rather as the British Foreign Secretary Canning once theatened to call in the New World against Spain to balance against the Old. But when Russia goes cap in hand for loans to China, the latter asks for inordinate compensation. And does Moscow really have an alternative to the East? Not the way it treats Japan. One commentator, Khramchikhin, thinks that there is no China option either. Far from it. His article is entitled ‘The West is not needed but China is dangerous.’ (Nezavisimaya gazeta, 30 March 2018.) And where exactly does that promise to leave Russia? At home in miserable isolation, sulking in its tent.

It must grow vertically rather than horizontally, he suggests, and the new armaments are needed. But if their ceaseless production impoverishes society, who gains? The Americans can outgrow Russia in this sphere without feeling much pain. That road we have been down before. It looks no more promising than last time.

Yet when one looks to Smolenskaya, the Stalinist Gothic Foreign Ministry high on the Moscow skyline, for the enhancement of Russian influence in the world, it promises no better. Never before, perhaps, have we such qualified English speakers to bedazzle the notoriously linguistically challenged in the English-speaking world. But their valuable time is wasted defending the indefensible in a process of circumlocution worthy of a Dickensian novel or an Orwellian nightmare. They sit in a creaky boat that is constantly taking on water due to the irresponsible and self-centred misbehaviour of others; not surprisingly they have to spend their  hours on board bailing out to keep the vessel afloat. No wonder Lavrov always seems so cantankerous. His diplomats have time for little else and the best postings (even that old favourite Dublin, where there is little to do and much to enjoy) are disappearing by the minute. Mirror-imaging the American expulsion of Russian intelligence officers is a game that cannot be won because the Russians, by virtue of having allowed the United Nations to be situated in New York, will always have many more to lose than the slots the Americans have to forego from Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.