Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: The death of Mother Russia
Posted on 10/20/2005 6:18:16 AM PDT by Pokey78
Reader Jack Fulmer sent me the following item, which appeared a century ago 13 September 1905 in the Paris edition of the New York Herald:
Holy War WagedPlus ça change, eh? Last week Islamists killed a big bunch of people in Nalchik, the capital of the hitherto more-or-less safe-ish Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. True, in our more sensitive age the Herald Tribunes current owners, the New York Times, would never dream of headlining such a report Holy War Waged, though the Muslim insurgents are fighting for a pan-Caucasian Islamic republic from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.
St. Petersburg: The districts of Zangezur and Jebrail are swarming with Tartar bands under the leadership of chiefs, and in some cases accompanied by Tartar police officials. Green banners are carried and a Holy War is being proclaimed. All Armenians, without distinction of sex or age are being massacred. Many thousand Tartar horsemen have crossed the Perso-Russian frontier and joined the insurgents. Horrible scenes attended the destruction of the village of Minkind. Three hundred Armenians were massacred and mutilated. The children were thrown to the dogs and the few survivors were forced to embrace Islamism.
And in the long run its hard to see why they wont get it, the only question being whether its still worth getting. Moscow has reduced Grozny to rubble, yet is further than ever from solving its Chechen problem. Moreover, the sheer blundering thuggery of the Russian approach has no merits other than affording Moscow some short-term sadistic pleasure as it exacerbates the situation. The allegedly seething Arab street, which the Wests media doom-mongers have been predicting for four years will rise up in fury against the Anglo-American infidels, remains as seething as a cul-de-sac in Pinner on a Wednesday afternoon. But the Russian Federations Muslim street is real, and on the boil.
Remember the months before 9/11? The new US President had his first meeting with the Russian President. I looked the man in the eye and found him very straightforward and trustworthy, George W. Bush said after two hours with Vladimir Putin. I was able to get a sense of his soul. Im all for speaking softly and carrying a big stick, but thats way too soft; its candlelight-dinner-with-the-glow-reflecting-in-the-wine-glass-just-before-you-ask-her-to-dance-to-Moonlight-Becomes-You soft. Even at the time, many of us felt like yelling at Bush: Get a grip on yourself, man! Lay off the homoerotic stuff about soulmates! This is a KGB apparatchik youre making eyes at.
But Putin was broadly supportive or at least not actively non-supportive on Afghanistan (a very particular case) and Nato expansion (a fait accompli), and some experts started calling Vlad the most Westernised Russian strongman since Peter the Great and cooing about a Russo-American alliance that would be one of the cornerstones of the post-Cold War world.
Its not like that today. From China to Central Asia to Ukraine, from its covert efforts to maintain Saddam in power to its more or less unashamed patronage of Irans nuclear ambitions, Moscow has been at odds with Washington over every key geopolitical issue, and a few non-key ones, too, culminating in Putins tirade to Bush that America was flooding Russia with sub-standard chicken drumsticks and keeping the best ones for herself. It was a poultry complaint but indicative of a retreat into old-school Kremlin paranoia. Putin was sending Americas chickens home to roost. I wonder if Bush took a second look into the soulful depths of Vladimirs eyes and decided he wasnt quite so finger-lickin good after all.
Russias export of ideology was the decisive factor in the history of the last century. It seems to me entirely possible that the implosion of Russia could be the decisive factor in this new century. As Irans nuke programme suggests, in many of the geopolitical challenges to America theres usually a Russian component somewhere in the background.
In fairness to Putin, even if he was very straightforward and trustworthy, hes in a wretched position. Think of the feet of clay of Western European politicians unwilling to show leadership on the Continents moribund economy and deathbed demography. Russia has all the EUs problems to the nth degree, and then some. Post-imperial decline is manageable; a nation of psychotic lemmings isnt. As Ive noted before in this space, Russia is literally dying. From a population peak in 1992 of 148 million, it will be down to below 130 million by 2015 and thereafter dropping to perhaps 50 or 60 million by the end of the century, a third of what it was at the fall of the Soviet Union. It neednt decline at a consistent rate, of course. But Id say its more likely to be even lower than 50 million than it is to be over 100 million. The longer Russia goes without arresting the death spiral, the harder it is to pull out of it, and when it comes to the future most Russian women are voting with their foetus: 70 per cent of pregnancies are aborted.
A smaller population neednt necessarily be a problem, and especially not for a state with too much of the citizenry on the payroll. But Russia is facing simultaneously a massive ongoing drain of wealth out of the system. Whether or not Dominic Midgley was correct the other day in his assertion that the émigré oligarchs prefer London to America, I cannot say. But I notice my own peripheral backwater of Montreal has also filled up with Russkies whose impressive riches have been acquired recently and swiftly. It doesnt help the grim demographic scenario if your economic base is also being systematically eaten away.
Add to that the unprecedented strains on a ramshackle public health system. Russia is the sick man of Europe, and would still look pretty sick if you moved him to Africa. It has the fastest-growing rate of HIV infection in the world. From virtually no official Aids cases at the time Putin took office, in the last five years more Russians have tested positive than in the previous 20 for America. The virus is said to have infected at least 1 per cent of the population, the figure the World Health Organisation considers the tipping point for a sub-Saharan-sized epidemic. So at a time when Russian men already have a life expectancy in the mid-50s lower than in Bangladesh theyre about to see Aids cut them down from the other end, killing young men and women of childbearing age, and with them any hope of societal regeneration. By 2010, Aids will be killing between a quarter and three-quarters of a million Russians every year. It will become a nation of babushkas, unable to muster enough young soldiers to secure its borders, enough young businessmen to secure its economy or enough young families to secure its future. True, there are regions that are exceptions to these malign trends, parts of Russia that have healthy fertility rates and low HIV infection. Can you guess which regions they are? They start with a Mu- and end with a -slim.
So the worlds largest country is dying and the only question is how violent its death throes are. Yesterdays Russia was characterised by Churchill as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Todays has come unwrapped: its a crisis in a disaster inside a catastrophe. Most of the big international problems operate within certain geographic constraints: Africa has Aids, the Middle East has Islamists, North Korea has nukes. But Russias got the lot: an African-level Aids crisis and an Islamist separatist movement sitting on top of the biggest pile of nukes on the planet. Of course, the nuclear materials are all in secure facilities more secure, one hopes, than the secure public buildings in Nalchik that the Islamists took over with such ease last week.
Russia is the bleakest example on the planet of how we worry about all the wrong things. For 40 years the environmentalists have warned us that the jig was up: there are too many people (see Paul Ehrlichs comic masterpiece of 1970 The Population Bomb) and too few resources as the Club of Rome warned in its 1972 landmark study The Limits To Growth, the world will run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and gas by 1993. Instead, poor old Russia is awash with resources but fatally short of Russians and, in the end, warm bodies are the one indispensable resource.
What would you do if you were Putin? What have you got to keep your rotting corpse of a country as some kind of player? Youve got nuclear know-how which a lot of ayatollahs and dictators are interested in. Youve got an empty resource-rich eastern hinterland which the Chinese are going to wind up with one way or the other. That was the logic, incidentally, behind the sale of Alaska: in the 1850s, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, the brother of Alexander II, argued that the Russian empire couldnt hold its North American territory and that one day either Britain or the United States would simply take it, so why not sell it to them first? The same argument applies today to the 2,000 miles of the RussoChinese border. Given that even alcoholic Slavs with a life expectancy of 56 will live to see Vladivostok return to its old name of Haishenwei, Moscow might as well flog it to Beijing instead of just having it snaffled out from under.
Thats the danger for America that most of what Russia has to trade is likely to be damaging to US interests. In its death throes, it could bequeath the world several new Muslim nations, a nuclear Middle East and a stronger China. In theory, America could do a belated follow-up to the Alaska deal and put in a bid for Siberia. But Russias calculation is that sooner or later well be back in a bipolar world and that, in almost any scenario, theres more advantage in being part of the non-American pole. A SinoRussian strategic partnership has a certain logic to it, and so, in a darker way, does a RussoMuslim alliance of convenience. In 1989, with the Warsaw Pact crumbling before his eyes, poor old Mikhail Gorbachev received a helpful bit of advice from the cocky young upstart on the block, the Ayatollah Khomeini: I strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan, wrote the pioneer Islamist nutcase. I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.
In an odd way, thats what happened everywhere but the Kremlin. As communism retreated, radical Islam seeped into Afghanistan and Indonesia and the Balkans. Crazy guys holed up in Philippine jungles and the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay which would have been Marxist fantasists a generation or two back are now Islamists: its the ideology du jour. Even the otherwise perplexing enthusiasm of the western Left for the jihads misogynist homophobe theocrats is best understood as a latterday variation on the Hitler/Stalin pact. And, despite Gorbachev turning down the offer, it will be Russias fate to have large chunks of its turf annexed by the Islamic world.
We are witnessing a remarkable event: the death of a great nation not through war or devastation but through its inability to rouse itself from its own suicidal tendencies. The ideological vacuum was mostly filled with a nihilist fatalism. Churchill got it wrong: Russia is a vacuum wrapped in a nullity inside an abyss.
Cofee + Steyn = Great morning.
Russia is mearly leading the charge off the cliff. The EU, and then the rest of the West, will be following along shortly.
Wow--this is high-octane stuff. Love it!
Leo Tolstoy wrote about the Chechnian problems in the 1800's
It's pathetic that a country with such vast natural wealth and such an enormous reserve of brainpower is a complete and total basketcase.
From the Treaty of Vienna until today Russia has had every opportunity imaginable to become a fabulously wealthy, vibrantly successful nation.
It has squandered each and every opportunity.
A Latvian friend of mine that served in the Soviet Army once told me that all the peoples the Russians had sucked into their empire hated them and were waiting for a chance at payback.
I wonder if most of their best and brightest are all over here now. I've worked with a lot of Russians and to a person they've been smart, hard working, and tough. Stubborn as rocks, too, which can cause some problems at work sometimes but their tenacity is more often an asset.
I don't know why their former country is such a mess unless all the sharp and innovative ones have left, or if the system is just so completely hosed up that they can't make a dent if they stay.
Now I am depressed..Steyn gives a somber take on Russia.
Sad but true.
Back in the seventies population reduction was the holy grail. Nobody said anthing about a bunch of third worlders coming to eat our lunch. Funny how we missed that part.
Thanks, a Steyn top ten. One of his best, ever.
I looked the man in the eye and found him very straightforward and trustworthy, George W. Bush said after two hours with Vladimir Putin. I was able to get a sense of his soul.
When I first heard this, I nearly fell out of my chair.
Bush should have followed it up with his famous Trust me.
This, dear FRiends, is what China is building up it's army to defeat--lots of land and resources for the masses--no navy needed to transport the troops to, just march across the tundra.
Thanks Pokey! A sobering Steyn....... As my old history teacerh used to say, 'time and biology' are on the Islamists side.
Thanks Pokey! A sobering Steyn....... As my old history teacher used to say, 'time and biology' are on the Islamists side.