Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: Russia is dying and Islamists will grab parts of the carcass
Posted on 10/30/2005 11:04:36 AM PST by Dundee
Mark Steyn: Russia is dying and Islamists will grab parts of the carcass
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." I'm all for speaking softly and carrying a big stick, but that's way too soft.
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.
It's 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 Iran's nuclear ambitions, Moscow has been at odds with Washington over every key geopolitical issue, and a few non-key ones, too, culminating in Putin's tirade to Bush that the US was flooding Russia with substandard chicken drumsticks and keeping the best ones for itself. It was a poultry complaint but indicative of a retreat into old-school Kremlin paranoia.
Russia's export of ideology was the decisive factor in the history of the 20th century. It seems to me entirely possible that the implosion of Russia could be the decisive factor in the 21st century.
As Iran's nuclear program suggests, in many of the geopolitical challenges to the US, there's usually a Russian component in the background.
In fairness to Putin, he's in a wretched position. 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.
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 needn't necessarily be a problem but Russia is facing simultaneously a huge drain of wealth out of the system.
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. By 2010, AIDS will be killing between 250,000 and 750,000 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 parts of Russia that are exceptions to these malign trends. Can you guess which regions they are? They start with a "Mu" and end with a "slim".
So the world's largest country is dying and the only question is how violent its death throes are. Yesterday's Russia was characterised by Winston Churchill as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Today's has come unwrapped: it's 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 Russia's 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 supposedly secure public buildings in Nalchik that the Islamists took over with such ease two weeks ago. They also killed a big bunch of people.
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?
You've got nuclear knowhow, which a lot of ayatollahs and dictators are interested in.
That's 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.
Russia's calculation is that sooner or later we'll be back in a bipolar world and that, in almost any scenario, there's more advantage in being part of the non-American pole.
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, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: "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, that's what happened everywhere except in 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, who would have been Marxist fantasists a generation or two back, are now Islamists: it's the ideology du jour. And, despite Gorbachev turning down the offer, it will be Russia's 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.
They are not competitors. Russia produces oil and China manufactures. China already has a lot of unpopulated land and does not need the land Russia has. China has a population density lower than Europe if you include the land that is unpopulated. Russia has better nukes than China. There is just no reason for war.
Italy has the lowest birth rate on the planet.
It has to do with money, I'm told.
The problem is, a declining population usually means a declining economy which means a further decline in population, etc.
Everyone likes to bash immigration to the US. But immigration means GDP growth.
Nearing two billion people, with limited oil, you can see no reason China might want to expand????
I suspect China will end up with a lot of Siberia.
Russia also has a lot of oil as well. If we were smart, we'd help Russia by buying their oil and make 'ol Vlad understand that we're not too happy about them arming our enemies. Make no mistake, I think Vlad wants to resurrect their past greatness by repackaging communism but with himself firmly in charge. You could say that by buying their oil we're extending their lifespan and would allow them to do exactly that. But, if in their death throes they think they have nothing to lose, they will trade their nuclear knowledge, material and warheads for a chance to just postpone the inevitable for a day.
We need to give Vlad the opportunity to save Russia with our help but he has to make a commitment to NOT arm or help our enemies. It might also help if he realizes that our enemies (radical Islam) are his enemies.
Excellent post. Thanks!
There is one large slice of Siberia that China has never recognized as being Russian.<p.
Difficult to see how the Russia/China thing will play out.
This is an old story I read in the Atlantic Monthly years ago, I think by Robert Kaplan if I remember right.
Predicting the future that far out is plain silly. All it takes is one inspirational leader to turn a country on a dime.
The left over commies are a drag on Russia. I don't expect any of them acquired a work ethic since Glastnos and Perestroika. Once the commies die out, and that capitalism shows that it rewards those that work, I think the downward spiral in Russia sill stop. Given its natural resources and intellectual capital, it may even rise up as the strongman of Eurasia.
Steyn is also silly to think Islam is going to carve up Russia. The whole of Islam still can't rid itself of 6,000,000 or so Jews.
Frankly, I have no problem with Putin.
He is for Russia. He is for not letting the oligarchs steal the wealth of his country. He is for restoring the dignity of a nation that is reduced to being the prime supplier of cheap white female flesh. Yelstin era democracy failed and failed miserably. Russia needs a period of authoritarianism to get itself together.
There is a natural bent to authoritarianism in the Russian historical narrative. I remember Stalin's 1930 speech in which he described Russian history as a long, long list of beatings she suffered for her backwardness. In the Russian national memory is the tale of the terrible defeat by the Mongols at the battle of the Khalka, a defeat that doomed Kievan Russia, a defeat suffered because the Russian side did not have a single strong leader capable of imposing unity of command upon the proud, quarrelsome boyars. Kievan Rus did not have a Czar.
Socialism has to be outlawed. It leads to this suicidal tendency wherever it raises its ugly head. We see it right here in America. Democrats (our socialists) won't fight islamicists either.
Our Russian roommate says the the birthrate of Russia is beginning to grow by tiny fractions. At the hospital where she worked the number rises by 10 or 15 births on average above the previous years average.
Another thing that's going on seemingly unnoticed is a migration out of the cities. Along with the migration to the country there has been a resurgence of birthing by midwife and those children often go uncounted for a few years.
While I agree with Steyn that Russia is the modern day "Sick Man of Europe", I wouldn't write them off so quickly. Napoleon and Hitler found that out the hard way, and I think the Islamofascists in Iran will find out soon enough, that you can never conquer that much territory and hold it against a determined foe, and Russians are very determined when you mess with their turf.
Anybody who thinks they'll just up and give up their home turf(not counting the SSR's ending in "stan") need only look at how long they've been fighting the Chechnyans. It's not a great example of how to run a counter-insurgency campaign, but it demonstrates that they can, and will fight if aroused. And nobody will convince me that some of those SS-20's are whatever don't still work....
I actually met one of these Russian mail-order brides "in waiting" working at a bar in New Orleans a few years ago. Stunningly beautiful. My frat brother tried desperately to get her phone number, but she ignored him because I had a few extra bucks of cash on hand and know a few Russian words. She was hitting on me till we left the place. I realize it's hard for those girls, but what she did was bordering on being what some harlot does in a bordello...
I tend to agree. I love Steyn and he is right that many things in Russia are bad and getting worse. But things are simultaneously getting better in other areas. Obviously many Russkies are still in shock over the death of communism and there appears to be a tremendous loss of confidence in their country. But that trend might change as the country gets richer and continues to interact with the western countries. I agree, don't count out Russia yet.
V.Putin was a full Colonel of the KGB he was stationed in East Germany running spies against the west. This man is no fool & those who think that he is looking out for anything but what he percieves to be in his own interests are fools of the earth shaking variety .