Geopolitical Risk and the State: Russia in the 21st Century

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Geopolitical Risk and the State: Russia in the 21st Century

Original by Dmitriy Yevstafyev published on Facebook; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

They say that the Russian military operation in Syria is risky for Russia. That we might suffer terror attacks. That our aircraft might be shot down. That our bases will have to be defended from islamists. That some of our military might be killed. That we’ll be in an even greater quarrel with the West. That the US will really fall out of love with us. That Europe will not fall in love with us again. That Saudi Arabia will tank oil prices even more. And we’ll never see even a single package of parmesan cheesse…

You know, it’s all true. And there are many other risks which Vladimir Putin’s critics aren’t even remotely aware of. Some of them are made up or exaggerated. Including that such risks wouldn’t exist if we didn’t launch a military operation in Syria. But that’s a separate question. The real question is whether we, as a state and nation, can exist at all without any risks. Well, can we? Of course!

One can not enter Syria and not attempt to destroy the hard core of a new “Islamic Internationale” as far away from own territory as possible. But it’s dangerous! They are Wahhabites! But then one shouldn’t be surprised if the Internationale, having grown its forces and resources, appears in “wholesale quantities” in our own cities. And not with homemade fertilizer bombs. Are we ready to bomb Nalchik in 10 years time if today we doubt whether it’s worth bombing Raqqah? That’s the answer.

One could also not have reunified Crimea. Of course one could have. We survived 23 years without it and didn’t particularly miss it. We’d have survived in the future too. The risk was indeed colossal. That risk remains on our daily agenda. But then one shouldn’t be surprised if our “wonderful partners” from the position of strength. With NATO forces stationed on the border of Kursk Region (Kursk Region, Karl!) mounted on armored vehicles, not bicycles. I doubt we’d have retained our political stability after a humiliation like that. One always has to pay for short-sightedness. And pay double for ignominy. Am I wrong?

One could also not assist our Central Asian “not even neighbors.” After all, it’s a black hole, we should give this money to Russian retirees! But then one shouldn’t be surprised if refugees flood our roads. And they will flood them if the remote Tajikistan or the less remote Kirgiziya go under. Then no border and no visa regime will contain the problem.

Is our state dealing with risk properly? Alas, not always. For example, our state (and, what can I say, also the society) has a problem with accepting internal risks. We are much better at dealing with external risks. But we have major problems internally when it comes to risk…

We are trying not to notice “Urals autonomism” which has taken root in some pretty high places of the Sverdlovsk Region. Naturally, one can opt not to exert pressure, not to scatter the “glamorous separatists.” “But they are just kids!” What will the society say? How will regional elites react? Is there a risk? Of course! Is it a difficult decision to make? Yes, undoubtedly. Very much so! It’s hard to imagine that after 250 years of Russian statehood there are still people in power who are systematically trying to break up the country. Whom you have elected. It’s hard and it’s painful. But then one shouldn’t be surprised when the local authorities tell us through Skype that they “on their own” asked the US General Consul in Yekaterinburg for advice and decided to develop independently. No, of course, these people who have concentrated themselves in overly large numbers in Yekaterinburg can’t do anything “on their own.” At most it can eat through more grants, steal money, and give away resources. But then we’ll have lost the Urals, the mainstay of our industry. Just as our south-eastern neighbors no longer have the mainstay of their industry. The fact that our government is not ready to take that risk suggests that “it’s not all that self-evident…”

We can continue pretending that our oligarchs are businessmen. Although one can’t remember when they “businessed” anything. Except for drug-laden parties and personal yachts the size of a battleship. One can constantly delay the final disassembly of the oligarchic economy that everyone is sick of because it is a brake, even a cork both for business and the state. Is that a risk? Naturally. “They are already on the Forbes list, they will soon buy everything and everyone! They already bought Chelsea and Brooklyn Nets!” Terrifying? Yes, terrifying. But then one shouldn’t be surprised if we wake up one magnificent morning in another country and treated to a different set of faces on the TV. Because we can see how the oligarchs’ “talking heads” have been giving their “two cents” more and more insistently. You haven’t noticed?

But we don’t always deal with external risks well either. Alas, not always.

After all we, and first of all, the state, are observing how fictional people are buying up land along Russia’s borders in the Far East, with illegal and semi-legal Chinese settlements multiplying. But it’s China! Is that a risk? Yes, it is! And of what magnitude! China will crush us in a second with its “150 million soldiers”. China will “stop putting up with us and won’t give us money. In the meantime our state, frankly, couldn’t care less about that risk which I believe to be a crucial, strategic mistake. Of course, we could avoid that risk too. Especially since the situation is not nearly as horrible as it is often described. There is no “Chinese invasion” so far. But the risk of complicating relations with China is, of course, a “big” risk. But one shouldn’t then make a thoughtful face when one beautiful morning some pieces of territory fall away from us. Simply because we are no longer there. At all.

So, what’s all this about?

It’s about the fact that risks are ever-present. Especially if one has a state. Risk is an aspect of political development of the state. The state is, in the final account, an instrument by which a nation self-identifies when dealing with risks. Internal and external. The state is what the nation places between itself and the risks if it wants that state to be internationally significant.

What is more, a nation’s right to have a state which, in my humble opinion, has to be earned, implies the nation, the society has an obligation to accept risks. Accept them responsibly. When the state (and the nation!) stop accepting these risks, start evading them, pretend not to notice them, it enters the sweet state of a slow death. Geopolitical death at first. But we are not interested about geopolitics. We simply want to live in peace and be able to buy the best products and services at competitive prices.  And to hell with geopolitics. The main thing is that there be no risks, that nothing threaten the sleep of the consumer.

Except that the death of the state follows. And then the death of the society. And them, as the liberals like to say, “they come for us.”

The Soviet Union experienced that sweet death of the state, the very same one that is being proposed to us right now! At that time, very smart people proposed that we stop incurring the risks associated with fighting islamists in Afghanistan (leaving aside the question of whether it was the right idea to introduce the Soviet Army into the situation and pursue a force-based strategy–it was not all that cut and dried)> And the society supported these smart people.

Did the presence of Soviet forces in Afghanistan create risks? Oh yes. Was it scary? Yes, very. Difficult? Beyond measure. I remember how we started seeing young people in Moscow with empty pant legs… One of the Institute’s classrooms was decorated with portraits of graduates and even students who perished (at that time, a “language internship” did not necessarily mean spending time at prestigious universities). I too was scared. It’s true. Didn’t one want to make that risk go away? Very much so.

But then we got Ferghana… And don’t believe those who say it wasn’t connected to our “flushing” of Afghanistan. Or the rest of it. We know the full list. It’s a very long list. A sad list.

That list is also known to those who are the loudest shouting that the Syria operation is risky for our nation. They know that list, but want us to forget about it.

Accepting risks does not mean swinging an axe left and right every time one perceives a threat or danger. Risk is first and foremost about responsibility and precision. And calculation sometimes bordering on cynicism. That’s why we’re so far (let me emphasize–so far!) engaged only in Syria but not on the Donbass. But risk also means being always ready to act. Either you take the responsibility and try to either remove or alleviate the risk or you face a catastrophe slightly later. Because, to be honest, risks rarely just go away. And I hope that everyone can see that we, Russia, are “growing.” As a people and as a state. We are not waving away the risks, we see them, we try to deal with them as soon as possible and we, as a society, are ready to accept responsibility though not always. Not everything works out, but you have to keep moving to get ahead.

And we are moving ahead.

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