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Our Take - A Sober View of Russia

April 2005

Volume XXV, No. 2

According to the 2005 CIA World Factbook, Russia ranked second (after Saudi Arabia and before Norway) as a net oil producer in 2001. In that year, the Saudis pumped an estimated 8.7 million barrels of oil per day; Russians, 7.3 million; and Norwegians, 3.4 million.

However, when one takes into account exports and proven reserves, a different picture emerges. The Saudis and the Norwegians export virtually all of their oil: some 8 and 3.2 million barrels per day, respectively. The Russians export only slightly more than the Norwegians: 4.7 million barrels per day. In proven reserves Saudi Arabia has over five times more than the Russian Federation: 262 billion barrels versus 51 billion. Norway has one fifth of Russia’s reserves: 10 billion barrels.

While it can be assumed that the European leaders’ ingratiating attitude toward Russia is not unrelated to Russia’s oil and gas reserves, it still is something of a puzzlement. Tolerating Russia’s colonialist appetites seems foolhardy.

Consider the following: during a press conference on 3 February 2005, Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky spoke of the Russian political priorities in the twenty-first century. According to Vladimir Socor (Eurasia Daily Monitor, vol. 2, no. 27, 8 February 2005), Pavlovsky did not beat about the bush about President Putin’s plans to reintegrate post-Soviet space. As seen from the Kremlin, the state of Belarus is “an optimal model of integration with Russia.” Yes, Belarus, with its Communist-style inefficient economy, its lack of freedom of the press and of assembly, its brutalization and jailing of dissidents.

Why would Pavlovsky, indeed Putin, praise Belarus for falling behind virtually every country in the region? In the USSR, Belarus was one of the industrial leaders. Life was better in Belarus than in ethnic Russia. If Belarus is to be an effective ally, it seems logical that Russia would want it to emulate its own more positive postcommunist developments.

Oh, but this is reasoning according to the Western model. In the zero-sum game of the Kremlin leaders, the weaker the ally, the better for Russia. Indeed, Russia’s colonialism is unique in that it invariably pushes the occupied countries backward, not forward. Russia’s imperial power is destructive; it does not contribute to the colonies in any way, but instead breaks down whatever civic and economic structures they have had. Every country occupied by the Russian army has been thrown into backwardness for the duration of its occupation. While the British colonialists certainly did not labor to improve India or Ireland, their misdeeds happened in the remote past. The Russians continue to exercise a destructive influence on the neighboring countries today, to mention only Chechnya and Belarus.

Another bit of information that emerged from that press conference, according to Socor, was Russia’s proclaimed intention to “work with the opposition” in post-Soviet countries. This chilling understatement should give the Western governments pause. It should, but it probably will not. There is too much sympathy for Russian interests here, and too many financial magnates are betting on establishing close ties with the Russian oil and gas business (now partly government-owned, and probably mostly government-owned in the future). In the American educational system Russia is often presented as a poor country deserving help, rather than as a rapacious empire. Save for a few émigrés, there are no Russian intellectuals in sight that would try to change their country’s course.

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Last updated 5/26/05