Russia and the world: the road to independence

The everlasting debate about whether social being determines social consciousness or vice versa, is unlikely to be resolved by a choice between the two simplistic choices. The two concepts are intertwined and will not stand alone. The same applies to the relationship between politics and economy on national, regional and global levels.

The ongoing economic crisis is universally recognised as a global phenomenon, which must be addressed on a supranational level. If this globalisation, since it began a couple of decades ago, has blurred the notion of "national economy", then the current downturn has obliterated it altogether. Global economy is ruthlessly replacing the previous combinations of dozens of national economies. With such financial and economic interdependence, it is virtually impossible to fix the crisis by waging a world war or series of armed conflicts, as it is not clear how a state would then protect its national economy, which is now highly sensitive to global economic patterns. The economy of the United States, for example, keeps clashing and competing with itself as both a national economy and as a major global player. The predicament is even more acute for the deeply integrated European Union.
This dilemma, in turn, creates political problems for national governments that seek to maximise their economic sovereignty, which is the primary foundation of their states' political sovereignty.

US President Barack Obama has a hard time finding the right balance of domestic policy and protection of the US economy against efforts to reignite the global economic engine - the direct opposite of protectionism. Leaders of many other countries, including oil producers, are facing similarly hard choices. On the one hand, low energy prices take a toll on national budgets. On the other hand, any attempts to raise those prices in order to refill the coffers, including the use of production cuts, will inevitably slow down energy demand along with the already staggering global economy. This catch-22 is the source of continuous conflict between domestic and economy policies.
The same forces are at work in international politics. The money squeeze has seriously constrained the foreign policy outreach of the West, the US in particular. America is switching to a low maintenance mode in its foreign policy, and is shutting down many expensive overseas projects. Its withdrawal opens up unique opportunities for other powers, such as China, the European Union or Russia, to expand their role in the international arena. On the flipside, this expansion may further lock them into the global effect in the same way America is now tied into the rest of the world, which has made the US more dependent on what happens globally than it can currently afford.
For Russia, this scenario is especially damaging. Over the past ten years, Russia has built an economy focused on serving the global system. Being one of the world's gas stations, Russia cannot be economically self-sufficient and independent. It cannot survive without the global energy market, over which, as the crisis demonstrated, it has limited powers of control. Conducting independent and effective foreign policy is difficult as long the country is living off its resource exports.

If it wants to survive as a state and preserve its sovereignty, Russia needs to turn around its economy - from one of servicing other economies to one of other economies servicing it - maximising dependence of the global economy on Russia's buying power, not the other way around. The current crisis has actually offered some possibilities for such an about-face. By failing to exploit them, however, Russia will remain a supplier of natural resources to the West and China, who will tank up from its tap at a price they will be able to manipulate. When prices are high enough, Moscow will indulge in dreams of power and boast about its economic achievements. When they fall, as they are doing now, the Russian government will have to turn back into a miserly under-pensioned granny, who has hoarded a couple of pennies in the cupboard, then tries to figure out how many shopping trips they will buy her, all the while wondering when the next pension rise will finally happen. If Russia fails to grasp these new opportunities, then its hands will be too full to worry about national sovereignty or political independence.

Dr. Nikolay Zlobin is Director of Russian and Asian Programmes at the World Security Institute, US, Washington DC.

This article was first published in Vedomosti

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