Critical Assessment of Russia’s Superpower Aspirations
2,014 views   /  15 Aug 2015
Is Russia a superpower? The question is essential to understand Russia’s current foreign policy aspirations, motives behind its moves and even to predict the Kremlin’s future steps.
By Afanasiy Pervomaisky
In this article, I will critically analyze whether modern Russia can be referred as a superpower, using the criteria known as the “four axes of power.” According to Professors Lymon Miller from Stanford University and Joseph Nye from Harvard University, a superpower can be measured using four different criteria: politics, military power, economic development and cultural influence.
The Soviet Union, Russia’s predecessor, was a major world power throughout the second half of the 20th Century. In the 1960s, Moscow achieved strategic parity with Washington in terms of its military power and political influence. Although slightly lesser and more inflexible than the US economy, the Soviet economy was nonetheless massive. Besides, the Soviet Union had managed to spread its ideology and culture over large areas of Eurasia, parts of Africa and South America.
Then, it all collapsed. The massive union broke into 15 different independent states, the Russian Federation being the biggest chunk and thus the natural heir of the Soviet legacy. To this day, Moscow occasionally shows its past ambitions, forged during the Soviet times. But is it a little too late?
The political influence of Russia on the international arena is still pretty strong. Moscow kept its permanent seat at the UN Security Council and thus Russia’s voice has to be reckoned with in any international dispute.
Although Moscow lost most of its political influence outside of its immediate proximity, the Kremlin is currently working hard to develop new political ties and to re-establish its old connections. Due to the Ukrainian crisis, Russia was dumped by its European partners; however the situation isn’t that bad, considering that Vladimir Putin has done a good job developing closer relationships with three emerging superpowers – China, India and Brazil.
So overall, in terms of its political influence, modern Russia is clearly no match to the Soviet Union, but it isn’t exactly a lightweight either. Considering the shifting nature of international politics, the fact that Russia has struck early friendships with the rapidly developing China, India and Brazil could be the sign of a good political judgment on behalf of the Kremlin. Thus, overall, Russia gets a solid “B” in the political criteria.
When it comes to the military power, Russia has the second most powerful army in the world. Although the Russian Armed Forces have “only” a little over 1 million active military personnel (the United States, China, India and even North Korea have more soldiers), when it comes to the navy, air force, tanks and nuclear weapons, Russia stands almost in parity with the United States.
Furthermore, over the past several years, Russia began to increase its military budget, which equaled to almost $80 billion in 2014, according to the Business Insider. Therefore, based solely on the military power criteria, Russia is clearly a superpower. I give an “A“ here.
Now, when it comes to the economic criteria things get tough. Before the mid 2014 the Russian economy was doing relatively well. By relying on the export of its natural resources, mainly oil and natural gas, Russia managed to keep a steady economic growth since the early 2000s; to such an extent that in 2014 Russia was the sixth largest economy by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and the tenth at market exchange rates.
This year forecast, however, looks pretty gloomy. Western anti-Russian sanctions, the depreciation of the ruble and the fall of global oil prices have resulted in a significant slowdown of the country’s economy. International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that by the end of 2015 Russia will most likely drop down to the 15th largest economy, behind countries, such as South Korea, Australia and even Spain and Mexico.
In my opinion, one of the most important indicators how one could judge the real state of economic affairs in a country is GDP per capita, or how much money on average do all people in a country earn. The GDP per capita index more or less adequately shows standard of living in a country.. For example, the average man in Luxembourg makes over $110,000 a year, meanwhile an average person in China, the world’s second largest economy overall, brings home less than $8,000 a year. According to IMF data, the average person in Russia made $12,926 per annum, which had the country on the 57th place, before the economic crisis in 2014. Financial experts predict that these numbers are going to be much worse in 2015.
Russia over-relied on the export of natural resources during the years when energy prices were high and failed to successfully diversify its economy. Now, the country is seeing the results that are not going to be good in years to come. In the economic terms, Russia is far from a superpower – the country, which is on the 57th place in the GDP per capita list, cannot get more than a “C“ at best.
Russia has a long history and rich traditions, especially when it comes to arts. Russian poets, ballet dancers, classical musicians, architects, scientists and painters are highly regarded by people around the world. However, much of Russia’s culture is deeply rooted in its history; meanwhile the country failed to produce anything culturally significant on an international scale after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Russian language, once widely spoken not only in the entire Soviet Union, but also among many residents of Soviet-allied states in Eastern Europe, has drastically lost its significance. Today, Eastern Europeans no longer study Russian, but instead opt for English and German, more useful languages. At this day and age, even folks in the former Soviet republics, such as in the Baltic States and some Central Asian countries, have rudimentary command of Russian. The only thing that keeps Russian somewhat alive and relevant is its use as one of the official UN languages.
Other than that, people outside of Russia don’t study Russian as much as before, hardly anyone watches movies made in Russia, reads modern Russian literature, or listens to contemporary Russian musicians. Meanwhile, American culture has literally taken over Russia. Every single twenty-something in modern Russia watches movies made in Hollywood, wears US brands of clothes, eats out in American food-chain restaurants, uses tech devices developed in the Silicon Valley, follows latest fashion trends from New York or Los Angeles and describes all of these things on his/her Facebook status, oftentimes skillfully using English words.
Only the presence of rich cultural traditions and history makes me not to give out modern Russia an unsatisfactory grade in terms of cultural influence. In other words, poor performance – “D”.
Is Russia a superpower then?
After having looked at “the four axes of power,” one could see a huge discrepancy in Russia’s assessment of superpower status. To be a true superpower, such as the United States right now, a country must get high marks in all four criteria. Russia received good marks in terms of its military power and politics, but failed to impress when it came to economy and cultural influence. Therefore, it’s pretty simple – Russia is not a superpower. Is there potential for Russia to become one? Possibly, but first the country needs to take care of its economy, revive its culture and national identity.
The views and opinions contained in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Russian Accent.
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Where are you seeing Russia’s superpower ambitions? There is no such a thing. Russia is merely struggling for its own legitimate interests in its immediate proximity. It strives for genuine equality and respect on international arena. That’s it. Russia is not operating globally, not installing military bases and troops around the globe, not imposing its normative agenda on others.
Thank you for your comment!
I agree with you, Russia is not a superpower. At least no longer, as the author argues. The article talks about it, rejecting arguments of some people who still believe Russia is a superpower and has superpower ambitions.
Here is one example: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/superpower-ambitions-weaken-russia/414561.html