Saturday, May 13, 2006

Authoritarian Russia

The New York Sun blog is discussing American responses to the slide towards dictatorship in Russia. However, I think Freedman is mistaken in aiming his analysis primarily at what we can for Russia itself. It is unlikely we can do a lot to change the policy of a state far too powerful for us to meaningfully threaten in militarily. Equally, sanctions are never going to pass against a permament member of the Security Council. Unilateral sanctions or harsh words are likely to do little but drive the Russians, thanks to the media control Freedman mentions, closer to the regime. Short of a new Cold War Russia's fate is its own. Given the massive demographic problems in Russia and the economic frailty outside of the oil sector it has enough problems that causing us trouble should be the last thing on its mind.

Of course there are externalities to an authoritarian drift in a state with such military, and increasingly thanks to oil, economic power. First, the possibility of nuclear weapons leaking. However, this problem has largely been contained by the sensible if philosophically uncomfortable strategy of the US in paying for the security of the Russian nuclear force. Second, the effect of Russia meddling in the affairs of nations it still sees as part of its sphere. This is where we can be more useful. Through vocal, economic and diplomatic support for former Eastern Bloc countries trying to break away and establish properly democratic and economically liberal regimees, and the promise of EU membership where possible, we can achieve something genuinely important. The improvements in the Eastern European countries which have recently joined the EU are a cause for celebration which has come about through sustained Western intervention. This is a better way for the West to spend its time than in a wider, futile, confrontation with Russia.

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