What Does the Kremlin Fear?

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On May 12th, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed off of a new National security strategy document, which lays out a plan for Russia’s defense and foreign policy until 2020.  Writing for the Grani.ru online newspaper, journalist Vitaly Portnikov comments on the document, what it’s missing, and what it shows about the Russian leadership.

A Strategy With No Dangers
Vitaly Portnikov
May 15, 2009

Having signed the National security strategy for Russia until 2020, President Dmitri Medvedev gave the chance for Western – you almost want to say “Sovietologists” – to talk once more about Russian foreign policy.  Perhaps this is a signal for Barack Obama, the new American president?  Perhaps the new Russian president in such a way demonstrates confidence in his own strengths and a continuity of policy?  Since it is absolutely indispensable for the American President, who plans to come to Moscow, to understand that the Russian leadership will continue to regard siting elements of US missile defense in Europe as all but the most important problem of their country’s security.

Any sensible Russian could tell her president about the major threats to the country’s national security.  In the natural resource dependence of the economy, which would turn Russia into a third-world country the next day after a fall in oil prices.  In the corruption suffocating the country.  In the catastrophic population loss, which calls into question the physical capability, not even of the development, but simply of populating Russia’s expanses.  But who among the Russian political elite cares about these trifles?

In the minds of the people who have by some accident ended up in Moscow’s corridors of power at the start of the new millennium, present-day Russia is a sort-of clone of the Soviet Union, rising from some imagined knees.  Naturally, the threats to this clone, which lives its life in a virtual Kremlin-televised space, are completely different.  Its major opponent is those same United States, who dream of beating Russia down and hindering its renewal.  Its major betrayer is the former Soviet satellite states, who dared to regard the happy years of sitting in the shade of their “big brother” as not quite the best times in their history, and are now entering into cooperation with the overseas adversary.  Its major ally is China, whose leadership hardly dreams about joint battle with the adversary, as it economically – and the crisis has clearly proven – depends on its well-being.

Remarkably, all the threats thought to be serious at the start of the century have practically disappeared from the new strategy.  The current authorities aren’t worried about the growing divisions in society, terrorism and separatism, despite the anything-but-simple situation in the Caucasus, the crisis of social welfare and public health, and the criminalization of social relations.  Is there actually none of this left?  One would really like for it not to be there – and so issues actually critical to Russia’s future are simply culled from the strategy.  Even allowing that this is an ordinary, bureaucratic document, at least it used to give evidence that the authorities understood what country they lived in.

But now, the strategy approved by its president has no relation to the problems of actual Russia.  From the document, we can learn everything we need about the fanciful day-dreams* of Russian officialdom.   About how every clerk, landing a job at the Security Council or in the head of state’s administration, thinks of themselves as a Napoleon, and what image of Russia takes shape in his mind on the road to Rublyevka**.  But we won’t learn anything about Russia itself, just as we won’t understand at all, what kind of country it will be in 2020.  One thing is evident – if the documents passed by the highest leadership of the country continue to be so far removed from the actual situation in Russia and the world, ten years down the line, Dmitri Medvedev’s successor won’t be concerned with disseminating strategy any longer.

*trans. note.  Portnikov references Manilov, a character from Gogol’s “Dead Souls” who has a lofty imagination.

**an unofficial name of a prestigious residential area West of Moscow, Russia.

translation by theotherrussia.org