Is Russia still a key world power?

December 21st, 2015 by Staff


Whether Russia, one of 15 successor states to the USSR, which broke up in 1991, is still a genuine world power in 2015 is open to question.

It remains the world’s largest country and the largest oil producer
It retains its permanent seat on the UN Security Council (one among five)
Its nuclear arsenal (in Cold War times one of five countries, but now one of nine) has been progressively modernised
Sustained increases in defence spending have brought it close to its goal of escalation dominance in local and regional war
But the economic base for these capabilities is steadily declining.

Russia’s economy is the 10th largest in the world, producing little of value beyond hydrocarbons.

Corruption and rent-seeking extract an enormous economic toll.

It remains burdened with Soviet era infrastructure, and its ability to meet the educational and medical needs of its population is rapidly declining.

Whatever one’s view, two further points for and against Russia’s global standing are undeniable:

Russia regards itself as a great power – it is not in question anywhere inside the country
China has long since eclipsed Russia as the world’s number two power behind the US
Yet for all Russia’s pretence about a rebalancing of priorities towards Asia, since the fallout over Ukraine, it still measures itself against the West, and America in particular.

Distinct Eurasian niche

Regardless of hypothetical rankings or real-world measurements, Russia has carved out a niche for itself as a distinct Eurasian pole in world politics, allied to neither Europe nor Asia but seeking influence there and beyond.

Its membership of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of rising powers suggests an acknowledgement that Russia has not quite arrived (there is no contradiction for Russia between this and pre-existing great power status) but also that is it is civilisationally distinct from Europe.

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