October 12, 2011 |  3 comments |  Print this Article  Your Research  

Term Paper: Russia: The Knight at the Crossroads

Maxim Miroshnikov: Russia finds itself at a crossroads facing a set of opportunities and challenges in regards to its demographic situation, military, economy and governance. Despite undergoing dramatic economic improvement, Russia remains a great power in name only.

In the first decade of the 21st century Russia finds itself at a historic junction. No longer a great power, Russia appears to be a country at the crossroads of modernity, in the face of both challenges and opportunities. This article analyzes Russia's standing along four dimensions typically associated with the traditional notion of power on the international stage: demography, military force, economy and governance. In each one of these categories, Russia has made some progress, but it is unclear in which direction Russia is developing. In order to understand whether negative or positive trends will prevail in the future, it is important to take a holistic approach.

Maxim Miroshnikov is an M.A. student in International Studies at Old Dominion University.

 
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Regina  Bakhteeva

October 19, 2011

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Dear Maxim,

Thank you for your paper. I think it presents a comprehensive overview of problems that currently beset Russia. Examination of challenges and opportunities along the four dimensions was a very good choice to structure your paper. While I would agree with most of your arguments, there is at least one passage in your work that I find not very convincing. And that is the alarmist mood when it comes to Chinese settling in Russia’s Far East.

As I am sure, you are aware there are voices in Russia that warn about the Chinese taking over Russia’s territory. But is this fear grounded? I see nothing wrong in migrants coming to places to work where there is clearly a lack of local labour force. As you were right to point out, many Russians have left the Far East. But why is it necessary to revert the trend, so that Russians would come back to the Far East and the Chinese would leave it? In this respect I would suggest to consider the arguments developed in a book The Siberian Curse by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy. Given that the Soviet planning distorted the geography of Russian economy, I am inclined to interpret the trend when Russians move away from the Far East as redressing these distortions.

Overall, I enjoyed reading your paper. I would concur with your main conclusion. Despite its aspirations and claims to be a great power, Russia is out of this league. But why do you not take your conclusion further? Does actually Russia need to be a great power? May be it is time for Russia to reconcile itself with the fact that it has lost its great power status.

Regards,
Regina
 
Yan  Matusevich

October 20, 2011

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Thank you Regina for your thoughtful input. Having researched the question of Russia's growing immigrant population, I would also agree with you that migrants are an absolute necessity for Russia, a country with a rapidly diminishing work force. In fact, Chinese migrants in the region are the ones keeping the economy running in the Far East in the first place.

Maxim does, however, touch on an important issue: the problem of centralization in Russia. The majority of the countries wealth is concentrated in Russia's two major cities: Moscow and St.Petersburg. There is a gaping gap in quality of life and income levels between Russia two capitals and the rest of the country. Beyond the fact that the Russian political system has become extremely centralized under Putin's rule, there is a big bureaucratic hurdle to mobility in Russia. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has maintained a system of internal passports and registration thereby prohibiting the freedom of movement between Russian cities. For an average Russian citizen moving to another city is nearly impossible as a result of the bureacracy. A Russian citizen living in, say, Moscow without proper documentation (known in Russin as propiska) does not have access to social services and can be fined by the police for failing to register.

For years, liberal-minded politicians and experts in Russia have been calling for the abolition of these draconian rules, but to no avail. In my opinion, getting rid of the propiska system would be the necessary first step in allowing Russians to migrate across the country in search of jobs and better opportunities. It's impossible to have a free market without a mobile work force.
 
Regina  Bakhteeva

October 20, 2011

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Yan, I would not exaggerate the role of proper documentation (propiska) in hampering people mobility in Russia. The requirement to get registered in a place where one does not have a propiska is easily circumvented. As they say in Russia, the severity of a law is compensated with its loose observance. Many people just get a fake registration or live without it by paying bribes when such a need arises. Actually the Russian Constitution guarantees the right “to freedom of movement and to choose a place to stay and reside” (art.27). Being a supreme law, the Constitution supersedes all other laws. However, in the atmosphere of “legal nihilism”, as Russia’s President Medvedev, a lawyer himself, described the situation with law in Russia, the Constitution is not of much help.

As I see it, the problem with mobility in Russia has very little to do with bureaucratic hurdles. Moscow and St. Petersburg keep on attracting huge flows of labor force, and there is no less bureaucracy there than in other places. The challenge is how to make other cities attractive to migrants. Decentralization would be a step in the right direction, however, so far there have been no signs that it is going to happen any time soon.
 

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