Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Return of Bear?

Power and influence are irresistible; so as the pull of past glory. Most nationalists around the world are trying hard to revive the past. They want to sat in front of glass tables where fate of nations is decided. Now-a-days it’s hard. Unlike old days’ raw power alone can’t decide or influence global events. Countries which want to appear prominently in global order has to have the economic, population, military and technological wherewithal to pursue it.

Consider Egypt; they have the biggest and most powerful army and biggest population among Arab nations. However, their economic situation is bad. Consider Japan, Korea; they are economic super powers, however they lack strength in military. For European nations; though they are well developed and have advanced technology, their size and population hinters their global power projection capacity. Still UK, France have the ware withal to do it. Other European nations are so small (or don't have any ambition to become a global military power) can’t alter the fate of global events individually (but as a group - EU or as part of NATO they can do). Consider the case of South American nations. They have size, population, and probably good military too. However, over dependence on commodity cycles often led these nations to boom-bust cycles, due to which they hardly have any chance to emerge.

This leaves only very small number of nations like US, China, UK, Russia, France, India etc. left with the capacity project power. In this group also other than US, rest can only influence the events in their near abroad.

It is in this situation, Russia under Putin is trying to revive its pre-cold war posture. Problem Putin is going to face is Russia's extreme high dependence on hydrocarbon. As global oil prices are nose-dived from all time high of $130+/barrel to 40s/barrel it is very difficult for Putin to generate money for huge military expenditure required for global power projection.

“The (Russian)defense ministry has reportedly more than halved its budgetary request (for financing of 2018–2025 massive rearmament program) from 55 trillion rubles ($915 bn) to 22tn ($366 bn). But the finance ministry is apparently offering only 12 tn ($200 bn). At a cabinet meeting in the Kremlin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu yelled at Finance Minister Anton Siluanov after the latter offered the petty sum (Kommersant, September 17). The price of oil remains depressed at under $50 per barrel. The contracted Russian economy is still stagnant. Russia cannot continue to spend on defense as when oil was well over $100 a barrel” – Jamestown Foundation

Recently Russia, is working to re-launch its former military bases in Vietnam (Cam Ranh Bay naval base) and Cuba (Lourdes signal intelligence station). Russia left both bases in 2002, when she was no longer able to run these bases due to budgetary constraints. Currently Russia has presence in Syria (Tartus), Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Molova, Tajikistan). Out of this, other than the one in Syria all other bases are located on previous Soviet Union territories. Looks like Russia is trying to revive all Soviet Foreign Bases. Will it be able to do that?

Vietnam may agree for renting out some space at ‘Cam Ranh Bay’; not so sure about Cuba, which is on a rapprochement path with US. With new bases Russia will be able to project its power far beyond its borders. However, maintaining its bases abroad is going to cost them a lot. Without reviving it industry and reducing the dependency on petro-dollars it will be hard for Russia to maintain foreign bases for long.



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