A spectator watches Sukhoi Su-30SM jet fighters of the Sokoly Rossii (Falcons of Russia) aerobatic team perform during the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US Defense Department last week labeled Russia one of the top two enemies of the United States. On the surface, it appears to have a point, with Russia taking back slices of the former Soviet empire in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine. Too, Russia, together with Turkey and Iran, has scored a major victory in Syria.
With 1,800 nukes on high alert, Russia is No. 2 in the world in exporting first-class weapons and No. 3 in the world in scientific/engineering innovation.
It has a number of friends, such as China, India, France, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria and Egypt. It has low public debt, accounting for only 11% of GDP, and is the largest state in the world.
But a more in depth look suggests that Russia has far less capability than the US in many areas. Russia belongs to no organization like NATO. It is under sanctions for its multiple interventions in the former Soviet Union, sanctions which led to a 2.1% drop in GDP from 2014-2017. The Americans yearly spend over $600 billion on defense, the Russian less than $100b.
Unlike the American population which grows by nearly two million people a year, the Russian population of 143 million, aided by massive alcoholism, emigration and aging, has lost 4.5 million people in the past 17 years.
By 2050 the population is projected to sink below 130 million.
The American GDP/capita of $57,500 is seven times that of the Russia’s at $8,400. Russia’s $1.6 trillion GDP is barely 2% of the global economy and less than 10% of America’s $19t. economy. Russia’s economy is smaller than the economies of England, France, Germany or even Italy. The average Russian salary is $450 per month, with 19 million people living in poverty. It has over 20% of the world’s forests but they account for less than 4% of its trade. American budget revenues of $2.5t. a year are more than six times Russia’s revenues of $400b.
Corruption is so bad that Russia ranks 131st in the world of 176 countries in fighting corruption. It receives little foreign investment. The economy is so unevenly distributed that it leads the world in billionaires, and corruption equals business. Corruption has permeated the public administration, law enforcement, health care and education.
Male life expectancy is under 66 years and female expectancy is greater than 76 years. Americans have eight years more life expectancy than Russians. Russia has experienced no consumer revolution or strong agricultural modernization. Life in the countryside remains difficult.
Russia, No. 8 in crude oil reserves, is a petro-state with 63% of its exports being oil and natural gas. Russia is No.
2 in oil exports just after the US and ahead of Saudi Arabia. Its economy has attracted little foreign investment.
The US, with its thriving capitalist economy, large population and remoteness from Europe and Asia has an impressive list of military victories.
These include the 1776-1781 American Revolution, 1812-1815 war with England, 1846-1848 Mexican War, 1861-1865 Civil War, 1898 Spanish campaign, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the recent destruction of Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
Nearly all came with few losses and after entering the war late. Vietnam was America’s major defeat.
Indeed, Russia, with its vulnerability to Europe and Asia and low-level modern economy, has suffered serious losses even in victories, as well as numerous defeats. Under Tsarist Russia it suffered 240 years of Mongol occupation (1240-1480), the Tartar burning of Moscow (1571), Polish- Lithuanian occupation of Moscow (1610), defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856), defeat by Japan (1904-1905), loss and withdrawal from World War I and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918).
Under the Communists Russia suffered massive losses even in victory. In World War II it suffered 10 million soldiers killed and 15-17 million civilians killed. Even in lesser campaigns, such as the 1948 Berlin blockade, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and 1979-1988 war in Afghanistan, the Russian army failed and was forced to retreat.
Overall, then, Russia is definitely a potential threat but not on the level of the United States. In the meantime China is likely to pass Russia within 20 years and leave it in the dust.