|SHOULD RUSSIA CLAIM GREAT POWER
MOSCOW. (Sergei Kortunov for RIA Novosti)
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of a group of Western
political analysts participating in the Valdai Discussion Club: “I
wouldn’t like to use the terms of the past. ‘Superpower’ is a term
we used during the Cold War. What do we need such terms as ‘power’ and
Some Russian and Western media interpreted these words as Russia’s
decision to abandon superpower ambitions. Political analysts concluded
that the Russian ruling elite was not thinking about Russia’s greatness
But the transcript of Putin’s speech, which has been published since
then, shows that the president was speaking about Russia’s great
opportunities in the energy sector, although he refused to apply the term
“superpower” to energy relations either. “You have probably noted
that I have never said Russia is an energy superpower,” he said.
“However, we have more opportunities than any of the world’s
countries. This is an obvious fact.”
The question merits serious analysis. Should Russia claim a superpower
status, or reclaim the status of the former Soviet Union so as to
challenge the Untied States, another superpower?
No matter what we may think about the Soviet Union, its dissolution in
December 1991 inspired a feeling of loss in the overwhelming majority of
Russians and people of the post-Soviet states. They think we have lost a
great and powerful state.
On the other hand, few people want the USSR to be reconstructed in its old
form. Polls show that most Russians do not want Russia to regain the
superpower status if this is accompanied by a deterioration in their
living standards. This is why the number of advocates of reunification
with the CIS countries has been falling in the past decade.
But the majority of the people and the political elite would like Russia
to be respected in the world, which explains the noticeable growth of
great power sentiments in society and growing interest for discussions of
“sovereign democracy”, “energy superpower” and other related
issued conducted by political analysts and experts.
The root cause of this is not the nostalgia for the old superpower, the
Soviet Union, although it is a factor. The events of the 1990s and the
early 21st century, specifically the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999,
the U.S. occupation of Iraq and recurring Western interference in the
affairs of the CIS and Russia, are seen by many as proof that the West
respects only economic and military might. Therefore, the potential loss
of the great power status is regarded as the loss of independence and the
ability to influence other countries and internal developments.
But is Russia a great power? The possibility has been questioned in the
West and in Russia, usually on the back of its economic performance, share
in global profits and trade, the structure of foreign economic relations,
per capita GDP, economic structure, and the like.
Russia is far behind the industrialized countries on these counts (it is
46th in per capita GDP). As for the sustainable economic growth, it is
explained, with good reason, by super-high world prices of energy
However, the West has admitted Russia – not Brazil, Indonesia, India or
China – to the G7 group of the world’s leading countries in
recognition of its political weight and potential economic might.
Russia is a great power in terms of its political importance, intellectual
might and influence on global affairs, including as a permanent member of
the UN Security Council and corresponding responsibilities. Apart from
this, as well as the geopolitical situation and the existence of nuclear
weapons (Russia is a military superpower without a doubt), other proof of
Russia’s great power status are its current and future opportunities of
a resource provider, its hard-working and intellectual population, and the
high scientific and technological potential.
These factors (territory, technological and human potential, and the
existence of nearly all types of raw materials and resources) objectively
make Russia a major world power.
Russians are well-educated and cultured people, with a major share of
qualified professionals and specialists. Russia therefore is an industrial
(and partly post-industrial) country, some of whose elements were created
by Soviet defense industries. Russia’s workforce differs from the
developing countries’ labor force, but is quite similar to the Western
workforce. It has the same type of skilled workers, machines and
But the trouble is that Russia has a different mentality, culture of
employer-employee relations and social structure (mostly for historical
reasons), which prevents it from attaining Western productivity.
So Russia is a great power facing major economic problems provoked by
changes in its economic, geopolitical and geoeconomic situation and
transition to a new type of social development. The maintenance and
mobilization of internal reserves promise a potential economic
rehabilitation and transition to a stage of sustainable, innovation
(post-industrial) development. Changes in the world, which are mostly
positive, provide preconditions for attaining this goal.
Russia can attain and better the high Western results in absolute output.
If, however, this does not happen overnight, the situation should not be
dramatized. The loss of the superpower status has not stripped Russia of a
chance for social progress and prosperity. Moreover, it can stimulate
Putin has said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a major
geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. It was also a national
catastrophe. There are three types of such catastrophes. The dissolution
of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe involving a shift and, to a degree,
an inversion. But it cannot be described as an exhaustive catastrophe
because it can be remedied.
Russia has the means to guarantee its survival, national security, social
development, human dignity, fundamental rights and liberties, and the
wellbeing of the individual and his family. The fight for global
leadership, such as between the Soviet Union and the Untied States,
entailed major outlays. Ensuring national security and development is a
much less costly undertaking but it is the underlying principle of
survival. As for the idea of global geopolitical and territorial
expansion, the Russian people have had enough of it.
So, should Russia claim the great power status or not? Yes, it should. It
need not claim the role of “superpower” competing with the U.S. on a
par, because the term withered away when the Cold War ended, as Putin has
said correctly. Rather, it should claim an equitable role in the group of
the world’s top five countries, and not because it wants it. This is an
objective and logical process, which cannot be disregarded.
Sergei Kortunov is deputy chairman of the panel of experts at the upper
house’s committee on international affairs.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not
necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board. -0-