It may not seem like it on the surface with all their propaganda bluster in the media, but Russia is rapidly approaching the end game in its most recent attempt at reviving the Russian Empire. In summary, it is going bankrupt and will collapse sometime in the next couple of years.
Imperialism in the 21st century is an expensive proposition. By contrast, in the good old days when the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian Empires ruled the world, wealth flowed in obscene quantities from conquered colonies back to the imperial homelands. Exploitation, backed by military might, made imperialism extremely profitable. We may look back on those days with some moral repugnance, recognizing that it was outright theft, but back then, the great powers felt little shame in using their military superiority to commit economic larceny on an epic scale.
Fast forward to the twenty first century and it has become obvious that the rules of the game have changed considerably. The great world powers can no longer use overt military strength to impose their will, at least not on a global scale. Conflict between the great powers has become highly problematic. With the advent of nuclear weapons, even the notion of another world war happening has become obsolete. The next world war will be the last for human civilization, in the unlikely event that it ever happens.
Further, as vulnerable as human rights and freedoms may seem at times, a good chunk of the world has come to accept that democracy and free enterprise, and the freedoms associated with them, are the principles on which the future of this planet should be based. This process will continue to strengthen as more and more of the world’s population becomes literate and educated, and technology makes freedom of thought, expression and communication a catalyst for cooperation rather than conflict.
In all of this, Russia has turned its back on where the rest of the world is headed, and is trying to turn back the clock to an era whose time is long gone. It is a strategy that it cannot afford. Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia has for all practical purposes become a third world country. Its economy has shrunk to where it no longer even makes the world’s top ten. Canada, Brazil and Italy all have larger GDP’s than Russia. Imagine Canada trying to fund a military ten times larger than it has now and engaging in several expensive proxy wars.
Russia’s ill-conceived incursions into Ukraine and Syria have cost it big time, as most of the world’s major powers have imposed crippling sanctions. For the past several years, it has survived on reserves built up through the sale of vast natural resources when its behavior on the world stage was still relatively tolerable. With most of the developed world now shutting off its markets to Russian trade, those reserves have been rapidly depleting and will run out some time in 2017. When that happens, the quality of life for the average Russian, as bad as it already is, will plummet even further, as the state starts sacrificing such things as pensions, social services and economic investments to fund its military adventurism. As powerful as Putin may think he is, when the Russians finally realize that his promises for a return to “greatness” are but a mad delusion, his regime will topple faster than the Soviet Union under Gorbachev.
Putin has tried through propaganda means to create the impression that both he and Russia are strong and invulnerable. He has invested big time in subversive activities that seek to undermine the unity and strength of the European Union and NATO. The reality is that he is in over his head and cannot sustain his current activities for more than another year or two before Russia collapses.
All that Europe and the rest of the free world need do, is maintain and increase the current sanctions, and be patient. Do not negotiate or make deals with him. He has shown time and again that he is not bound by any agreements and treaties he makes. When they are no longer of use to him, he discards them with impunity. Negotiating with Putin is a waste of time and only gives him stature that he does not deserve. The best strategy is to ignore him and keep shutting off his economic access to the rest of the world.
If the world can stand firm and muster a little more patience, Putin will soon be gone, and perhaps Russia can have a fresh start in joining the rest of the civilized world in building a more prosperous and peaceful future based on cooperation rather than conflict.