Russia at the End of the Post-Soviet Era

VIENNA: In a world where the Soviet Union no longer exists, where new centers of power and influence are emerging, one important question remains: what has taken the place of that huge space on the map once inscribed with the letters "USSR"? The disintegration of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Russia's fall from being the indisputable leader of the Commonwealth, the formation of bilateral and multilateral alliances within the CIS that are oblivious to Russia's interests: these are substantial rebukes to Russian influence and to the idea that a quick reintegration of the commonwealth states around Russia is possible. The economic unity of the Soviet Union was largely determined by the interests of the old common military-industrial complex, for whom economic expediency and competition were alien notions because it operated in an environment of economic isolation and military-political confrontation with the rest of the world. The political reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev put an end to the cold war and opened the country up but no common interest appeared to take the place of the lost imperial/military mission.

According to data provided by the Russian Institute of Economic Analysis, currently Russia's share in the world's land space is five times higher than Russia's share in the world population, and 8 times its share in the world GNP, calculated on the parity of currencies' purchasing power. If Russia's share of global GNP is calculated using the market exchange rates of national currencies, the difference will not be 8 times, but 14 times.

What does this mean in terms of Russia's future? Will Russia follow the Soviet Union and inevitably disintegrate into several independent states or will the threat of such disintegration force it to rebuild its economic potential? If it chooses the latter, there are two possible ways to do it. One is through the continuation of market reforms and the strengthening of democratic institutions; the other is through pursuit of the stagnant authoritarian power model and a strengthening of state control over a monopolized economy. The path Russia chooses will determine how quickly and with what results Russia can overcome the deep systemic crisis, which has marked the post-Soviet period in Russia's history.

Today's crisis, indeed, is a very complex and multifaceted phenomenon, governed by several principle processes. First and foremost, this is a crisis of an economic system which has defaulted on its internal and external debts. There is also a deep political crisis which leads to frequent changes of governments operating under political restrictions and, therefore, incapable of developing and pursuing strategic programs of economic change. Finally, it is a crisis of national ideology and national identity.