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Neely Young: Russia's Twilight

Under Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin, the country has been using its military to strike out beyond its borders. Popular belief has it that Russia is becoming a major power in the world, while America’s influence is on the decline. Others beg to differ, including American international strategist Peter Zeihan, who has written a book defining America as The Accidental Superpower.

He offers several reasons. Since World War II, the world’s oceans have been safe for international trade because of the protection and enforcement of the U.S. Navy. The shale oil revolution is now making America energy independent, with the result that America’s interest in European global affairs and especially in Middle East oil fields will no longer be a priority.

His book suggests that America will remain a superpower, while Russia is in a major decline because its ethnic population is dying out. With the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, most of its holdings broke away as independent countries; Russia’s population was sliced by more than one-third. 

While its territory is the largest in the world, it is a harsh land. Russia has hard winters, high winds and unpredictable weather, including drought; most of the land is not fit for human beings. It is a place of poverty, hunger and insecurity. Unlike the U.S., there is no migration of people to Russia to help increase the population. The country’s demographics are a disaster. Russian national population is diseased, aging and not reproducing. According to estimates, life expectancy for Russian men is 64, where in America it is 76.  Zeihan states that its “demographic decline is so steep, so far advanced that it is unlikely to survive as a state.”

Add to Russia’s current problems the fact that 40 percent of its economy is based on oil and natural gas. Saudia Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, is reducing its production, and the worldwide price of oil is now below $50 a barrel – far below what is profitable for Russia.

For all of these reasons, Zeihan believes Russia has at most eight years to correct its decline. If it fails, it will not have an economy or a large enough population to maintain its roads and rail system, monitor its frontier or even the capacity to sustain a military.

The only answer, he believes, is that Russia will have to reverse its situation by reconquering lost territories. His book outlines actions Russia will take to address this issue.

The former Soviet state has already moved into the Crimean Peninsula to secure the Black Sea port of Sevastopol and is now planning to annex common borderland by supporting a revolt in western Ukraine. Any form of Ukrainian independence is a threat to Russia.

To address the oil and gas problem and increase oil prices, Putin is trying to gain influence in the Middle East by sending military equipment and aid to Syria and working to become an ally of Iran.

Next on Putin’s list, Zeihan believes, will be the annexation of the Northern European frontier of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This will protect the fate of Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, and give the country access to deep-water ports, something they need and don’t have. Belarus and Poland are also in danger of falling under Moscow’s influence.

To the south of Russia is Kazakhstan (“stan” means “land”), which is the breadbasket of the region. This will be a target for Putin to keep China from coming in through its back door. Lastly, the Russians will need to secure the Caucases, which include Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan located between the Black and Caspian seas and on the border of Turkey.

America’s inaction in addressing Russian aggression is a mystery. As of the writing of this column, our country has been standing aside and doing nothing. Zeihan’s book makes the case that we might not care. With our country becoming energy independent, America is sidestepping the increasingly dangerous Middle East oil and gas market. Some of the political conversation coming from both parties is to let Russia have its way.

Zeihan’s book has other predictions that may sound strange. He believes that Canada’s Alberta province, north of Montana, will someday be a part of the U.S.; that we will become a strong ally of Iran; and that we will let Europe die on the vine.

He believes that despite our problems, America will survive, thrive and maintain our global preeminence in the future. You might not agree with everything, but after you finish reading The Accidental Superpower, you will never see the world as we have in the past.

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