Backlash Against the West


News from Russia looks bleak. Still suffering from aftershocks of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989, the country is neck-deep in economic and governmental instability which could have serious global consequences.

After a slight reprieve in 1997, Russia’s near-decade-long economic contraction resumed this past summer, inflamed by the growing Asian financial crisis. Her gross domestic product began to fall in May and got progressively worse until an 8.2 percent slump in August. Inflation is soaring, with consumer prices up 43.3 percent in the first half of September.

Meanwhile, post-communist Russia is suffering from her worst harvest in 40 years. 1998 is bringing in about half the grain yields gathered in 1997. As yet, the resilient Russian people are weathering the shortage fairly peaceably, but with winter looming, more serious hardship lies in store, and some are anticipating a major explosion of popular anger.

Many Russians are looking for scapegoats. In a backlash against the democratic steps Russian governments have tried to take, an anti-Western, Orthodox-nationalist-communist alliance is rising, and they are unafraid to point fingers at Western influence.

This backlash is asserting itself in various ways. Russian-Iranian relations have been strengthening since the USSR’s demise; the new government has made it clear that’s the way things will continue. Russia’s new foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, says they will “vigorously follow” the expansion of their partnership. Iran’s sole interest in Russia lies in her weaponry. Russia seems more intent on reasserting itself in the Middle East at U.S. expense.

Russia’s tensions with the West are also on display over the Kosovo crisis. The U.S. is using NATO to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic into accepting a diplomatic resolution. Russia has emphatically stated that any use of NATO force in Yugoslavia would be “an unmitigated threat to the Russian Federation.” Leonid Ivashov, from Russia’s Defense Ministry, claimed that Russia would change its partnership with NATO and seek “possible new military allies to maintain the necessary military balance.”

Granted—with its current woes, Russia itself may not pose much of an immediate threat to international security (its economy is producing not much more per year than Spain). But the anti-Western revival will find willing collaborators which could cause more serious problems, particularly in the Middle East.

Russia possesses 70,000 nuclear warheads mounted on missiles capable of reaching sites in the U.S. within an hour of a decision to launch them. Graham Allison of the Washington Post says there are another 12,000 nuclear weapons in storage facilities, “protected by guards whose salaries have been delayed for months.”

As authority crumbles in Russia, it becomes increasingly easy for rogue states to get their hands on some of this arsenal.

Also at risk is the security of the nuclear and military know-how Russia has acquired. Cutbacks will find 45,000 workers from Russia’s nuclear and military industries laid off before year’s end. Some analysts fear the brain drain could easily flow into volatile areas like Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Syria.