An interesting mini-item in Foreign Policy concerns Mikhail Khodorkovsky. An oil billionaire and the wealthiest man in Russia in 2004, he was jailed for eight years in 2005 for being too politically active . . . and possibly a strong competitor to Putin as President, and dispossessed of his businesses. Khodorkovsky is now an exile living in Switzerland but no doubt makes a very adquate living on the international lecture circuit. Despite his time in prison one imagines that he still has enough high level contacts to give him a good feel for what is going on, even if he doesn’t know the innermost secrets.
He told a recent meeting of the Atlantic Council — a heavyweight international think tank — that Putin is now a desperate man trying to cope with official corruption at the top of Moscow’s power structure. Putin’s recent statements that he was going to increase Russia’s inter-continental ballistic missiles is really scapegoating America and NATO in order to retain popular support and to deflect public attention away from his internal Kremlin problems.
Putin probably can’t afford to do so anyway. Ever since the collapse of the ‘Russian Empire’ (the dissolution of the Union of the Soviet Republics) in 1991, Russia has never been able to develop anything that can be considered a modern consumer society. At the forefront in various branches of physics, mathematics and rocketry hitherto (though possibly falling back now), Russia has never been able to establish adequate property law and an independent judiciary which could uphold business contracts impartiallhy against mafia-like threats.
Thus, while the oil oiligarchs are secure enough, much of Russia’s business is corrupt and young entrepreneurs are thwarted when trying to establish new businesses. If it hadn’t been for the massive exports of oil and gas over the years, Russia’s economy would have sunk a long time ago and, today, its GDP abut the same as Belgium’s!
And while Saudi Arabia — principally — is over-producing oil in order to keep the world price of gas and oil low for reasons of it own, Russia’ economy is probably approaching a critical condition. If Russia’s communist system had not broken up in 1991, it would already be looking forward to great celebrations on the 100th anniversary of its 1917 Communist Revolution. Could it be approaching an altogether new revolutionary situation instead? Quite possibly. More likely, though, some of the officials and criminals at the top of the Kremlin power structure would be more likely to effect a coup d’etat against Putin in 2017 or before.
If that happens, or is likely to happen China would be greatly disconfited because Russia is its closest formal ally and much is planned between them by way of currency exchange arrangements, farming development in Russia, further oil and gas pipeline developments, resources of far eastern Russia adjacent to China and in big plans for trans-Asian roads and railways. If it twigs that a coup is in the offing, China would probably want to intercept as a broker in bringing about a more orderly change in government. All sorts of interesting things could be happening in Russia in 2017 (or more likely before then — history doesn’t wait for anniversaries).