Russia's finance ministry has said its economy shrank in Q1 2014 and is likely to shrink some more in Q2. We examine how Russia's economic outlook is influenced by US geostrategic imperatives.
Russia's finance ministry said this week that the country's economy is entering a second consecutive quarter of contraction in Q2. It said the economic outlook for Q3 would depend on the level of geopolitical uncertainty - a reference to the tensions over Ukraine. But what is the deep background underlying those tensions?
Russia is competing with the Western nations backing Ukraine's interim government to determine whether Ukraine will align geopolitically and economically with Russia, or with the US-led Western alliance. Russia, in light of history and geography, views the prospect of a NATO-aligned Ukraine as an unacceptable geostrategic risk to its security.
New US strategy toward Russia
Michael McFaul, who was US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to early 2014, recently characterized the renewed conflict between Washington and Russia as an "ideological struggle between autocracy and democracy", saying "we [the USA] did not seek this confrontation".
But a new essay on US geostrategy in Eurasia by George Friedman, founder of the influential US-based private geopolitics think tank Stratfor, casts the conflict in a very different light. Entitled 'Borderlands: The New Strategic Landscape', the piece examines the geostrategic imperatives of the USA, Russia, and Germany (among others) in the European Eurasian theatre (the region including Europe and Russia) over the course of the past century.
Russian-German alliance could rival US power
Friedman concludes that US geostrategy in European Eurasia has consistently aimed at maintaining a balance of power between Russia on one side and Europe, above all Germany, on the other - in order to ensure that no single power ever comes to dominate the enormous combined population and resources of the region.
Friedman sees nation-states as analogous to tribal organisms, competing with each other for territory and resources and driven by an instinct for self-preservation. He views the US as the dominant imperial power of the present era, and argues that the only serious potential competitor to US global power would be an alliance between Russia and Europe - specifically Russia and Germany.
For that reason, since 1914 the US has repeatedly intervened to prevent such a combination from arising, whether by conquest or voluntary alliance - and it's doing so again now, by acting to isolate Russia from Europe. As part of that strategy, the US will attempt to weaken Russia economically over time, by acting to wean America's allies off Russian oil and gas.
New alliance on Russia's western border?
If Friedman has his way, Russia will face a new US-backed military alliance to its immediate west. He is embarking on a tour of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, the countries between the Baltic and Black Seas along the western frontier of Russia's geopolitical sphere of influence. He calls this region the 'Intermarium'. His aim is to sound out influential political figures in the Intermarium countries on their appetite for setting up an integrated and effective military force capable of successfully defending against any westward thrust by Moscow.
In Friedman's vision, the new alliance would be supplied with armaments by the USA. He argues that NATO is unlikely to be willing to commit sufficient military resources and political will to field a standing military force in the Intermarium countries that would be strong enough to stop any Russian advance.