USSR Breakup (Image: Andrey Sedykh, vpk-news.ru)
Russia today is in far worse shape than was the USSR at the end of the first Cold War, Konstantin Sivkov says, and unless it takes radical measures now, the forces that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union will have “fatal consequences not only for Russia as a state but for the peoples who populate it.”
Consequently, the president of the Moscow Academy of Geopolitical Problems argues in a VPK essay today, Moscow must focus on the experience of the USSR because it provides a negative example of what not to do if one hopes to avoid defeat in the course of the current heightening of international tensions.
Among the lessons current Russian rulers must learn if they are to avoid disaster, Sivkov says, is that they must strengthen rather than weaken the FSB and its control over key elites and that they must articulate a national idea based on justice and equality rather than celebrate one based on Darwinian competition.
According to Sivkov, “it is obvious” that “Russia is being drawn by the West into a new phase of the cold war,” that East-West tensions are higher than they were at the end of the last one, and that Russia both internationally and at home is in a much worse position than the Soviet Union was before its collapse.
Geopolitically, the Soviet Union had the Warsaw Pact and China as its allies, he continues. “Today, Russia observes its geopolitical opponent at its own borders,” with the West extending its control “over the countries of the former socialist camp and even certain post-Soviet republics.”
Moreover, “the current allies of Russia are dependent on it significantly less than was the case during the times of the USSR.” As a result, their support of Moscow is “far from always guaranteed” as was shown by their responses to the Ukrainian crisis and their increasingly independent foreign policies more generally.
Economically, the situation of Russia today is incomparably worse than that of the Soviet Union of a generation ago. The German invasion cost Russia more than half of its industrial production, but the Soviet government was able to restore it. Economic reforms have cost Russia even more, and Moscow hasn’t. Indeed, in many areas, it is now dependent on the West.
That is because the Soviet system was driven by national goals and a plan, Sivkov argues. Russia today, “under the capitalist means of production,” isn’t. Instead, the priority for all economic actors is “maximum profits” for themselves regardless of what that means for the country as a whole.
Spiritually, the situation of Russia today is “even worse than in the economic sphere.” The Soviet people, he says, were “in their absolute majority convinced in the correctness of the ruling socialist ideology.” More important, they viewed the social system in the USSR as just and as an example for the world.
There is nothing comparable to that in contemporary Russia, Sivkov says. “Social brotherhood has been replaced by competitive relations.” As a result, “unqualified trust in the ruling elite by society doesn’t exist. Instead, the situation is just the reverse.”
In terms of security, the USSR had definite advantages in its military forces, its special services, and its military-industrial complex, the Moscow analyst and commentator says. The only sector in which Russia today has an advantage is in its “nuclear potential.”
Despite its advantages, the Soviet Union lost the first cold war, Sivkov says. If Russia is to avoid losing the second, it must identify the numerous reasons that happened in order to take preventive actions.
The first of these, he suggests, was “the mistaken cadres policy” of the late Soviet period, a policy which allowed the emergence of clans, the growth of capitalist values at the expense of socialist ones, and a general decay which left the regime without people who could run a planned economy of the defenders the system needed at the time of crisis.
A second cause, Sivkov argues, was the spread of the false idea that military spending was crippling the country. In fact, much military spending was going to civil needs both directly and through the promotion of the kind of technological advancement that benefitted all sectors of the economy. But that is not what most Soviet people came to believe at the end.
And a third cause, related to the second, is that ever more Soviet leaders began to forget what the security needs of the country in fact were. “Serious problems arose in the security system,” and they threatened the ability of the country’s armed forces to “guarantee the neutralization of practically all types of armed threats without the application of nuclear means.”
Unlike in Russia today, the security services worked well both at home and abroad, Sivkov says, but at a certain point, their positive role was seriously reduced when the upper reaches of the party-state became “untouchable” as far as the KGB was concerned, a development that led to the appearance and spread of agents of influence and traitors.
And equally unfortunately, the Moscow analyst says, this trend allowed the party-state to put its own people in charge of the KGB and other Soviet security agencies. That in turn reduced their effectiveness not only at home where the new security heads began to display the same problems as the CPSU elite but abroad as well.
“The decay of the higher political elite in Russia is much deeper than was the case in the USSR,” Sivkov says, with massive corruption remaining largely unpunished, with selfishness enshrined as the highest value, and with clans increasingly widespread and all too powerful, he suggests.
Neither the elites nor the masses have a clearly defined national idea “which would contain a clear understanding of social justice and demonstrate that our state is built on the foundation of justice.” As a result, there are increasing divides in Russian society and little chance for the technological breakthrough the country needs.
And what is perhaps worrisome if one looks to the future, Sivkov says, is that Moscow now relies on its nuclear weapons for security because its “conventional forces are capable of solving tasks only in low intensity conflicts.” And its FSB is much weaker because more of the Russian elite is “untouchable.”
In that situation, he says, “’the fifth column’ is flourishing,” undermining the government and society and leaving them both “incomparably weaker than was the case in Soviet times.” Unless radical measures are taken, Sivkov says, “the country is doomed” and likely sooner and more radically than was the late USSR.