Should we be worrying about Russia? Yes. Both for ourselves and for those people within, both Russians and perhaps even more so, its recent immigrants.
In these alarmist times, the Pentagon and the State Department yawn at the Russian-Venezuelan coordinated naval activities and Russian visits to Cuba. The United States Admiral of Southern Command (the area where these drills are taking place) says “they pose no military threat to the U.S.” Condoleezza Rice goes even further: “A few aging Blackjacks flying unarmed along the coast of Venezuela is — I don’t know why one would do it, but I’m not particularly going to lose sleep over that.”
The American military and diplomatic elite aren’t projecting any degree of worry on that front. And why would they? Russia is not in a position to be building itself up militarily enough to be a real threat to the United States. Russia has recently suggested that they would be willing to scrap some future projects if the U.S. didn’t proceed with its European missile shield. The Commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces says that if the U.S. were to abandon the shield then Russia would “simply not need a number of expensive programs.” Note that word ‘expensive.’ A global financial crisis affects everyone, everywhere. And a country with as many infrastructure problems as Russia is taking it on the chin.
We do not need to worry about Russia because of any imperialist tendencies. We have to worry for ourselves because of the choices that they might make based on economic necessity. We have to worry for its inhabitants because of an increase in internal strife and Russia’s track record with said problem.
The Iranian media has recently reported that Russia has been delivering high-tech surface-to-air defense systems (the S-300) which could/would be used to repel any possible American/Israeli attacks on Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities. The chances of Russia, with its massive weapons industry, engaging in further military trade with countries unfriendly to the US/the West increases as long as financial instability is a concern. And since Russia in and of itself cannot be the other side of a bilateral balance of power, it would make sense that they would either do what is possible to boost themselves up and strengthen their strategic partnerships and possibly make new ones, as well.
As for internal problems, Russia added a tariff on foreign-produced cars to protect Russian auto manufacturers. This angered some Russians in Vladivostok. Being on the Pacific, close to Japan, their livelihoods involve importing and fixing up Japanese cars. The folks of Vladivostok wanted to protest. Not wanting the situation to get out of hand, Russia sent in riot police from Moscow. And they did what Russian riot police tend to do, with reports of beatings.
Not long ago, Russia had jobs to spare. With the economy worsening and oil having dropped in value, unemployment has started to become a concern. Immigrants from neighboring countries are being increasingly attacked and the dominant political party of Russia is in favor of their expulsion.
Currently, the Russian parliament is considering a change to the definition of treason. The old/current definition involves giving state secrets in a “hostile” way directed against “external security,” as well as passing state secrets on to other countries. The proposal involves removing the caveats for how the secrets are given, as well as adding passing information to NGOs as a violation. The contention is that this can be used to bring back some of the worst days of Soviet history. The Russian parliament recently passed a law eliminating jury trials in treason cases. It is a worrying trend.
All that can be hoped for is that a) the world economy begins to stabilize and b) that there is enough of an outcry within Russia to prevent the breakdown of their civil liberties. Given the combination of voter intimidation and voter support for Medvedev’s election, we can only wait and see if outrage is enough to counter the two.