Russia has failed as a state

2022 was the year of Russia. Russia was in the focus of the world’s attention. The war to started in Europe for some came as a natural extension of its internal policy, for others it came as a shock. The war gave birth to multiple research and discussions about the reasons of the war, its future, and then about Russia itself. Some recent publications predict that Russia can become a failed state in the next ten years. Although, if we have a close look on Russian state it will not be difficult to see that Russian state has already failed.

Economy is the backbone of any state. And Russian economy has received several severe blows, most of which came from the Russia state itself. Putin Russia’s economic strategies clearly focused on exporting fossil fuel. Pursuing them Russia kept building gas pipes and heavily invested in mining. In 2021 oil and gas revenues made up 45% of Russian national budget.

Russian economy awaited challenges by 2050 as the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) showed a pathway for the global energy sector to achieve net zero CO2 emissions, Russian export fossil fuel revenues to spiral down. At the same time the EU decided to keep using gas as transition fuel from coal to green energy, a blessing for Putin.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has shown that Russian state can not be a reliable partner, neither in politics, nor in economy. The EU have no actual plans to build any economic partnership with Russia, doubling its investments into green energy programs. More than 2500 sanctions were imposed on Russia after it started the war, freezing Russian financial assets and banning its gas and, partially, oil to export to the West contributing to the collapse of the Russian economy first of all.

Not only Russia lost the best export market it had before the war, it can not import modern technologies and hi-tech products. And technological import is key to developing vital industries in Russia. One may expect that technological isolation of Russian industries will throw it back to the level of 1960-s. And buying chips from China, missiles and drones from Iran can only slow down this great technological setback, but not stop it.

By the end of 2022 we saw the main problem of the Russian state and economy: loss of human resource. Most educated and innovative people left Russia, escaping a military draft. 300 000 people were mobilized to the war. And these are 300 000 of working age people, the median age of the mobilized being 35 years. So, instead of contributing to the Russian economy they need economic resources to support their military lives. The upcoming inflation and falling personal incomes will push labour migrants out of the country stressing many sectors of economy.

Projecting authority over its territories and people is key to a successful state. The war in Ukraine showed Wagner Group as a force that plays by its own rules. The infamous execution of its own ex-member with a sledgehammer killed not only the so-called traitor but the Russian legal system. In Russia you do not need the Law to exert your authority, you need a sledgehammer.

After Feb. 24, 2022 Putin signed many decrees changing the rules of the legal game. The main motif of all the new laws is that you will bear no responsibility for committing crimes if the state considers them good for Russia. The question is who is the state? In contemporary Russia the collective state is represented by concrete warlords and powerful FSB officers and high-level officials. They will decide how to apply the law. And whether there is a need to apply it at all, or to use a sledgehammer method.

Unstable economy and feeble rule of law characterize not only failed but developing societies as well. Indeed in Russia there is a discussion that the Russian Federation is a new developing state, current state of things is nothing more but ‘teething problems.’

Indeed Russian history is e sequence of breaking historical traditions trying to build something new. Contemporary Russians can not look back at Russia of a hundred years ago and analyze the history lessons, because a hundred years ago Russia was a very different state with political bolsheviks, mensheviks, monarchists, anarchists etc., very different social classes, and very different social and economic dynamics.

Trying to understand whether Russia is a developing state let us have a look at other countries that underwent total restructuring of both the society and economy. History books give us such vibrant examples as the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1783; the French Revolution of 1789-1799; the process of unification of Germany in 1871 and Meiji Restoration of Japan in 1868. The XX-th century started with a transformation of the Russian Empire into a completely different USSR, ending with another interesting transformation of China by Deng Xiaoping.

In these and many other countries revolutionary transformations have led to population and economic growth, developing of social institutions, industrialization, better education, more equality in rights and inspiring other positive consequences.

Russian transformation started in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia restored after the social-economic crisis of the USSR collapse only in 2006 when its GDP surpassed the USSR’s GDP in 1991. By the end of 2022 Russia’s GDP was 30% higher than the Soviet one. And it was thirty one year later. It actually means that the GDP increased at the speed of about 1% a year. By the way China’s GDP increase was 14,5 times more for the same period!

Besides economic and demographic decline the lack of ideology in Russia resulted in decline in culture. Culture has always been an important part of Russian society, and its decline is a reflection of a general stagnation in Russian society, economic problems and the overall weak state of the Russian economy. However, the decline can also be attributed to a perceived lack of creativity and innovation in Russian culture. As a result, many Russians are looking towards foreign cultures for inspiration and ideas in art and literature. These trends have greatly damaged the Russian identity and have left a huge void in Russia’s intellectual and cultural landscape.

According to Russian scholar Vladimir Gimpelson, “The key contradiction for Moscow is the disconnect between its perceived inability to create an innovative and intellectually exciting atmosphere while at the same time trying to maintain the pretense of being a global power”. In the pursuit of economic and political power, the Russians have often neglected the creative and intellectual sides of their culture.

Russia today is nothing more than a failed state. Russia does not even correspond to its name “Russian Federation”, as it has evolved into a highly centralized autocratic empire-like state. Russian technological decline does not allow it to even produce cars with automatic gear box. Russia failed to establish neither “soft power”, like the US and France, nor military and technological might of Japan and Germany of the late XIX-th century, nor strong economy of China from of a previously agricultural and retarded one. And it knew all the recipes. It has just failed to implement them.

The world needed the Russian Empire because of its culture, military strength and natural resources, mainly agriculture. The world needed the USSR as a country doing a Grand Experiment, trying to create and successfully spread a different model of society. The world knows Russian ballet, Russian music, Soviet sputnik. Now the world knows Russian gas and oil.

In 2015 the late US Senator John McCain called Russia “a gas station masquerading as a country”. In 2016 the US President Barak Obama added that Russia’s economy “doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy.” Now we can generalize further saying that Russia does not produce anything the world is interested in, neither economic goods, nor doctrines or cultural phenomena.

Britannica explained that a failed state is the one that “cannot protect its national boundaries.” April 26, 2023 head of the Russian Committee of defense of the Russian State Duma suggested that Russian citizens should be mobilized to protect Russian borders acknowledging that Russia has no resources for that, comparing the current inability of the state to the previous mighty USSR.

Russia is enjoys the flair of the USSR, many international experts and leaders treating it as respectfully as they would treat the strong USSR. Russia is a big country, its leadership always eager to spend billions to show off. Nevertheless, Occam’s razor tells us to admit the one result that’s left after cutting off the unnecessary, even though we might have considered least probable before.

Vitaly Charushin
Vitaly Charushin
Vitaly Charushin is a Russian pro-democracy activist and member of Advisory Board of Creative Cluster, a French-tech ecosystem partner. He has previously worked at the National Democratic Institute in Moscow.