World Citizen: How Will Russia Weather the Financial Crisis?

World Citizen: How Will Russia Weather the Financial Crisis?

The uncertainty that characterizes the current global financial crisis extends beyond the markets, and its drama beyond the erratic moves of securities prices. When the dust settles after this economic storm, power relations will also have changed. One of the great unknowns -- and one that will mark the character of the post-crisis era -- is whether the new Russia will emerge from the crisis fortified or weakened.

To hear Russia's current prime minister and still-strongman, Vladimir Putin, tell it, this dire predicament is a well-deserved rebuke of American power. Speaking to Communist Party members of the Russian Parliament, a most receptive audience for this line of thinking, Putin observed, "Confidence in the United States as leader of the free world and the free market -- the trust in Wall Street as the center of this confidence -- has been undermined, for good, I think." Russian President Dmitry Medvedev repeated the argument at a gathering in France, saying, in essence, that the age of American dominance had now, thankfully, come to an end. Medvedev noted that evidence of the end of "unipolarity" is found not only in the markets' collapse, but also in Washington's inability to stop Russia's invasion of Georgia.

That his analysis linked the two events reveals much about Moscow's thinking. For the Russians, this crisis is clearly about power politics as well as economics. According to Medvedev's view, a display of brute force is incontestable evidence of political muscle. While this may be true in the short term, the longer term implications may not be so clear. Moscow may see its actions in Georgia as a sign of strength, but in other parts of the world they were seen as a warning to beware of Russian intentions. And that could hinder Russian plans to emerge from this maelstrom as a bigger and more powerful global player.

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