Few nations are as important in assessing foreign policy issues as Russia. Though the Soviet Union is now two decades gone, Russia’s position as a major resource producer who happens to be armed with several thousand nuclear warheads means that no country can afford to ignore the Kremlin.
Russia is a unique nation in many ways. It is the largest country in the world, spanning two continents and a dizzying array of geographic landforms. Its population is concentrated in the European half of the country, but its most important economic assets – its oil, natural gas, and coal – are predominantly located east of the Urals in sparsely populated Siberia. It grew from a minor power centered around the ancient port of St. Petersburg to a global superpower in little over two centuries, and from 1945-1991 the Soviet Union, with Russia at its core, provided the major international counterpoint to the US-led NATO alliance.
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s reduced Russia’s prominence on a global scale, the rise in oil and natural gas prices of the early 2000s has brought Russia back to leading power status. Her military is undergoing expansion and modernization, and the leadership duo of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev recall the glory days of the Soviet Union. Russia fought a short, sharp conflict with the tiny nation of Georgia in 2008 and has begun to deploy warships to the Indian Ocean and even the Caribbean Sea.
Russia has also developed a strong relationship with China, whose economy is now heavily dependent on imported Russian raw materials. Together their economies are anticipated to give them the clout to counterbalance the United Stated by the mid 21st century. This growth threatens to once again bring the United States and Russia into political conflict, and perhaps even renew the nuclear standoff that characterized the Cold War.
Current major bones of contention between Russia and the United States involve the US deployment of ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, the NATO alliance’s expansion across Europe to incorporate states on Russia’s western border, and Russia’s backing of US-opponent regimes Syria and Iran. Over the long term Russia’s rebirth and America’s decline are expected to somewhat equalize the power imbalances that occurred after the Soviet Union dissolved, and the emerging economic power bloc of the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – may one day translate to military and political power sufficient to challenge the western developed nations.