Image courtesy of ermaleksandr/Flickr.
This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 5 July 2017.
Following the end of the cold war and the break-up of the Soviet Union, there were rapid decreases in Russian military budgets. Soviet military expenditure had stood at almost USD $350 billion in 1988. However, by 1992 it had fallen to USD $60 billion and in 1998 was only USD $19 billion. The more flexible parts of the budget suffered the most, such as those for procurement and operations. At the same time, the Russian arms industry saw several major clients for its weapons disappear, chief among them the former Warsaw Pact members and Iraq. By 1992, the arms industry Russia had inherited from the Soviet Union was in serious trouble. Most of its internal market and part of its export market was gone.
In parallel with this development, China was embarking on a serious military modernization. Boosted by its rapidly growing economy, it began to implement a long-planned reorganization of its armed forces and the acquisition of advanced weaponry. (This modernization had been planned since the 1970s and was given extra impetus by the poor performance of China’s armed forces against Viet Nam in 1979.) Chinese military spending has increased almost every year since 1989, the first year of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data for China, from USD $21 billion in 1988 to USD $215 billion in 2015. With this surge, China overtook Russia’s spending in 1998 and within five years had become the second largest spender globally behind the United States.
This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) on 6 July 2017.
Russian media played a key role in stoking the conflict in Ukraine, sparking fear in the Baltic states that they could become the next target. In the wake of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, Russian state-owned media shaped a nationalistic narrative regarding the annexation of Crimea that spread fear of the new Ukrainian regime and promoted reunification with Russia. Russian media also encouraged the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine and spread multiple false news stories intended to portray Ukraine in the most negative light possible.
In the current media environment, it is not possible to eliminate questionable or false sources of information. In the Baltic states, attempts to do so could backfire by reinforcing allegations that the Russian minorities lack full civil rights. However, encouraging independent media and thoughtful integration of Russian-language programming into mainstream sources will provide more credible alternatives for Baltic Russian speakers. In the longer term, an important tool for all countries facing propaganda and “fake news” is to increase education in media literacy, critical reading, and technical training to thwart hacks and other attempts to hijack information. A population trained to identify bias is the best defense against harmful propaganda.
This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 29 June 2017.
Stalin’s increasing popularity in Russia is worrying, but its importance should not be exaggerated.
This week, yet another poll confirmed Joseph Stalin’s unwavering hold on the popular imagination of Russians. Surveys have documented steadily rising admiration for the Soviet leader in the last several years, but Monday’s open-ended study published by the Levada Center established him as “the most outstanding person” in history, for 38 percent of respondents. Vladimir Putin came in joint second position at 34 percent, alongside the poet Alexander Pushkin.
The poll sounds particularly alarming because instead of answering multiple choice questions, respondents were asked to name the first person to pop into their head – not just Russian, but anyone, anywhere. The fact that for 38 percent of people that was Stalin – without the respondent first being prompted – seems to confirm what many have been fearing for some time: that Russians are steadily forgiving and embracing a tyrant who oversaw a system that slaughtered tens of millions of its own people.
This article was originally published by World Affairs in June 2017.
“It’s easy predicting the future,” an old Soviet joke went. “What’s difficult is predicting the past.”
There is a war going on over the interpretation of history. A search for a “correct” version of the past has been launched in a number of countries, often by embittered nationalist forces, as in Poland. But the most aggressive assault is being orchestrated by dictators like Vladimir Putin, and China’s Communist Party leadership.
There is much at stake in this revisionist enterprise. The most alarming goal is to reappraise leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, to whitewash their atrocities and ensure that, at least for a domestic audience, they are presented as heroic figures whose crimes were miniscule in comparison with their achievements. Another objective is to depict the country in question as both the ultimate victim and the ultimate winner.