The Re-Emerging Russian Superpower

The tensions between Russia and Ukraine at the start of the year have generated renewed analytical interest in Russia’s re-emerging position as a superpower, driven chiefly by its actual, or potential, domination of the global supplies of energy. Along with its role as a swing supplier of oil (enabling it to manipulate the balance of power between OPEC and the industrialised consumers), the episode has highlighted Russia’s position as the pre-eminent supplier of gas.
Russia controls a third of global proven gas reserves, with Gazprom already becoming the dominant supplier in the EU and Turkey, in addition to Russia’s “near abroad”, including the energy-hungry Ukraine. However, the drivers of Russia’s potential for becoming an energy superpower are not limited to its own resources.
An additional factor is Russia’s near monopoly over the Central Asian export infrastructure, which remains unbroken by the single Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline (in operation since May 2005). Furthermore, it has been pointed out that the continued instability in the Middle East (which some argue has been deepened, rather than reduced, by the US invasion of Iraq) has boosted Russia’s position as the aspiring centre of energy geopolitics.

Add to this several other key factors ­ such as the long-term outlook for high energy prices, the limited ability of the US and EU to diversify their supply sources and Russia’s growing ability to play a China and/or Iran “card” both in energy and geopolitics ­ and the picture that emerges is one of a global energy superpower, capable in many ways to counter the might of present-day sole superpower ­ the United States.
Furthermore, there have been significant signs that this re-emerging superpower also means business in the military sphere. Russia has recently commissioned a new generation of missiles (Topol-M), capable of fitting a nuclear warhead and able to evade current US anti-missile defence systems. While not signalling a return to a Cold War style arms race, this development suggests Russia is no longer willing to refrain from a bit of old fashioned sabre rattling, when it feels the need to do so.
At the same time, Moscow has notified those who need to know of its determination to protect its vital strategic interests. While not seeking to become the exclusive great power player in the former Soviet Union, Russia has let it be known that it does not regard Western interests in the region as being on par with its own. It will therefore resist Western incursion in the area deemed incompatible with the pursuit of legitimate economic and political objectives.
In practice this boils down to the promotion of anti-Russian regimes in the region, through so called “colour revolutions”. Thus, in an unusual move, Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Ivanov has written in The Wall Street Journal that the Kremlin’s key objective is the prevention of Western-fomented regime changes in Russia’s “near abroad” ­ the CIS.

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