Opinion

Empire of yachts and great aspirations

Empire of yachts and great aspirations

By Genci Kojdheli / One of the most widely circulated news in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war has been the seizure of several luxury yachts owned by wealthy Russians who support the ruling regime. Curiosity prompted me to search the list of the largest and most expensive yachts in the world; almost half were owned by Russian oligarchs, and the rest belonged to crowns from the Persian Gulf countries. On the other side of this fact, in the list of the richest people in the world, you have to go down somewhere below the 50th place to find the first Russian. Typically the rich Russians (oligarchs, as they are commonly identified) naturally operate in areas such as oil, gas and mineral exports, considered Russia to be the world's largest mining industry and among the countries with the most natural resources, including energy resources, rare minerals, etc. Meanwhile, even though they are not in the elite of the world rich, the Russians stand out with the extreme size of yachts, the bombastic purchases of football clubs or the extravagant lifestyle with astronomical expenses; almost a stereotypical illustration of the so-called nouveau riche (or young rich). This specific paradigm of modern Russia is very important to understand the behavior of the largest country in the world towards "others", and in particular towards the West.

Many see Russia's post-Cold War antagonistic and expansionist policies as an ideological product of President Putin, as it was in fact initiated in 1996 by Yevgeny Primakov, then Russia's foreign minister. The Primakov Doctrine argued that Russia should position itself as an independent power in the global arena, contributing to the creation of a multi-polar order in which other actors (more specifically Russia and China) besides the US were factorized. Slowly but steadily progressing, along with the strengthening of the Russian economy, came an active positioning of Russia as a 'global power' with geostrategic interests and movements that included a solidification of relations with China (Russia's largest trading partner). ), involvement in conflict resolution in the Middle East (especially in Syria), a dominant role in Central and Caspian Asia, close relations with India (especially through the arms trade) and increased presence in Africa, Oceania and South America (through close relations with Venezuela and Cuba). At the same time, in the last 25 years Russia has made very clear the long-standing aspirations of an imperial power, with a sphere of direct influence in its own geographical periphery, more specifically through the sudden war in Georgia (2008), the intervention in Crimea (2014). ) as well as the categorical refusal to have new NATO memberships by its own geographical neighbors (including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, etc.), all under the guise of what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defines as “the goal to create a strategic depth and shock absorbers against foreign threats. ” close relations with India (especially through the arms trade) and increased presence in Africa, Oceania and South America (through close relations with Venezuela and Cuba). At the same time, in the last 25 years Russia has made very clear the long-standing aspirations of an imperial power, with a sphere of direct influence in its own geographical periphery, more specifically through the sudden war in Georgia (2008), the intervention in Crimea (2014). ) as well as the categorical refusal to have new NATO memberships by its own geographical neighbors (including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, etc.), all under the guise of what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defines as “the goal to create a strategic depth and shock absorbers against foreign threats. ” close relations with India (especially through the arms trade) and increased presence in Africa, Oceania and South America (through close relations with Venezuela and Cuba). At the same time, in the last 25 years Russia has made very clear the long-standing aspirations of an imperial power, with a sphere of direct influence in its own geographical periphery, more specifically through the sudden war in Georgia (2008), the intervention in Crimea (2014). ) as well as the categorical refusal to have new NATO memberships by its own geographical neighbors (including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, etc.), all under the guise of what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defines as “the goal to create a strategic depth and shock absorbers against foreign threats. ” Oceania and South America (through close relations with Venezuela and Cuba). At the same time, in the last 25 years Russia has made very clear the long-standing aspirations of an imperial power, with a sphere of direct influence in its own geographical periphery, more specifically through the sudden war in Georgia (2008), the intervention in Crimea (2014). ) as well as the categorical refusal to have new NATO memberships by its own geographical neighbors (including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, etc.), all under the guise of what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defines as “the goal to create a strategic depth and shock absorbers against foreign threats. ” Oceania and South America (through close relations with Venezuela and Cuba). At the same time, in the last 25 years Russia has made very clear the long-standing aspirations of an imperial power, with a sphere of direct influence in its own geographical periphery, more specifically through the sudden war in Georgia (2008), the intervention in Crimea (2014). ) as well as the categorical refusal to have new NATO memberships by its own geographical neighbors (including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, etc.), all under the guise of what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defines as “the goal to create a strategic depth and shock absorbers against foreign threats. ”

From a purely geopolitical point of view, Russia's intentions are legitimized by its imperial past and the status of a former superpower, by being the geographically largest country in the world, by a large population (144 million inhabitants, although relatively small in proportion to surface area), and from an unchanged supply of money through exports of energy, minerals, cereals and other raw materials. Behind all these indicators lies a very strong military capacity, with Russia being classified as the third largest military power in the world. But is Russia really capable of playing the role of an influential global actor on all four sides of the globe? Several factors need to be analyzed to generate a credible conclusion!

First, Russia's population is in constant contraction; the official statistics agency Rosstat reports constant population decline in Russia, with a historical maximum of 1 million inhabitants less in 2021. Population is a key element for any state that claims to legitimize and behave as a global actor. For argument equivalence, the two global superpowers (US and China) or other countries aspiring to increase global or regional influence (India, South Korea, Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Nigeria, etc.) are in constant demographic growth.

Second, is Russia's capacity to be a strong actor and economic factor. I often ask my friends, in Albania or in Europe, if they own anything that is 'Made in Russia'? The answers, with rare exceptions, are always "NO"! While Russia has a steady source of income through exports of energy, minerals and raw materials, the Russian economy is smaller than that of France, Italy or Canada. Economic development based on the use of natural resources, without economic diversification and strengthening of auxiliary sectors such as tourism, services or technology and innovation, as well as the systemic existence of income distribution in all segments of the population, generally results in failure, as can prove cases like Venezuela, Libya, Mozambique or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Third, Russia has a very limited range of so-called 'soft power'; an essential element of any state aspiring to be a global actor. With the exception of a few countries with a very close historical-geographical connection with Russia, very few people around the world learn Russian, listen to Russian music, watch Russian movies and TV series, aim to educate children in Russian universities, or see Russia as a tourist destination or a suitable place to emigrate and build the future. This reality is very unlikely to change in the near future!

None of the above is a strong enough argument to neglect or ignore the geopolitical attitudes and claims of Russia, which continues to remain a nation of a very large and important country, with deep traces in shaping the history of Europe. modern. But, seen and analyzed in detail, the Russian claims have a pronounced dose of unrealism. Like the oligarchs who order the world's largest and most expensive yachts, while not ranked among the richest on the globe, Russia tends to unveil a glorious showcase of power and influence, which is not supported by reality and economic potential. -demographic of the country.

The options available to Russia are varied and of tremendous weight for shaping the world order in the future. Russia may choose to pursue its current antagonistic stance toward the West and much of Europe; an option which necessarily requires a difficult alliance with China, and at the same time a deterrence of Russia's relations with European nations, with which it shares borders, history, religion and trade, financial and human interaction.

The other alternative, which to date has not been considered by Russia, is already the choice of major European countries such as Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany or Italy. These countries, regardless of imperial, colonial, Nazi or fascist past, have been modernized and developed within the framework of a democratic system, with a focus on regional and continental cooperation, the free market and common European values. It is a difficult compromise for Russia, as it would mean a complete detachment from the aspirations to be a country with global influence in the geopolitical arena and at the same time a reassessment of the prism with which Russia sees itself and its historical, political and geographical identity and cooperation with Europe and the West. In the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, "A Russia that is gradually beginning to gravitate towards the West will also be a Russia that stops confusing the international system," although this hypothesis seems far-fetched as Russian troops invade Ukraine. But, the greatest achievements of mankind have always come after great crises, and perhaps this is the best moment to change the future of Europe and the world!