|By Roger Strukhoff||
|July 24, 2014 01:00 AM EDT||
A web of large-scale business and trade connections is making it difficult to imagine a successful strategy and tactics to counter Vladimir Putin's Crimean land grab. Putin himself seems to be unconcerned with nuance and complication, as he bulldozes onward
Russia's abrupt takeover of the region seems to have been cynically planned to occur just as Putin was basking in the afterglow of demonstrating his power in running a terror-free Olympic games.
Commentators worldwide are slinging wild comparisons of Putin's actions with historical events. But it seems to me that the most recent, and perhaps most relevant, comparison is Russia's actions in the country of Georgia a few years ago, where it went to war to enable ethnically Russian regions to achieve breakaway status.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia may sound to Western ears as if they're out of an old Bullwinkle cartoon, but they are important to Russia and germane to the bear's current actions.
Putin seems confident that Russia will be fine if the Crimean crisis - and whatever follows - isolates it from most of the rest of the world. Because it seems Russia can seemingly withstand whatever sanctions, asset freezes, and economic isolation imposed upon it.
The country is home to between 15 and more than 20 percent of the world's known resources of oil, timber, coal, and most key minerals; and 40 percent of the proven natural gas resources. With little more than 2% of the world's population, the bear has withstood the world's isolation in the past and seems to be prepared for a long hibernation if need be.
Isolated, But Not Alone
But Russia has hardly cornered the world market in anything. Numerous other countries also possess vast natural resources. Canada and Australia spring to mind. Certainly the United States and China each contain enormous natural resources, even as they are also major consumers.
The Gulf States, Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela have oil. South Africa has minerals, as does the Philippines, Peru, and Chile. Brazil has significant natural resources. And there's the rest of Africa.
So as certainly as Russia doesn't need the world, the world does not need Russia in the long term, even if a measure of current infrastructure and business arrangements rely on the country.
If things go this route, the Russian people will suffer greatly in the long term. We are on earth during a time of the Information Age taking hold. Technology leadership is a key measure of current and future success. As the nascent Internet of Things gains momentum, it promises to spur a new age of high-end manufacturing and computer science.
But if any country needs a new "Sputnik moment," it's Russia; it is hardly a global technology leader. In the research we do, it's a notable laggard. It has not come close to developing its potential.
A comparison with Ukraine and Georgia is quite instructive - the latter two rank among our Top 10 globally, while Russia languishes in the bottom 20 percent of the 103 countries we examine.
I just completed a small study for a firm in Poland, and can share some of the overall results. I took a look at Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Russia. All finished among the world's Top 30, with Russia in 80th place. Based on these results, if I were to locate a new research center in the region, Poland would be my first choice. I would consider the other nations. But not Russia.
We take no position on local politics and governments in the nations we survey. We are aware that there are tensions, often very serious, in many countries that score well in our rankings. Hungary would be an example of that within the group being discussed here.
Keep Your Shirt On
However, I can say that it seems that Russia so seriously lags its neighbors for one, overriding reason: its domineering President.
Not only does it lag its neighbors, which come in a diverse variety of sizes, governmental structures, and dynamics. Canada and Australia, two very large countries with vast resources and relatively small populations - two places that can be said to be similar to Russia - score much better in our rankings as well. Canada is in our Top 20, and Australia, while not a stellar performer, outperforms Russia by a wide margin.
(We offer deep dives into this data for organizations that are interested in it.)
The great Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol wrote in his novel Dead Souls, "wise is the man who disdains no character, but with searching glance explores him to the root and cause of all."
In that spirit, perhaps we should not disdain Vladimir Putin just yet, but truly ascertain how he's become so rankled. To his credit, his troops haven't fired a shot so far.
We don't know if that will last. We do know it's time for him to put his shirt back on, roll up the sleeves, and get to work. Because wouldn't it be great if only he could see what harm his current approach is doing to his people? Our numbers say so.