The Incredible Shrinking Superpower

Article excerpt

Byline: Niall Ferguson

Russia--who cares? With its rampant voter fraud and declining population, the country is careening toward irrelevance.

Remember when we all used to care about Russia? Twenty years ago, we held our breath as Communist hardliners sought to reassert their grip on the Soviet Union in a coup that failed. Today? Ach, just another messed-up petro-kleptocracy.

The news last week was the poor showing of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in the elections to the Russian Parliament, the Duma. Despite widespread electoral irregularities, the governing party won less than half the vote. State television, notoriously the propaganda arm of United Russia, showed results in which the total percentage of votes cast exceeded 128 percent. Russians used to excel at math. No longer.

The Western media excitedly covered protests in Moscow, where the vote rigging was especially egregious. The government crushed these demonstrations, deploying the Interior Ministry's Dzerzhinsky Division. It's amazing to me that such a thing even exists: Felix Dzerzhinsky was Lenin's butcher during the Russian Civil War, the first director of the dreaded Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka.

Yet foreign hopes of a Russian analog to the Arab Spring are overoptimistic. The New York Times may heed the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev when he denounces the election results as invalid. In Russia, he's a joke. The Internet and Twitter are not going to stop Putin from resuming the presidency next year, just as serious Russia watchers predicted he would back in 2008, when he lent out the Kremlin to Dmitry Medvedev. Indeed, last week's lousy result for United Russia may actually help Putin by making his stand-in look like a loser. (It was Medvedev, not Putin, who headed the party's electoral list.)

Last Thursday Putin claimed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "gave a signal" to subversive elements in Russia. "They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work."

Who cares? Russia isn't quite "Upper Volta with missiles"--West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt's immortal phrase. …