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What do you imagine when you think of Russia?
Nuclear weapons? Expansive palaces? An arms race?
Russia is one of the main world powers in the world today. They have masses of oil and the second most powerful military on the planet. However, most people are surprised to learn that the average Russian makes around $8000 a year, around seven times less than the average American. Almost all of this, and more could all be boiled down to one single reason.
Many people would pin the blame on the government of Russia, that squanders the natural wealth of the nation at the peasant’s dime. However, the main reason for Russia’s poverty is its geography. They simply don’t have the things that foster a middle class, such as rivers for domestic trade, and ports for international trade.
Since they do not have a good river system like the United States, they will never be able to completely trade within the entirety of their country, especially given how simply massive Russia is. Russian ports are either frozen for most of the year or controlled by NATO nations. This means that port cities, based off exporting Russian goods, cannot be formed. That means for all intents and purposes, the country is limited to trade with only its inhabitants, secluded from the rest of the world.
Russia also has other geographic problems, such as the Northern European Flatland, an expanse of plains that historically has been used to invade Russia. It is perfect and ripe for invasion. This means that Russia must make buffer states to block a potential invasion, so an enemy cannot exploit this pivotal weakness of theirs. This was a fundamental fact of Stalinist strategy and is still relevant in Putin’s strategy as well.
Russia’s geography isn’t entirely a bad side, it’s natural resources helped them thrive and become a world power despite their geography. They are almost entirely dependent on their oil exports and thrive off of them. A large portion of Europe is dependent on Russian oil. Though, the US is taking much effort to counter this, through increasing oil exports to European countries by shipping it over the ocean, as well as asking Saudi Arabia to ramp up oil exports.
NATO and Russia should craft a new mutually beneficial relationship, where Russia gives in on geopolitical interests in exchange for unfettered port usage. Russia does not have the capability to sustain its current amount of influence, and that will be the easy way of admitting that fundamental fact. It would grow Russia’s economy, and thus allow us to benefit from Russian goods. It could also potentially grant us a powerful playing card against Russia. Once Russia becomes reliant on our ports, who says we couldn’t threaten to cut off access? Russia is desperate for economic growth. A new port could be the thing that spurs it, and they know this.
What we in Western and developed countries don’t understand is that if a country is not successful, it isn’t always due to flaws on their part, but sometimes due to factors out of their control like geography, culture, and history. All people want to be successful, and everywhere has at least someone that would be willing to work for it. The question is whether they have the tools they need for success, not whether they want it hard enough.
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