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Day 3 Evening Update

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A brief round-up; I’ll have more tomorrow on Russia-NATO and Russia-US relations specifically. At this point the situation in Georgia doesn’t seem to have changed radically from what it was this afternoon.

Galrahn has an update on the situation in the Black Sea.

Charli Carpenter talks about the casualty count.

Charlie Whitaker makes an extremely important point regarding Russian military and economic power:

For example, shells fired from a Leopard 2 will likely pass clean through the hull of a T-80, but not vice versa. (Korolev’s rocket designs were good, admittedly.) It’s only because military investment was such a high priority in the USSR that we see today’s Russia in possession of a variety of functional materiel.

Now that we can measure it,* we find that Russia’s GDP is approximately equal to that of Portugal (which is not to knock Portugal). Much of Russia’s wealth comes from resource extraction: in other words, Russia is not making stuff. Is it thinking stuff instead? Well, is there a nascent biotech or semiconductor industry in Russia today? (Or is there maybe some other, more esoteric kind of activity that hasn’t yet permeated popular consciousness?) How are Russian universities doing?

Russia is fairly populous, although no one would call it densely populated. However, its population is shrinking; in part, because it is not a healthy country.

So we’re left with territory – Russia borders a lot of places – and with its military, which still has some potency. Put those two together, and maybe it’s not surprising that some Russian tanks will pop across the border from time to time. Or at least, they’ll want to.

Right. Russia has taken advantage of the extraordinary price of oil to somewhat revitalize its military establishment, but the equipment it’s using in front line units is still a generation behind Western (to say nothing of American) capabilities. And the Russian economic and social situations remain, fundamentally, a mess. I think that the Russian economy has a sounder foundation now than in the 1990s, and I think that Russia will be able to enjoy high energy prices for the foreseeable future, but it’s simply not the case that the Soviet Empire has rebuilt itself while we weren’t paying attention. This is a point that we risk losing in the next few days as the McCain campaign continues to structure itself around calling for the return of the Cold war.

I just recorded a Bloggingheads on Russia-Georgia with Jacob Heilbrunn; I’ll link as soon as it goes up.

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