Breakfast Announcement: April 23rd

Please join us for another interesting breakfast forum:

WHITHER RUSSIA? WHITHER PUTIN?

With

Tyrus W. Cobb

The Ramada, Wednesday, April 23, at 9:00 am

From the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, elements of the old regime have sought to reclaim the place the USSR once held in the world’s eyes, one of two great superpowers and the leader of the global Communist movement. From the perspective of former KGB Colonel and now again President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, Russia must regain its lost power and the respect the USSR held. It must stifle domestic dissent, rebuild a patriotic fervor internally, eliminate competing sectors of influence, become a force again in global political decisions, and restore much of what the former Soviet Union represented and held.

Putin certainly knows that he cannot resurrect the old USSR. However, he strongly feels that Moscow must be able to dominate developments in the “Near Abroad”—the regions formerly part of the Soviet Union close to Russia and now drifting to tighter relationships with the West. Most importantly this includes Ukraine, part of which—the Crimea—Putin has already seized.  Recent troop movements and covert actions indicate that he may have designs on the heavily Russian eastern and southern sectors of Ukraine.  Indeed, the seizures of government buildings in that region by elements without military designations, but obviously acting on behalf of Moscow, along with the continuing massing of troops on the Russian side of the border, may indicate a replication of the annexation of Crimea soon. It may also mean the Baltic States, the “Stans”, the Caucasus entities, and Byelorussia are future targets.

Putin, however, is not dealing from a position of strength. His country is confronting severe economic challenges and remains precariously dependent on the export of oil and gas. The country is facing a challenging demographic future, one in which Russians may soon not even be a majority in their own country! While still a nuclear power, Moscow’s military is far from the formidable force the West confronted during the Cold War.

In this tense environment, what policies should the United States and its allies adopt to confront the “resurgent” and “revanchist’ Russia? Is the West cohesive enough to take a determined stand against Putin and Russia?

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII veterans). We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

 Kindly RSVP by clicking here. You may also RSVP by phone (775) 746-3222 or by emailing twcobb@aol.com. We are also now accepting credit cards at the door for your convenience.

Dr. Cobb is a former Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs (1988-89) and Director of Soviet and European Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council.

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Putin’s Nightmare: Do Demographic Trends Indicate a Dire Future for Russia?

Putin’s Nightmare:
Do Demographic Trends
Indicate a Dire Future for Russia? 

  •  By Tyrus W. Cobb

“Year by year we, the citizens of Russia, are getting fewer and fewer….We face the threat of becoming a senile nation”

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia faces severe demographic challenges as birth rates for ethnic Russians are falling, with the only growth areas lying in predominantly Muslim regions. Declining growth rates among Russians is not a new phenomenon, but the downward trend continues, leading some to speculate that Russia itself will soon become an aging, sclerotic and smaller nation.

And it will only get worse for Russians since at present there is a relatively high number of women in the child-bearing range—in the future, that cohort will decline. As for men, Russians die earlier or are incapacitated at a higher rate than in most other areas of the world, due to high rates of alcoholism, tobacco use, poor nutrition, avoidable accidents, and the absence of quality medical care.

We should note that these adverse trends have been slowed, or even reversed, somewhat. Clearly the younger generations of Russians are healthier and living better lives.  There are indications of small increases in natural population growth as fertility rates have grown slightly. However, as a 2009 study by the RAND Corporation on Russian foreign policy concludes, fertility rates “show no sign of returning to replacement levels”. The slight improvements in life style and expectancy follow decades of decline and do not fundamentally change the conclusions in this analysis.

 

What are the Demographic Trends That Might Keep Putin Awake at Night

  • A 2003 in-depth study by the RAND Corporation highlights a number of demographic trends that will greatly diminish Moscow’s global importance and its ability to exercise control over its own internal affairs. Most importantly, since 1992 the population of Russia has fallen by 3 million and the population is expected to decline by nearly 20 million in coming decades, with the most pessimistic projection predicting a population of less than 100 million by 2050! While declines today are not as steep as that the country experienced in the 1990’s, the population is still declining.
  • One Russian observer, Paul Goble, notes that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, last year there were more deaths than births among Russian citizens, with most of the growth that did occur in Russia coming from non-Russian and predominantly Muslim areas in the North Caucasus and Middle Volga. Goble adds, “The predominantly ethnic Russian center of the country continued to die off”, and as a result, the balance of the population between Russians and non-Russians continues to shift against the Russians.
  • Former Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock noted that when the USSR broke up, ethnic Russians made up about 80% of the population in the Russian Federation. That is radically changing due to demographic and health trends, and immigration—both legal and illegal—into Russia.
  • Recall that the USSR was the 3rd most populous nation on earth, when it had brought together numerous groups under its umbrella. In the future, Russia’s population will be exceeded by such countries as Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Congo and the Philippines!
  • Russia has experienced very high death rates from “non-natural causes”, an increase in mortality that is unusual for an industrialized nation.
  • Fertility rates in Russia continue to decline. In the 19th century, the RAND report notes, Russian women bore an average of 7 children. By 2000, this had fallen to only 1.2! Yes, this is typical of many industrialized nations, but the Russian challenge is compounded by extremely high rates of mortality and lessening life expectancy. A disturbing figure—in the 1960’s Russian and US male life expectancy was roughly the same. A decade ago the life span of a Russian male declined to about 59 (it was 65 in 1987!). While more recently the life span improved somewhat, it is still remarkably short—compare that to the American male life span, which has grown to over 72! Why? Deaths among Russian males have soared, due primarily to excessive consumption of alcohol and tobacco, extremely difficult living conditions, accidents, injuries, violence, the prevalence of AIDS, and inferior medical care. Russian male life expectancy is now 13 years less than that of a female.
  • The fertility rate has declined to among the world’s lowest, much of that due to a high rate of abortion. Again, more recently while the fertility rate has improved modestly, it is still far below “replacement levels”.
  • These trends are not new, but have been aggravated by economic stagnation and stress from recent social and political changes in Russia. For example, between 1990 and 1995 there were 1.5 million premature deaths, accounting for 15% of all those who died, with 70% of that occurring among males.
  • This is Russia’s mortality crisis. As one study concluded, “We are witnessing the most precipitous decline in life expectancy ever recorded in the absence of war”!

 

The Impact of the Rapid Growth of the Muslim Population 

Concerns about the impact of rapid Muslim growth centers on the volatile Caucasus region, an area marked by separatist movements, Islamic fundamentalism, and deep anti-Russian feelings. Dagestan, lying along the Caspian Sea, and Chechnya, are marked by particularly virulent strains of Islamist fervor, areas which have produced many of the Jihadists who have gone off to fight in wars ranging from Afghanistan to Libya. Dagestan is also the birthplace of the Tsarnaev brothers, responsible for the Boston marathon bombings. In the last two years alone, violence in this region has killed or injured over 1,500 persons, from car bombings, assassinations, and clashes between Russian security forces and Muslim fighters.

Contrast the stagnation in births in the core Russian areas with the rapid population explosion in the Muslim regions. For example, in the volatile Chechnya area in the Caucasus, there are now five times as many births as deaths; in nearby Ingushetia, the ration is 7:1!

There are numerous radical Islamist groups in the Caucasus, all loosely affiliated but without a central organization or leadership. The best known might be the “Caucasus Emirate”, formed by Doku Umarov, who called for militant actions to disrupt the Sochi Olympics—what he labeled as the “Satanic Games”. Umarov is dead now, but it hardly matters—his role was largely symbolic. Still, much of the domestic terrorism in Russia has been perpetrated by individuals or groups emanating from this mountainous region. This includes the so-called “Black Widows”, wives of deceased Jihadists taking revenge and other female bombers, “lone wolves” operating without direction from a central group, and suicide bombers dispatched by Umarov or leaders of other cells.

However, one has to be careful not to characterize the entire Muslim population of Russia as fundamentalists with strong anti-Russian feelings. In fact, as Stanford University’s Robert Crews writes (Foreign Affairs), Umarov’s calls for Muslims living in Russia to rise up against Moscow have fallen on deaf ears. A vast majority of Russian Muslims are secular, have accommodated to living in a Russian state, and have resisted the calls to join in the global Jihad. The Muslim-majority territories, rather than being “radical redoubts”, are, in Crews’ words, “stable, well-integrated and relatively prosperous regions”. He adds that most Muslims living in the Russian Federation “hardly ever express sympathy for their brethren in the restive Caucasus region”. We should add that while this incendiary region is home to the vast majority of the radical groups, it would also be unfair to characterize all Muslim inhabitants of the Caucasus as “radical”. Most aren’t, but a sizeable percentage of the population is.

 

Will Demographic Trends in Russia Diminish its Global Reach?

It is too early to draw deep conclusions regarding the policy and security implications of these demographic trends, but here are a few that think tanks who have addressed this problem, have raised (including AEI, RAND, CSIS):

  • If the Russian military in the future continues to be a manpower-heavy force, Russia will face increasing difficulty in staffing its armed forces, as the draft age cohort declines. In the past the USSR relied heavily on soldiers drafted from the rural areas, Muslim regions and those who lacked political connections to escape the levy. Terrorist attacks from Beslan in the past to Volgograd today heighten a desire not to include draftees from the Muslim areas, although this is the region of the most plentiful 18-year olds. Some estimates indicate that, in fact, a majority of the draft cohort in 2015 will be Muslim!
  • Given the high technology requirements of a modern military and obvious political constraints, it is doubtful that Russia will be able to field manpower intensive forces in the future. The competition for high quality 18-year olds is high and those with any influence will seek to avoid service.
  • Some have suggested this could mean a greater reliance on its still formidable nuclear weapon inventory as a deterrent and a threat. That is speculative, of course, but a factor that should be considered.
  • Family stability is threatened, as more families will have only one parent, and that a female. This will decrease economic expectations, further income inequality, and increase national poverty. Conversely, the 2009 RAND analysis notes that even modest economic growth will mean more for each family since the overall population is decreasing—more to go around to fewer! Small consolation it would seem!
  • At the same time, affluence is often a factor in declining fertility, as we have seen in Europe as a whole. To a certain extent this might be seen as a strength, and rapid population growth in underdeveloped areas of the world (India, Nigeria, and much of the Middle East) can be viewed as a problem and source of weakness.
  • The population growth in the Muslim areas and lack of economic opportunity has led to a migration of young Muslims to larger cities. Not unlike the illegal immigrants in the U.S. these new arrivals are willing to work hard for low wages, creating resentment and tension in Moscow and other principal cities. As CFR’s Steven Sestanovich observes, Moscow in particular has been a magnet for jobseekers from Central Asia and the Caucasus. “They are widely seen to be taking jobs from ethnic Russians, engaging in criminal activity, and exploiting social services” These tensions periodically result in violence, including beatings and killings, sometimes abetted by the police, against the migrants. Even more moderate politicians, Sestanovich observes, have been forced to join in the anti-immigrant movement. The nationalist slogan, “Russia is for Russians”, is a popular and growing staple of political gatherings.
  • The 2009 RAND report raised an interesting point, noting that “Another worry is that Russia’s shrinking population will continue to concentrate in urban areas, leading to a depopulation of rural Russia”. The report added that “Russians voice concern that the emptying of the Russian Far East will lead to a Chinese incursion”! Now that’s an interesting thought!
  • In sum, the danger today to global stability is more from miscalculation than from a predetermined hostile strategy. As CSIS concluded in one of its studies, in contrast to the Cold War era, the danger to the contemporary environment comes more from Russian weakness than from its strength

Should Putin Worry?

Putin may not face these challenges in his lifetime, but his successors will be dealing with a range of emerging demographic challenges. Given the continuing low replacement rate and short life spans of Russians (especially males), there is a real possibility that by the end of the century Muslims will constitute an absolute majority of the population within the Russian Federation. The increasing percentage of the population these “outsiders” represent, the greater there will be xenophobia and ugly ramifications of increased nationalist fervor (which Putin is promoting now!).

Immigrants from a range of countries will continue to play a significant and growing role in the Russian economy, labor intensive positions now but increasingly in all sectors of the economy (and like in the U.S., many of these “guest workers” do not pay taxes and work more in the “underground economy”.)

The Russian economy will experience modest growth, but will trail that of other industrialized countries, and will continue to be dangerously dependent on the export of raw materials, especially natural gas and oil. Shifts in global production elsewhere will diminish the value of Russian assets here, and there is also doubt that Moscow can maintain the high production rates of oil and gas indefinitely.

Thus, challenging demographic trends combine with discouraging economic prospects to paint a rather bleak future for Russians. In these circumstances we can expect Russian political leaders to glorify the Russian identity to substitute for confidence in the future, and in this atmosphere inter-ethnic strife will grow.

  • Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb served as Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Ronald Reagan and as Director of Soviet, European and Canadian Affairs.

 

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Save the date for the upcoming forum:

Save the date for the upcoming forum:

WHITHER RUSSIA? WHITHER PUTIN?

With

Tyrus W. Cobb

The Ramada, Wednesday, April 23, at 9:00 am

From the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, elements of the old regime have sought to reclaim the place the USSR once held in the world’s eyes, one of two great superpowers and the leader of the global Communist movement. From the perspective of former KGB Colonel and now again President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, Russia must regain its lost power and the respect the USSR held. It must stifle domestic dissent, rebuild a patriotic fervor internally, eliminate confusing competing sectors of influence, become a force again in global political decisions, and restore much of what the former Soviet Union represented and held.

Putin certainly knows that he cannot resurrect the old USSR. However, he strongly feels that Moscow must be able to dominate developments in the “Near Abroad”—the regions formerly part of the Soviet Union close to Russia and now drifting to tighter relationships with the West. Most importantly this includes Ukraine, part of which—the Crimea—Putin has already seized. He may have designs on the eastern, heavily Russian sectors of Ukraine as well. It may also mean the Baltic States, the “Stans”, the Caucasus entities, and Byelorussia.

Putin, however, is not dealing from a position of strength. This country is confronting severe economic challenges and remains precariously dependent on the export of oil and gas. The country confronting a challenging demographic future, one in which Russians may soon not even be a majority in their own country! While still a nuclear power, Moscow’s military is far from the formidable force the West confronted during the Cold War.

In this tense environment, what policies should the United States and its allies adopt to confront the “resurgent” and “revanchist’ Russia? Is the West cohesive enough to take a determined stand against Putin and Russia?

Dr. Cobb is a former Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs (1988-89) and Director of Soviet and European Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council.

 No need to RSVP at this time—a full announcement will be published soon.

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Forum Announcement: April 8th

This is the final meeting announcement for the National Security Forum Breakfast by:

Bruce J. Held

On

“THE ARMY CONFRONTS THE

NEW STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT”

The Ramada, Tuesday, April 8, 9 am

The Pentagon just announced plans to shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest size since before WWII in a move described as an effort (1) To move the military off the war footing adopted after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and (2) To reorient the military to comply with the new strategic focus on Asia and the increased importance of air and naval forces. Given severe budgetary constraints, more emphasis will now be on acquisition, high tech operations, and Cyber warfare, not costly land forces. With the new strategic focus on Asia-Pacific, more importance will be given to maritime concepts, such as Air-Sea Battle.

For many this environment suggests a much reduced role for the Army. Indeed, the Army, which had peaked at 570,000 at the height of the wars in the Middle East (OIF/OEF) and is now at 520,000 troops, is slated to drop down to 440,000. Is this an adequate force to meet the defense strategy?

We have not been particularly prescient in deciding which conflicts the U.S. will be engaged in and what forces are necessary for those scenarios. While it does appear that involvement in nation-building in the volatile Middle East will fade, it is by no means certain that the era of major land forces confronting each other is over. Russia’s provocative actions in Crimea and massing forces along the border with Ukraine raise concerns over a potential conflict in Europe—a region where we have drawn down our deployed forces and where our allies have not maintained combat ready units.

We’ll hear from Bruce J. Held on this dramatic change in the Army’s role in the new strategic environment.  Held is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and the deputy director of the RAND Arroyo Center. He is a former Army officer who served in Armor and Armored Cavalry units, and then went on to tank gun and ammunition development as an acquisition officer. Mr. Held received a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point; an M.S. in aerospace engineering from Stanford University; and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII veterans), so it is recommended that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

Kindly RSVP by clicking here. You may also RSVP by phone (775) 746-3222 or by emailing twcobb@aol.com. We are also now accepting credit cards at the door for your convenience.

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Is the Ukraine Crisis Escalating?

Is the Ukraine Crisis Escalating?

Colleagues:

There have been numerous articles written on the current crisis over Russia’s actions and intentions relative to Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Moscow has amassed more troops along Russia’s southwestern border with Ukraine, possibly foreshadowing another annexation—this time of eastern Ukraine.

I’m not sure how much everyone wants to read on this crisis, but here are some links to articles or compendium of articles you might wish to peruse.

First, the Carnegie folks have put together some short pieces on various aspects of the issue—in particular, you might pay particular attention to the first article on the severely weakened state of Ukraine—it’s faltering economy, its outdated and outmanned military, and its lack of competence at the governing levels.

Click here: What Are the Global Implications of the Ukraine Crisis? – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace   And this excerpt from today’s FP SitRep, including alarming assessments by the Intel Community regarding the significance of the massing of Russian troops:

The Daily Briefing from FP’s National Security Channel

Friday, March 28, 2014

FP’s Situation Report: An invasion of Ukraine increasingly likely, intel sources say 


Intel officials have told Obama there is mounting evidence that Russia is preparing for a possibly imminent invasion of Ukraine. With FP’s Shane Hudson, Yochi Dreazen and a small assist from ourselves: “American intelligence agencies have told Obama administration officials and key congressional staffers that there is mounting evidence that Russia is putting the pieces in place for an invasion of eastern Ukraine, and that the possibility of an imminent assault cannot be ruled out, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

“The numbers of troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine have been steadily increasing since Russian forces conquered Crimea in February. And near Ukraine’s eastern border, troops are reportedly being supplied with food and medical supplies, which they would need in the event of further operations — a development that U.S. intelligence agencies have noted with alarm. On Capitol Hill, U.S. spy agencies have given Congress increasingly dire assessments of the Russian activity and indicated that the likelihood of an invasion is rapidly growing, according to a participant in the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.

“Still, the intelligence officials have been careful not to offer a definitive conclusion that Moscow will invade or to predict the precise timing of a Russian military operation in Ukraine. Assessing the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been hampered by the fact that the U.S. has alarmingly little in the way of signals intelligence, or intercepted communications, that would indicate that he had decided to invade or when a strike was scheduled to start, one official said. Despite the tens of billions of dollars given to the intelligence community each year, the United States also has no real-time video footage coming from drones in the region and is relying largely on still photos from satellites, another official said.

“However, two officials said that the intelligence warnings have taken on a more alarming tone in part because the CIA failed to predict Putin’s Crimea invasion. At the time, some in the intelligence agencies had determined that Russian forces had no intention of invading Ukraine, despite a massive buildup of troops along the border. That missed call has chastened U.S. intelligence analysts and forced them to reassess their judgments about Putin, one official said.

/////////////

Finally, this article from the NYT discussion how three different Presidents have sought to deal with Putin and Russia.  Bill Clinton found him to be cold and worrisome, but predicted he would be a tough and able leader. George W. Bush wanted to make him a friend and partner in the war on terror, but grew disillusioned over time.

Barack Obama tried working around him by building up his protégé in the Kremlin, an approach that worked for a time but steadily deteriorated to the point that relations between Russia and the United States are now at their worst point since the end of the Cold War.

For 15 years, Vladimir V. Putin has confounded American presidents as they tried to figure him out, only to misjudge him time and again. He has defied their assumptions and rebuffed their efforts at friendship. He has argued with them, lectured them, misled them, accused them, kept them waiting, kept them guessing, betrayed them and felt betrayed by them.

Each of Finally, this article from the NYT provides a look at how three the three presidents tried in his own way to forge a historic if elusive new relationship with Russia, only to find their efforts torpedoed by the wiry martial arts master and former K.G.B. colonel. They imagined him to be something he was not or assumed they could manage a man who refuses to be managed. They saw him through their own lens, believing he viewed Russia’s interests as they thought he should. And they underestimated his deep sense of grievance.

(here’s the rest of the NYT story)

Click here: 3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin – NYTimes.com   And now, if anyone has some good ideas as to how to stop Putin and Russia, let me know—no one else has done a very good job at that!

  • Ty
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