Russia as a Resurgent Power - a Critical Analysis

Author Name: Aneeqa Safdar      18 Sep 2019    

Russia formally entered the power game of international order in the aftermath of Napoleonic Wars and this Eurasian power has remained a key player in international affairs ever since. From its journey of acting as an irregular equalizer of power in Europe to reaching the zenith of the global power game during cold war, Russia came a long way, only to be thwarted in 1991 with the dissolution of USSR.

Russia’s rich history, geostrategic position and military might keep Russia’s quest of being a decisive power in international politics alive. Almost two decades later, in form of Vladimir Putin, Russia has found a leadership whose assertive foreign policy seeks to secure for Russia, a place on the top table of global diplomacy. When Putin seized power, Russia was in a desperate position. It had defaulted on its debt and the basic infrastructure was also collapsing. Moreover, it had lost a war to a minor secessionist force of Chechnya. Putin, in this hour of need, promised to deliver on two fronts, achieving domestic stability and regaining Russia’s place in world affairs.

Three factors are pertinent in defining the power of great nations. These include political influence, military strength and economy. Current day ventures of Russia in North Africa reflect its pursuit of a three-dimensional global strategy that would serve to strengthen it politically, supplement its economy and enable it to contest in the changing security scenario. Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, which promoted a major ruckus with the west and NATO as well as its direct intervention in Syrian civil war in 2015, were landmark political events that displayed the Russian impulse to regain global influence. Russia’s move of fighting the Islamic State in Syria is just a disguise to advance its global aspirations of attaining a senior role in the international political arena. Russia is working towards weakening the Western-engineered global order, chiefly around the Mediterranean through political obstructionism. Moreover, Moscow’s veto at the United Nations Security Council to American and European decision, to prevent genocide during the Libyan civil war, also directly stymied their supremacy.

Russia’s declining military, under Putin, got the much needed financial as well as political support. Between 2013 and 2017, Russia reached the rank of the world’s top three nations on defense expenditure only to be preceded by the US and China. In Europe, it remained the single largest spender in defense and major combat systems’ buyer. The Russian military received 30,000 new and upgraded armaments and items of heavy military equipment in a span of 5 years, i.e. between 2012 and 2017.

It is expected that by 2019, the Russian military arm responsible for operations across the Pacific will receive more than 6,240 pieces of new and upgraded military equipment including battle tanks, missiles and heavy artillery, aircraft and electronic warfare systems. The Russian Pacific Fleet is also expected to receive some 70 new warships by 2026 including 11 nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, and 19 new surface warships. All these would elevate Russia’s means to exert power in the region. Nonetheless, Russian military spending saw a decline of 3.5% in 2018 and for the first time it lost its position in the list of top 5 military spending countries, since 2006. Nonetheless, Russia maintains its position, second only to the US, in the list of the mightiest and most powerful militaries.

Russia’s economic situation also saw a marked shift under the Putin regime. From a debt defaulter to the largest creditor of US debt, Russia saw a significant macroeconomic boom. In 2008, Russian foreign currency reserves reached $588.9 billion and with international oil prices hiking to $147.27 per barrel, Russian banks managed to assimilate foreign debt amounting to almost $500 billion.

Despite being blessed geologically and geographically with one of the highest reserves of fossil fuels, Russian economy is structurally problematic. Its scattered population, vast territory, lack of navigable transportation and difficulty to access ocean trading routes, acts as direct impediments to economic growth and development as well as security. Russia witnessed two major economic blows in the past one decade, mainly due to shocks in oil prices and economic sanctions. Russia’s economy faced a net capital outflow of $130 billion in 2008, tailed by $39 billion in the first quarter of 2009. More recently, the Russian economy went through another financial crisis in 2014 and 2015, which led to a massive collapse of its currency in the international foreign exchange market. Russia managed to lessen the impact of the crisis on its economy, mainly by increasing exports and stabilizing the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), one of the worst hit sectors during recession. Nevertheless, Russian economy surpassed the 2018 expected growth reaching 2.3% and further forecasts also showed a positive outlook until recently when experts hint of another possible recession in 2019.

Analyzing Russia’s trajectory in the resurgent state paradigm, one may conclude that the geopolitical scenario seems quite ripened for Russia to exert its political influence on the world stage. Its policies of undermining the US and west-led world order particularly utilizing the Middle East and Eastern Europe have indeed stunned the upper echelons of power. Yet, it still isn’t much powerful to resurge to its past status of super power. Militarily, Russian nuclear arsenals may be at par with the US, but its forces lag big time on conventional grounds. There also exists a significant gap in the military budget as well as in active personnel. Estimating in economic terms; the Russian GDP in 2018 amounted to $1.65 trillion while that of its arch rival the US and strategic competitor China, happens to be $17.8 trillion and $13.6 trillion respectively. Hence economically too, in post-American world order Russia would be secondary to China.

Objectively, Russia can be regarded as a revisionist power, as rightly termed by James N. Mattis, the former US defence secretary. Though Russia might not be seeking to establish a world consistent with its political model, as portrayed by the Mattis, it inevitably is utilizing every possibility to interrupt and alter the current international order. Nevertheless, for Russia to resurge to the super power status that it once enjoyed, a much more comprehensive political, military and economic strategy needs to be built and adopted.


The writer is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). She can be reached at

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