Friday, December 01, 2006

Compared with the late 1990s, when it was ruled by a drunk and its currency collapsed, Russia has grown stronger under Mr Putin. But only relatively. Although its economy has recovered and its diplomacy is more assertive, Russia has an awesome array of problems, any one of which would be seen as cataclysmic in most rich countries. Booze and inadequate health services have helped to create a looming demographic catastrophe: the population is shrinking fast even before the full impact of a gathering AIDS epidemic is felt. Russia's robust growth is precarious, based on high prices for oil and gas that may not last and rising production that may not prove sustainable. Inequality is perilously wide. Rampant corruption hampers business and helps terrorism. The Kremlin has dealt with a separatist insurgency in Chechnya by fostering rule by a thuggish strongman, whose men terrorise and kill opponents not only in the region but also in Moscow. The north Caucasus is combustible; the army is crippled by graft.


This about sums up Russia's porblems very well. We are in bad shape, aren't we. But hey, we were first in space.

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