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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can Russia Feel Secure?

The idea of national security has been the subject of much attention by the Russian news media recently. National security has been referred to in various contexts -- including at the time of the peace agreements with the Chechen separatists, of former security adviser Alexander Lebed's dismissal and in discussions over the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which raises serious concerns in the country.

But these are only part of what constitutes national security in Russia.

In the not-so-distant past, the word security was above all associated with the all-powerful State Security Committee, better know as the KGB, and meant for the majority of citizens a system of preserving the existing political regime from any real or imagined internal threats.

Security also presupposed the inviolability of borders, or in other words, the maximal isolation of the country's citizens from the harmful and dangerous influences of surrounding capitalist countries.

Such an understanding of security, together with the totalitarian system, now belong to the past.

But a new, coherent understanding of national security has yet to take its place. What are the criteria that modern democratic countries use to determine their sense of security?

In fact, there are many, given that life in modern states is increasingly complex and multi-faceted and that the world is becoming more and more interdependent.

The factors involved in guaranteeing a state's security include not only military and geopolitical considerations, but economic, social, demographic, ecological and cultural ones as well. Even in prosperous countries, there can be factors that threaten the normal functioning, health and life of citizens. These can be social, ethnic or religious conflicts, the spread of arms and narcotics, terrorism, new infectious diseases, ecological catastrophes and other factors.

Russia's current condition raises particular security concerns. The country has disappeared from the world stage as one of two former superpowers and is having difficulty finding a new national and state identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Against this background, Russia is going through a difficult transitional period of forming a new economic and political system and working out a radically new system of values.

The results of this period will be much determined by Russia's real place in the multi-polar world of the end of this century and the beginning of the next. Moreover, there is no guarantee that Russia will automatically keep its status as a great power, which could become more and more formal if the country falls back on its inevitably aging nuclear potential.

The government's statistical data on the economy for the last five years do not provide any grounds for optimism. Russia now occupies 11th place in the level of gross domestic product in the world, with Mexico and Brazil not far behind. Its share of world trade is 1 percent. Since there is no significant investment in industry, structural reform of the economy has not taken place.

Much of the country's infrastructure such as railroad transport and pipelines has aged physically, and the people who work in such sectors are demoralized. This can only increase the chance of the occurrence of accidents.

The ecological condition of many regions is either critical or close to it. Birth and mortality rates have worsened to such a point that Russia is faced with the real threat of depopulation. Moreover, given its vast expanse, the country is already rather sparsely populated, with the exception of several regions. The average life span between 1990 and 1994 decreased by five years. The intellectual and cultural potential of the country is being degraded.

The quick pace of social change in Russia has given rise to a situation in which the interests of some 10 percent of the population are increasingly at odds with more than half the population, which finds itself in or at the brink of poverty.

Such a social structure inevitably generates domestic instability and conflict and threatens not only the further progress of the country but civil peace.

Is there a main cause that would explain these dangerous indicators of the country's development over the past few years?

In my view, there is such a cause, but it should not be sought in NATO enlargement, the conflict in Afghanistan or anywhere else outside Russia's borders.

The reason for these dangerous signs can be found in the fact that during the five years of post-communist development, no reliable structures and mechanisms of power have been formed that effectively coordinate and defend the interests and security of all social groups and guarantee individual rights and freedoms.

It has become something of a fashion to repeat the formula of a "system of checks and balances," taking as a model the political experience of the United States. This involves a distinctly defined and observed division of powers and functions -- one of the most important criteria of democracy. In Russia, there is a certain caricature of such a system. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said not long ago the Russian political system is not one of checks and balances but of a constant "under-the-rug fight," among various groups around the president for his influence and for access to state resources.

Russia needs more than just a real system of the division of powers, open public policies and a new political elite that is closer in a moral and intellectual sense to the political elite of the West than is currently the case. Only when this becomes a reality can Russia be assured that the threats to its security are removed.

Konstantin Zuyev is a senior researcher at the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.