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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

20 Years of Going Nowhere

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The recent annual meeting of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, a Moscow-based think tank, underscored the confusion and distress among leading Russian politicians, analysts and policymakers. The meeting was dedicated to discussing the results of these last two decades. If in recent years they were all caught up in a frenzy of patriotism, muscle-flexing and shouts of "Russia is rising from its knees!" this spring has marked a clear shift in mood. Now they are much more sober and reflective. The economic crisis and Russia's continuing foreign policy failures have hit them like one big cold shower.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is interesting to compare how far the West has advanced since 1989 and how Russia has fallen behind. First, NATO membership grew in three successive waves over the last 20 years, adding 12 new countries, including former Warsaw Pact countries and three former Soviet republics. In addition, the European Union similarly added 15 new countries in three waves of expansion, reaching a current total of 27 member states. But this expansion is by no means completed; a number of countries are standing in line to join NATO and the EU.

Twenty years ago, Russia lagged behind the development of the Western world, and it has yet to close that gap. To be fair, the Kremlin was successful in creating the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, strengthening the Collective Security Treaty Organization and exploiting the monopoly over the transit of energy resources from Central Asia, but these gains were heavily outnumbered by the country's failures. Since 1989, Russia has steadily lost its influence on the global arena and soured its relations with most of its neighbors. For example, relations with Georgia and Ukraine are now hopelessly ruined. Among the few friends that remain, relations are not nearly as strong as Russia would like. One vivid example: None of its allies, except Nicaragua, has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

If Russia's foreign policy and economic failures during the reckless 1990s were attributed to the overly "pro-Western orientation" of President Boris Yeltsin's administration, this could not be applied to the first decade of the 2000s. Under former President Vladimir Putin, Russia regularly lambasted the United States. At the same time, Russia experienced an economic boom until last fall and became the eighth-largest economy in the world in terms of nominal gross domestic product. At the same time, few leaders spoke openly about the fact that Russia held a much lower place -- No. 74 -- in the list of countries according to per capita income.

From 1989 to 2009, the number of Russia's friends has diminished while its ill-wishers have grown. In fact, the Kremlin suffered a double defeat: It lost its status as a global superpower and simultaneously failed to modernize its economy and institutions.

In stark contrast to China and India, over the last two decades Russia has not managed to modernize its economy. Instead, its economy became even more reliant on raw material exports than during the Soviet era, and the country failed to create functional government institutions. The country has still not been able to develop independent courts or parliament, nor has it been able to build a modern army. Moreover, there is no effective control over the bureaucracy, little protection of private property and corruption continues to be a debilitating, systemic problem.

In short, Russia remains a colossus on clay feet with a bad reputation in the world -- a fact well understood not only by the West and China, but also by our closest neighbors. A country run by a clan of siloviki with an economy so heavily dependent on oil and gas exports cannot become a center of influence or a respected global power, particularly when it must compete with advanced and influential industrial power centers such as the European Union, the United States and China. If Russia does not modernize its political and economic institutions, its decline will only get worse.

The crisis has clearly demoralized the ultrapatriots among the members of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. It remains to be seen, however, if they are ready to openly admit the fundamental failure of Putin's power vertical and sovereign democracy.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy.