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Great Potential - Slow Growth

US Decline and the Rise of Russia 

Comparison of Mr. Putin and Mr Bush's legacies.

On the face of it, the US has become weaker and less respected globally since 2000, whereas Russia has become more powerful than it was and is at least taken seriously  

The invasion of Iraq and the ensuingwaste of resources have overshadowed Bush's presidency. The much proclaimed "war on terror" has failed to capture top al-Qaeda leaders and some would say left the world more not less unstable.

Attempts to promote democracy abroad have brought complaints of double standards. Abuse and torture scandals have dented claims of American moral leadership.

And at home, the economic price has been a soaring deficit, recession and credit crisis.

On the face of it, the US has become weaker and less respected globally since 2000, whereas Russia has become more powerful than it was and, if not loved universally, is at least taken seriously.

But that of course is not the whole story.

Economic progress in Russia has come at a cost - a bloody war in Chechnya; the erosion of some media freedoms; a cowed and dispersed political opposition; the growth of a corrupt state apparatus, uncontrollable corruption; and a lost generation marooned in dying villages and forgotten towns, cut off from the bright lights of the new mega-malls by disintegrating roads, failing infrastructure and a vicious inflation rate.

Shortly before Mr. Putin took office, the now much-maligned oligarchs had shown that once bankrupt industrial plants could - under proper management - be transformed into enterprises worth billions of dollars.

The soaring prices of oil, gas and a dozen other commodity items abundant in Russia have poured money into the state coffers to create a runaway boom, whoever was in charge.

Trouble ahead

What is more, some economists warn that Russia may face trouble ahead.

Ordering "strategic resources" like oil and gas to be put back under partial state control has not been good for business.

Mr Medvedev takes over office at a time when Russia is feeling pleased with itself, but complacency is a dangerous instinct in politics

Production levels have begun to decline just as domestic energy consumption looks set to grow, leaving even less energy left over to export.

As a result, investment is urgently needed for new oil and gas fields in the remote north and east of the country.

And more money is needed to prop up the crumbling network of rusting railways, roads and pipelines that has plagued Russia since the Soviet Union's collapse.

Yet while President Putin's policy of limiting foreign participation in national projects remains, it is not clear how much help from outside will be forthcoming.

The usual Russian answer to this is that they will manage on their own, relying on money saved so far and on Russian business investors.

And anyway, in a world where energy prices look set to stay high, why should they worry?


But as we have seen, economic fortunes can change quickly.

Who knows where Mr Putin's and Mr Bush's successors may stand in eight years' time? And what sort of comparison will seem appropriate?

One American strength is a national aptitude for self criticism and re-invention.

The Bush years may have damaged the US as a global brand, but the resilience of the country - both politically and economically - makes it quite possible to imagine a new president who will restore the country's fortunes.

"Change" is again the main slogan that resounded loudly in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

President Medvedev took over office at a time when Russia is feeling pleased with itself. But complacency is a dangerous instinct in politics. It is a recipe for stagnation.





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