The Brief — Russia’s suicide

Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine, their Slav and Orthodox neighbour, is possibly only a symptom of a bigger illness. The Russian nation, the centre of a vast empire spanning Eurasia, is self-destructing to an extent unseen in modern history.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, I was in my early 30s and naively expected that a modern Russian state, similar to the Western powers such as France, the UK or Germany, would be born from its ashes.

As someone who comes from Bulgaria, a satellite country of the former Soviet Union, I knew the weaknesses of the Soviet system they had imposed on the countries of the then Warsaw Pact.

The Russians had tanks and nuclear missiles, but they were completely incapable of producing consumer goods, the shops were empty, and people were angry.

The Soviet Union possessed all the elements of the Mendeleev table but its citizens were poor. The USSR used to win many Olympic medals but most of the population suffered from alcoholism, and life expectancy was very low.

After the collapse of the Soviet system, the former satellite countries integrated into the EU. I really believed that with democracy and good governance, Russia would quickly become a prosperous member of the European family of nations, in close association with the EU.

But Russia didn’t become a democracy. To the contrary, under Vladimir Putin, the system became even more centralised than it was in the USSR. Before, decision-making was done in collective organs such as the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Soviet Union. Today, Putin decides everything alone.

After Russia became a market economy, the shops were filled with Western goods, but the rural population remained impoverished and could not afford them.

Russia didn’t develop its own consumer goods industry, it largely remained what it was during communism – “a filling station with nuclear missiles”. Russia still needs Western technology to develop its gas and oil fields or build offshore pipelines.

When the EU became conscious of the risk of climate change for the planet and started developing clean energies, Russian diplomats with whom I spoke were making ironic remarks about the potential of the “ventilators”, as they called the wind turbines, or of solar batteries, to replace Russian hydrocarbons.

In the same vein, in 2014, the chief of Roscosmos was mocking NASA, saying that without Russia, the US would need a “trampoline” to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.

Less than a decade later, SpaceX rockets make the Russian rockets look like dinosaurs and the EU is getting ready to abandon Russian gas imports in the short term.

Putin aims to resuscitate the USSR geographically, but what is less obvious is that he has also been replicating its failed economy. Putin’s Russia continued to focus on nuclear missiles that it cannot use, instead of developing the production of consumer goods, the backbone of any modern economy.

And even for building missiles, Russia needs imported or smuggled semiconductors and other technologies.

According to some reports Russia imports washing machines from the West in order to harvest their chips to build missiles. Unlike China, which not only produces everything a modern economy needs but is even ahead of the West on certain technologies like 5G, Putin’s Russia chose not to develop.

This suicidal policy may be decided by one single person, and we are not aware of a significant political opposition or alternative.

What we may be aware of is the risk Russia’s suicide may entail for the rest of the world. Putin’s doctrine says that a world in which there is no Russia should not exist. “Why would we want a world without Russia?” he has famously said.

Putin attacked Ukraine not because the latter had the ambition to join NATO, a defensive alliance. He did it because Ukraine, so similar to Russia until recently, has been developing fast and was on its way to becoming the window shop of all the opportunities Russia has missed.

So, Putin decided it was better to burn this country to the ground rather than allow such an affront and political risk to his power.

I wrote this text on Orthodox Easter, a sacred holiday during which Russia’s attacks never relented.

If this was only about Putin, who hypocritically attended a church service on Easter Sunday, I wouldn’t have used the title “Russia’s suicide’.

But what is more shocking is the passive attitude of the Russians, including the vast majority of those living abroad, as I saw some of them enjoying themselves in the West, seemingly impervious to the tragedy their own country had inflicted on Ukraine.

We are witnessing an entire nation, despite its rich culture and undisputed contribution to the victory over Fascism in World War II, sleepwalking into self-destruction and committing collective suicide. It is not only tragic to behold, but it’s also a big danger for the entire planet.

Today’s edition is powered by Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies


  1. “It is not only tragic to behold, but it’s also a big danger for the entire planet.”

    I see nothing tragic about mafia land being destroyed from within. If Putler wants to take the sheep back to the middle ages, this is great news.

    • Those sheep will even get their knees bloody from thanking their evil little runt so much for enslaving them again.

  2. “When the Soviet Union collapsed, I was in my early 30s and naively expected that a modern Russian state, similar to the Western powers such as France, the UK or Germany, would be born from its ashes.”

    I was also so naive back then. Weren’t we all?
    But, then I saw the runt, riding topless on a pony, and I thought, good grief, Margret, what sort of clown do they have now as prez? It went downhill from there.

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