By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Amid the coverage of Russia massing forces on its shared border with Ukraine, another important story in Moscow played out. Russian president Vladimir Putin replaced a longtime confidant and loyalist, Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov, with a little-known adviser named Anton Vaino.
Vaino isn’t exactly a mystery, but for such a low-level adviser to replace one of the most powerful men in Moscow is certainly notable. Putin has been cleaning house for the last two years and some of his moves raise the possibility that the long-time president’s hold on power is slipping. The recent creation of the Russian national guard – a new military force that answers solely to Putin – simply adds to that line of speculation.
Chinese President Xi Jinping Suppressing Opposition
On the other side of the Eurasian landmass, Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly removed any opposition to his rule via an anti-corruption effort. The total number of people removed from their positions in government is difficult to tally. However, the arrest of several high-profile individuals is hard to miss.
Furthermore, Xi has attacked institutions to better solidify his control over the government and the party. Recently, Xi targeted the Communist Youth League for reorganization in an attempt to remove any potential opposition.
But the reorganizations and purges haven’t completely removed opposition to Xi. The National Financial Work Conference, a conference held every five years to chart the economic direction of China, has been postponed. There’s a strong chance that the leadership of the party isn’t of the same mind on China’s economic future.
Central Asia and Caucasus Also Experiencing Leadership and Economic Problems
This leadership crisis of the strongmen in Russia and China is also playing out in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. Governments there have been led by strongman types for decades, but the economic crisis brought on by low energy prices and falling exports of other commodities is strongly pressing these governments to find workable solutions.
Another problem facing these nations is the return of migrant workers from Russia who were unable to find work. These migrants typically add to their home nation’s GDP through remittances, but they are returning home unemployed and still unable to find work.
As a result, the Central Asian and Caucasus states have lost a substantial amount of income and increased their populations’ unemployment. This economic situation cannot remain unsolved.
Crises in Other Global Areas Impact US Power
The two crises of falling Russian and Chinese economies, along with the increased possibility of political instability, will lead to a third crisis in regards to U.S. power – the global decline of Washington’s absolute power. The U.S. economy makes up over 25 percent of the global economy and the U.S. military can make its power felt globally within mere hours — capabilities that currently only belong to the world’s sole superpower.
The ability to project political influence globally as well is an important cornerstone of Washington’s capabilities. A decline in absolute power, on the other hand, is a direct challenge to U.S. political power because it removes the ability to influence a constituted government.
The U.S. is not without its own problems, but Washington will retain its edge in relative power. The U.S. will remain powerful relative to other nation-states as they decline economically and experience political chaos.
As Russia and China weaken, the U.S. ability to negotiate with these governments starts to slip because Moscow and Beijing will, in turn, lose their regional sway over their populations. The governments in Central Asia and the Caucasus are already under threat from a weakening Russia and China and will follow the path of their patrons, unfortunately.
The integration of the former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucasus has stymied the ability to diversify their economies. Moscow keeps the strongmen running these states in power as these leaders prize iron-fisted stability over a messy democracy.
Central Asia is also a major supplier of commodities to China. As China’s economy has declined, its need for raw materials has decreased.
China, Russia and Central Asia are closely linked. As these nations decline and possibly fragment, the ability of the U.S. to work in this region will consequently suffer.
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