Russia is back on the global strategic and economic map. It has transformed itself from a defunct military superpower into a new energy superpower. Energy revenues no longer support a massive military-industrial complex as they did in the Soviet period. Instead, new oil wealth has been turned more into butter than guns. And, after several years of economic growth, Russia has a new “soft power” role that extends far beyond its energy resources. Indeed, the penetrating forces of Russian power in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia are no longer the Red Army. They are Russian natural gas and the giant gas monopoly Gazprom. They are also Russian culture, consumer goods, and job opportunities.
A range of new Russian products, a burgeoning popular culture spread by satellite television, a growing film industry, rock music, Russian popular novels, a revival of the crowning achievements of the Russian artistic tradition, and new jobs in the service and other sectors have made Russia an increasingly attractive country for the region around it. Millions of people from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the rest of Eurasia have flooded into Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities in search of work and a better life.
As a result, since 2000, Russia’s greatest contribution to the security and stability of its vulnerable southern tier has not been through its military presence on bases, its troop deployments, or security pacts and arms sales. Rather, it has been through absorbing the surplus labor of regional states, providing markets for their goods, and transferring funds in the form of remittances (rather than foreign aid). Migration to Russia has become the region’s safety valve.