Since Russia’s financial meltdown last August, the West has all but given up helping that country reform its economy. “Tactical disengagement” is the new watchword. Exclusive responsibility for managing the West’s economic relations with Russia has fallen to the International Monetary Fund. Predictably, matters have not risen above the level of bickering over details of the latest budget. Long-term, fundamental issues—changing the Russian economy, improving it, making it competitive —have given way to hoping that it can survive. The goal, if there is one, is to mark time.
Western policymakers appear not to recognize that the fate of Russia’s economy is neither exclusively Russia’s problem nor exclusively an economic problem. Although Russia, with its nearly $200 billion of foreign debt, still has the ability to shake global financial markets—and likely will do so—the unquestionably bigger threat posed by its weak economy concerns national security. Russia’s economic woes increase the nuclear threat to the United States.