Russia’s Putin: When a country falls from the sky

August 03, 2022
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

On September 18, 2013, I wrote an article in the Saudi English Daily Arab News titled, “Did Putin succeed in his attempt to woo Americans?”

My article was in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s article in the New York Times a week earlier.

That was nine years ago. Now and then, apparently, things didn’t go well for Russia or Putin. In his article nine years ago, Putin failed to talk to the average American on the street and he simply exposed himself to the American elite and decision makers. In other words, he shot himself in the foot.

Facts not an opinion....

Children born in Russia when Vladimir Putin first became president are now college graduates. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope cost five times more than the entire annual budget for Russian space programs. Last, but not least, Russia doesn’t have an aircraft carrier .... Oops.

Yes, the Soviets/Russians went to space first. True, they sent the first man, women and dog into space. The Russians/Soviets spent billions of dollars and lost many lives just to be ahead in the space race. Yes, they were few steps ahead of the Americans in space technologies, but, as always, the Soviets fell short of winning the race and get the trophy. Now, the Russians are totally exhausted and short of funds.

In the past, the Soviet and now the Russian failures come due to one simple reason. They fake and inflate their earlier successes prematurely. Their achievements are only meant to make their ruling elites look good. For this reason, they only win the first 100 meters in the marathon. And that’s no good.

Now, what does the Soviet era and today’s Russian space program have to do with today’s Russia or its president Vladimir Putin?

The current Russian space program is the last pillar and the only thing that tells the world Russia is still a superpower.

Russia sooner or later will no longer be part of the International Space Station, the ISS. Either they will pull out from the station or the station itself will be dismantled and end up in the Pacific Ocean. After that day, Russia will have a limping space program.

Since 1991, Russia doesn’t have a space launch center. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union they have leased the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at a cost of around $100 million a year until 2050. And there are always debates regarding the lease price and the end date. Ironically, the Cosmodrome was built in 1955 during the Soviet era and was the place where the Soviets accomplished their earlier achievements.

What is more, geographically the Cosmodrome is located at a high parallel of latitude far from the Equator. At the 46th parallel to be exact. And that’s no good. The further away from the equator, the more need for payloads.

So, what is the solution and what’s the next Russian move?

Russia is said to be still building an already planned project which started about 10 years ago to establish a new spaceport named Vostochny Cosmodrome in Eastern Russia at the 51st parallel north. And that’s also no good. In addition, the work is slow amid corruption and disputes between the workers and the various agencies.

The Russians must move faster because even with more than ten launches from the new spaceport with rockets to put satellites into their designated orbits, till now, no manned missions have been accomplished from the new site.

Now, few more things regarding Russian space program. Is Russia capable of finishing the new spaceport. And if they finish it, are they planning to build a space station when the ISS is dismantled. Without a space station or extensive space programs, their space facilities will be a burden.

Nowadays, the United States is planning to go back to the Moon in addition to many other space programs that cost tens of billions of dollars. Also, China has plans to go to the Moon in the future and just built a space station. In other words, does Russia have the money to start a new program to build a space station or at least land a man on the Moon. For the information of the readers, China put a man into space only in 2003. That is 42 years after the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. What is more, in 1996, China sent two of its handpicked pilots to be trained by the Soviets. Now, Russia is lacking behind.

Russia has a long way to go not only in space programs and technologies, but in many other strategic and military assets that would make Russia continue to be a superpower.

But Russia is engaged in a bloody conflict with Ukraine with no end in sight. A conflict Russia could have done without. At the end of the conflict, that’s when and if it ends, Russia has a long way to go regarding rebuilding the entire war machine. It is true, Russia has very powerful nuclear capabilities, but, so do many other countries.

The Russian military aircraft are lacking advanced avionics and the navy has basically ships with limited capabilities. Not to mention the fact that Russia doesn’t even have an aircraft carrier. Their only so-called aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is simply old and seen at shipyards under repair more than at sea. Last time it sailed, it was accompanied by ocean going tug. Observers also noted rare take-offs and landings. And that’s a No No No for an aircraft carrier.

Russia lost thousands of lives in its conflict with Ukraine. And no one knows how much military and civilian assets were lost. Russia could have used the assets and billions of dollars to building more Russian infrastructure and continue to be part of the international community. Russia was seen more prosperous and stable in the past decades and closer to the international community, especially after the 2018 World Cup when Russia showed people around the world how beautiful Russia and the Russian people are. But, nowadays, Russia simply chose to stay away from the international community and be isolated.

The Russian notion of seeing Ukraine being a NATO member is very weak and not an acceptable argument for going to war. Now just because of the conflict, NATO added two countries as members — Finland and Sweden.

Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and there are more common things between Russians and Ukrainians that could have helped resolve any issue. Neighboring countries can’t change geography. And as people say, you can’t change the wind, so just adjust the sails. That’s much easier and safer because Russia will stay and Putin one day will go.

For now, the longer Russian-Ukrainian conflict continues, the faster Russia will become more isolated. A superpower country being labeled the most dangerous enemy is isolation from the rest of the world.

— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, political analyst


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