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U.S. Intel Report Predicts Russia Will Be A Declining But 'Disruptive Power' Over Next Two Decades

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military exercise in 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military exercise in 2019.

Russia will likely remain a “disruptive power” for the next two decades, but its global influence may decline in the face of numerous political, economic, and societal headwinds, according to a U.S. intelligence report released on April 8.

The report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, which is produced every four years, provides a wide-ranging overview of global trends and potential scenarios that likely will shape the U.S. national-security environment in the next 20 years.

“In the coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to disruptions from new technologies and financial crises,” said the report, titled Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World.

Regional powers and nonstate actors may exert greater influence, with the likely result "a more conflict-prone and volatile geopolitical environment" and weakened international cooperation, it said.

On Russia, top U.S. intelligence analysts described the country as a “rising and revisionist” power alongside China, keen on reshaping an international order dominated by Western institutions and norms to fit Moscow’s desire for traditional values, noninterference in its internal affairs, and a “Russian-dominated protectorate covering much of Eurasia.”

“Russia is likely to remain a disruptive power for much or all of the next two decades even as its material capabilities decline relative to other major players,” the report states. “Russia’s advantages, including a sizable conventional military, weapons of mass destruction, energy and mineral resources, an expansive geography, demographics, and a willingness to use force overseas, will enable it to continue playing the role of spoiler and power broker in the post-Soviet space, and at times farther afield.”

The report suggests Russia will continue to use information warfare to amplify divisions in the West, aiming to “engender cynicism among foreign audiences, diminish trust in institutions, promote conspiracy theories, and drive wedges in societies.”

Meanwhile, Russia is likely to expand relationships in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Moscow is also looking to increase its economic and military footprint in the Arctic, taking advantage of global warming’s impact on the vast northern region.

Despite some of Russia’s political and military advantages, U.S. intelligence analysts assessed the country “may struggle to project and maintain influence globally” due to a poor investment climate, stagnating workforce, a reliance on commodities with volatile prices, and a small economy projected to be only about 2 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) for the next two decades.

“Similarly, a decrease in Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, either through renewables or diversifying to other gas suppliers, would undercut the Kremlin’s revenue generation and overall capacity, especially if those decreases could not be offset with exports to customers in Asia,” the report said.

On the domestic political front, the next two decades in Russia will be determined by President Vladimir Putin's exit from power, either at the end of his current term in 2024 or later.

The departure of the 68-year-old ruler “could more quickly erode Russia’s geopolitical position, especially if internal instability ensues,” the report said, suggesting possible post-Putin elite infighting.

While China and Russia share a common competitor in the United States and other Western democracies, U.S. intelligence said Moscow and Beijing are likely to “shun formal alliances” with each other and other countries in favor of transactional relationships.

Such a flexible approach will allow the two countries to “exert influence and selectively employ economic and military coercion while avoiding mutual security entanglements.”

As long as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin remain in power, Beijing and Moscow are likely to remain “strongly aligned.”

“But disagreements over the Arctic and parts of Central Asia may increase friction as power disparities widen in coming years,” the report said.

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