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Russia: The New Petrostate Power

Marhsall Goldman is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at Wellesley College and Senior Scholar at the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University. In his book, Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia , Goldman chronicles Russia’s dramatic reemergence on the world stage, illuminating the key reason for its rebirth: the use of its ever-expanding energy wealth to reassert its traditional great power ambitions. In the article below Goldman reflects Russia’s role in increasing energy prices.

As energy prices rise to record heights, most consumers are unaware that it’s not only OPEC members who are the beneficiaries, but Russia which today actually produces more petroleum that Saudi Arabia. Russia has been the world’s largest producer of petroleum several times in the past including at the beginning of the twentieth century and again in the 1950s. But its role today when energy prices are at record levels has made Russia an especially important economic and political power, more so than ever before in the country’s history.

In more recent times, the bounty brought in by Russian petroleum exports has transformed Russia from near bankruptcy in August 1998 to levels of prosperity unmatched not only in Soviet but Czarist history. The Russian government today has built up nearly $500 billion in foreign currencies—not bad considering that less than a decade ago, in 1998, Russia’s treasury was effectively empty. Moreover the Russian company, Gazprom, the world’s largest producer of natural gas has just recently become the world’s second largest corporation as measured by the combined value of its corporate stock, a distinction that until just recently was held by General Electric. Today only Exxon-Mobil is larger than Gazprom, but Prime Minister Putin has promised that he will do all he can to help Gazprom reach first place. More than that Putin has begun to question why it is that the dollar is the world’s currency standard. As the US dollar loses value, the ruble has strengthened, gaining 20 per cent in recent weeks.

Not surprisingly both Putin and his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev his successor as President, have begun to demand that the ruble be included as a world currency (not bad considering that only a few years ago the ruble was not even convertible into other currencies) and that Russia have a say in selecting the leaders of international financial groups such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Given the likelihood that energy prices will remain at high levels for some time to come, it is likely that Russia will seek to use its new wealth to reassert itself as both an energy and a political superpower.

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