The Russian Landscape


Russian evokes images of snow, tundra, vast expanses of country, brown bears, head scarf wearing peasant women and balalaikas. Of course, most Russians live in cities. The county is 73% urban (the U.S. is 82% urban). Commies loved concrete and it shows.

Moscow is a very big city, with a population of 12.2 million people in the city limit and 16.8 million in the urban area. This is 12 percent of the population of a country of 144 million people (and 2 million in Crimea). It is the political center of the country, it is the business center of country, and it is the cultural and entertainment center of the country. Even many of their famous hockey players come from Moscow. It is sort of like Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles all rolled up in one. In contrast the expanded Washington DC metropolitan area makes up 2 percent of the U.S. population (6 million out of 322 million) and America’s largest metropolitan area, centered around New York with 20 million people makes up 6 percent of the U.S. population. Moscow is the largest city in Europe.

The second largest city in Russia is the beautiful St. Petersburg at 5.2 million and after that, it is Novosibirsk with 1.6 million. Moscow simply towers over the rest of the country demographically, politically and financially. Russia has a second city (St. Petersburg), but not a clear third or fourth city. Moscow accounts for 22% of the Russian GDP.

This centralization means that most likely any political change, be it a reform movement, a palace coup, or any actual demonstrations are going to be centered in Moscow. Movements are probably not going to start in the provinces and then move to Moscow.

Moscow will be the center of change in the governance of Russia if there is such a change. There is nothing like an Iowa caucus or a New Hampshire primary. In the last election in 2012, Putin won with 63.6 percent of the vote in a campaign that included only one outdoor public speech! The vote for the Moscow Oblast (region) for Putin was 56.6%. Moscow might tire of his regime quicker than the rest of the country, and being the center of burgeoning Russian middle class (which now under assault due to the economic downturn), their allegiance and well-being is critical in the long-run to regime survival. If the Russian electoral system does not allow for them to properly express their displeasure and make governmental changes (and there are many reasons to believe that it will not), then this is where the change will come from.

On the other hand, many people have a strong interest in maintaining the current system in some form (especially considering the degree of corruption). So as they begin feel the pressure to change, they may try to internally reform themselves. There have been several examples of top-down reformers in Russian history. Their track record is not particularly good. Gorbachev lost control of the government five years after he instituted reforms. Khrushchev was sent off to retirement in late 1964, two years after he actually backed away from his reforms.

So the question becomes, does the Russian government attempt reforms before the next elections (which are coming in March 2018), what is their nature, and what is going to be the long-term result of that?

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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One comment

  1. The lack of federalism (only existing in theory/name) is one of Russia’s disadvantages (alongside their underdeveloped infrastructure). It seems that even today Putin never managed to solve the problems the USSR originally faced.
    They still have to connect a highway between St.Petersburg and Moscow (119 on the Transparency International Index may play a role in this)..

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