Putin in Venezuela, April 2010

The last year has seen considerable change in the U.S.-Russian relationship -- or at least the desire and promise for change. In Washington, the Obama administration has talked of a "reset," and in Moscow, the unofficial publication of a Foreign Ministry document has prompted mentions of a "seismic shift." But the prospects for U.S.-Russian relations cannot be discussed in isolation from wider questions: In what direction is Russia moving? What will Russia be like ten or 20 years from now?

Speculation on the future of nations rests both on near certainties and on imponderabilia, which cannot possibly be measured, let alone predicted. Russia's demographics provide some near certainties: over the last two decades, more than 20,000 villages and small towns have ceased to exist, the immigration of Central Asian workers and Chinese traders has continued, and the Russian birthrate of 1.5 children per woman has stayed well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. A radical reversal of these demographic trends seems quite unlikely. There will be fewer ethnic Russians in the Russia of the future, to be sure. What is less clear is whether Moscow will even be able to hold on to the Russian Far East

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  • WALTER LAQUEUR was Director of the Wiener Library Institute of Contemporary History, in London, and Chair of the International Research Council at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is the author of, among other books, Long Road to Freedom: Russia and Glasnost and The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union.
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