Economic risk associated with new Russian National Guard

Economic risk associated with new Russian National Guard

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent creation of a new National Guard reflects the administration’s concerns with multiple potential internal security threats. These threats are magnified by Russia’s continued economic downturn in the wake of Ukraine Crisis sanctions.

Roman historical precedent

Even though the new National Guard unit has been compared to the Roman Praetorian Guard, it can also be compared to Rome’s Urban Cohort. The Praetorians were originally formed as bodyguards to Roman generals in the field and later became distinct military units altogether. They were eventually utilized by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, to intimidate political rivals and therefore were used to control Rome’s elite.

Foreshadowing their later days when they would actually auction the seat of the Roman emperor itself, the Praetorians grew very powerful very quickly. Seeing this, Augustus also formed the Urban Cohort to counterbalance the power of the Praetorians. The Urban Cohort’s primary task was to keep order within the city of Rome itself, involving duties such as riot control. Thus, the Urban Cohort were used to control Rome’s people.

Elite intimidation

With the appointment of close personal friend Viktor Zolotov as head of the new National Guard, it has been speculated that the new unit will find its greatest utility to Putin in elite intimidation. This is a valid concern in light of Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections later in 2016. In the longer-term, however, the move is also seen as an attempt by Putin to deal with a potentially powerful political rival in the form of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.  

As Shoigu’s stature and visibility have increased following Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine as well as the Syria Crisis, Putin may be wary of not having his own security force under his very own command. Additionally, the formation of the National Guard serves to counterbalance Shoigu’s Defense Ministry, as well as the FSB and Interior Ministry. The move, therefore, is seen as Putin’s attempt to keep powerful rivals in check and to further consolidate the security services under his own personal authority.

Popular unrest

Economic stagnation, however, provides the key to explaining the Russian administration’s moves. Lack of investor confidence in Russia’s moribund economy, combined with plummeting oil prices, lends credence to any form of political protest. Compounding this, the recent Panama Papers revelation that associates of Putin may have been involved may only serve to increase potential Russian dissent.

The National Guard is also a reflection of Putin’s greatest concern, that being whether any form of resultant protests are genuinely home-grown or supported from abroad. This was a concern during the Russian 2011 parliamentary elections, when Putin accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of supporting opposition protesters.  

Most recently, it finds resonance in Russian accusations of Western meddling during the Euromaidan protest movement in Ukraine in 2013. From the Russian administration’s viewpoint, the Guard’s formation will serve to minimize this threat, whether internal or external.

Chinese comparison and contrast

The move can also be compared to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s drive to eliminate potentially powerful rivals through his anti-corruption campaign. Also like Russia, China is concerned with a rising number of protest movements in a slowing economy. This has given rise to China’s efforts to extend its regional economic primacy through endeavors such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Unlike China, however, Russia no longer enjoys favor with Western-backed financial bodies such as the IMF and World Bank. Despite China’s clashes with the U.S. in the South China Sea, no one is cutting China off from access to world financial markets. Russia, because of its involvement in Ukraine and Syria, general hostility towards the U.S., and significantly smaller trading relationship with the U.S., can not say the same. 

Categories: Economics, Europe

About Author

Robert Matthew Shines

Robert Matthew Shines is a U.S. Foreign Policy Analyst & Project Manager with Bright Group Consulting, where he provides confidential geopolitical forecasting services regarding various aspects of U.S.-China foreign policy. Additionally, he is an Expert | Geopolitical Intelligence with RANE, an information and advisory services company that connects business leaders to critical risk insights and expertise. He is also an Analyst with the Foreign Policy Association where he writes blogs on foreign policy analysis. As a Senior Analyst and Editor with Global Risk Insights, he provides analysis on political risk & geopolitics. Lastly, he is a Writer for Geopoliticalmonitor Intelligence Corporation, an international intelligence publication which provides comprehensive geopolitical analysis. Having previously consulted in Ukraine, his area of focus is U.S.-Russia relations. He received his MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management with a focus on U.S.-China relations.