[Marxism] Is Russia imperialist?

Joonas Laine jjonas at nic.fi
Thu Oct 25 09:58:57 MDT 2007

Marvin Gandall wrote:
> Limited financial resources? China and Russia aren't imperialist states - 
> their foreign policy is defensive and they're not acquiring colonies or 
> dependencies -  but both have huge foreign exchange reserves which are being 
> put to use abroad by their corporations and state-run investment funds. 
> China now has some of the largest banks in the world, and is rapidly 
> developing its productive forces. Western bankers complain, in fact, about 
> being denied full access to China's booming capital markets.

I did some googling some time ago in order to clarify my understanding 
on how to relate to Russia. This is because the Finnish Communist Party 
passed a resolution in its party congress last summer that said:

"The cooperation with Russia offers great possibilities for us Finns. 
[..] While being concerned over the undemocratic characteristics in the 
Russian developments - e.g. harrassment of communists as well as many 
shortcomings in labour and social rights - we reject the attempts to 
resurrect Cold War threats and anti-Russian sentiment."

While a certain hatred of Russians is a real enough thing in Finland, my 
gut feeling told me that this is not the right way to talk about Russia; 
the text sounded more like Russia was still "a kind of" Soviet Union, 
whose difficulties and "undemocratic characteristics" were to be 
"understood" etc.

What finally triggered my small-scale research was the editorial in the 
party's weekly, Tiedonantaja, last July. It dealt with the meeting of 
SCO, a group set up for military cooperation by Russia, China and 
smaller Asian states (and with India and Pakistan as observer members), 
and the conclusion was that "the SCO has become a significant 
counterweight to the hegemonic aims of the USA" and that "Russia and 
China have had enough of the aggression of the Bush government and are 
taking the challenge now seriously. Developing the cooperation within 
the SCO is one way to respond to the challenge."

So I did some googling, and this is what i found:

"Foreign investors say Russia is becoming more competitive than before 
with China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets as a magnet for 
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), according to the full report on a 
survey of 155 current and potential investors released today by the 
Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC) and The PBN Company. Summary 
findings of the survey were presented last month to Minister German Gref 
and other government officials at a FIAC Standing Committee meeting in 

"The survey found that most current investors in Russia experienced 
significant year-on-year growth in both sales and profits. Four in 10 
reported that 2005 sales increased more than 30 percent, and nearly 
three in 10 said profits grew in excess of 30 percent. More than 90 
percent said they plan on increasing both their business operations and 
investments in the next three years."


According to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, foreign investment in 
Russia is growing fast:

"Foreign investments in Russia grew 31.7 percent in January-September as 
compared with the same period last year and amounted to 35.323 billion 
dollars, the Federal State Statistics Service reported on Monday. The 
total amount of accumulated investments in the Russian economy equalled 
129.998 billion dollars as of the end of September 2006, which is 34.8 
percent more as compared with the amount of investments accumulated by 
the end of September 2005, the Prime-Tass economic news agency reported. 
Cyprus, the Netherlands and Luxemburg are the biggest investors in 
Russia, accounting respectively for 21.6 percent, 17.3 percent and 15 
percent of all investments in the country. Great Britain with its 8.8 
percent of total investments in Russia, Germany (7.9 percent), the 
United States (5.9 percent), France and the Virgin Islands (2.5 percent 
of investments each), Switzerland and Japan (2 percent of investments 
each) are also on the list of ten major investors in the Russia economy."

But the Russian capitalist is not too much behind, as far as controlling 
foreign productive assets and labour. An article in Washington Post on 
Russian investments abroad says:

"Foreign investment is a major indicator of investment activity in 
general. A total of $130 billion in foreign capital accumulated in the 
Russian economy by late September of 2006. From January to September, 
the Russian economy received $35.3 billion in foreign investment, or 
31.7 percent more than in the same period last year."

Then the tone becomes alarmed:

"It's interesting that Russian investment abroad amounted to nearly the 
same sum: $34.6 billion, registering a 51.4 percent increase over last 
year's figure. There is little doubt that the total figure for the year 
will be even higher. _However, Russian investment abroad will still 
nearly equal foreign investment in Russia._

"How should we react to this? On one hand, it's not necessarily bad that 
Russian investment abroad is growing. On the other hand, this growth far 
outpaces the growth of investment in Russia. _This means that in the 
near future Russian investment abroad will exceed foreign investment in 
the Russian economy. Russia is becoming a kind of global donor._

"It's good that Russia has money to invest, but it's also clear that it 
desperately needs investment itself. The task of making Russia more 
attractive to investors is still before us, and the above-mentioned 
trends confirm this."


Russia is well-known for having massive energy resources within its 
borders, but the Russian capitalists are also hungry for the resources 
in other counties (leaving aside here the fact that some, or a lot, of 
the "Russian" resources probably are situated where indigenous peoples 
live. I have to leave this aside, because I don't know too much details.)

In May 2006 president Putin signed a deal on continuing and enhancing 
the gas reserves of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan with Russian 

"[I]t is already clear that Gazprom would control the all phases of the 
process: field development, gas acquisition, pipeline construction, and 
transit operation. [..] Combined with Russian-led gas field development, 
these pipeline projects are designed to perpetuate Russia's monopoly on 
Central Asian gas, resulting in stronger economic and political leverage 
on America's European allies."

But the Russians are not alone: at least in Kazakstan, it is trusted 
that Western companies operating there would sell their gas into the 
pipe controlled by Russia.

And there's other kinds of "international cooperation" too:

"[Russia] has agreed to give Total a 25% stake in the infrastructure 
company that will develop the field and share the profit. A further 24% 
could still be doled out to Norwegian or American companies, while 
Gazprom will retain 51% of the infrastructure company and 100% of the 
actual reserves."

"The deal with Total completes a set of joint ventures that Gazprom has 
built in Germany, Italy, Britain and now France. In Germany, Gazprom has 
a joint venture with BASF and a close relationship with Ruhrgas which 
owns about 7% of Gazprom and has a seat on its board. Germany's former 
chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, is the boss of a joint Russo-German 
consortium that is building the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany."


Besides the energy sector, Russia has a strong position in steel 
industry. The most profitable steel monopoly Severstal "continues to 
push for a global reach however, and says that 40% of its steel is now 
produced outside of Russia and half its Russian production is exported." 
Another major steel company, now completely in private hands, 
Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works launched a ten billion investment in 
India to build a steel factory.

The Russian steel company that's producing the most steel, Evraz, is 
registered in Luxemburg, even though most of its functions are in 
Russia, and most of the personnel is Russian.


Unlike the Finnish Communist Party, I can't really "understand" this 
kind of "cooperation". Even though Russia's power can't be compared to 
that of the EU or the USA, I guess the first WW is still though of in 
terms of an inter-imperialist war, where Germany, France, Russia, Italy 
and Britain were on the move with the same kind of aims, even though 
Russia was more backward then too..?

Russia also has troops and military bases outside its borders; according 
to the Kommersant, 25 of them altogether. While writing this I think 
Putin's offer to the US on using a Russian base in Azerbaijan to monitor 
Iran is still on the table. Whether it's an attempt to call Bush's cards 
on whether the radar bases in Poland and the Czech republic are really 
intended to monitor Iran, and not Russia, remains open, but in any case 
is just an example how Putin has the nerve to offer US the use of a 
Russian base in and another country's territory. Based on this report, 
the Azeris don't really like Putin's offer, and would rather that the 
base be shut down:

According to Moscow Newsn - the article is entitled "Russia Boosts 
Military Presence at Home and Abroad" - "Russia is looking at boosting 
its military presence in the Mediterranean with plans to set up two 
naval bases in Syria."

With the agreement signed on 4th June between Russia and Tajikistan, 
"Tajikistan is to relinquish land needed for establishing a Russian army 
base, and will cede to Russia the military ranges that the Russian 
military currently uses in Tajikistan. The bare land and ranges are to 
be handed over "free of charge and without a time limit." Presumably, 
the value of the rent is to be deducted from Tajikistan's debts to Russia."

Other countries where Russia has bases and troops are Armenia Belarus, 
Georgia, Kazakstan, Kirgistan, Moldova and the Ukraine. In Georgia, 
Moldova and the Ukraine, withdrawal had been demanded but implementation 
had been slow.

For several of the bases, Russia doesn't need to pay anything; the host 
countries cover the costs.

No doubt Russia is creating a counterweight for US (and the EU), but 
what kind of counterweight is it..? Based on the material above, Russia 
- if not quite yet an imperialist country par excellence - seems at 
least to be on an imperialist trajectory.

Russia is not a country whose government I would be inclined to support 
in a case of war between Russia and NATO countries (if it ever came to 
that). In two world wars, Finland has been a battleground in a war 
between Russia and Germany, the former worried that Germany might use 
Finland's territory as a launchpad for attack against Russia, and the 
latter doing just what Russia was afraid of. I think in a war between 
Russia and NATO countries Finland (not a member of NATO) had better 
steer clear from taking a side in the war, and instead focusing on 
repelling whoever tries to use its territory for an attack on its 
enemy.. what I see as the likely causes for war between Russia and NATO 
is 1) continuing penetration of NATO into what used to be Russia's 
buffer zone, and 2) the Caspian sea oil and gas, and who gets to pull 
the strings of the smaller countries there..

More information about the Marxism mailing list