Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council, said in an interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets that the United States was trying to weaken Russia in order to gain access to its mineral resources. He added that the "disintegration of the Russian Federation is not ruled out" by the United States. "This will open access to the richest resources for the United States, which believes that Russia possesses them undeservedly."
Coming from a senior Russian official and former head of the Russian intelligence service close to President Vladimir Putin, this statement has to be taken seriously. This is not because the statement is true, nor even that Patrushev believes it's true, but because it gives us a sense of how the Russians are framing the ongoing confrontations with the United States and in turn, the reasons for Russia's problems. The United States is being framed as an existential threat to Russia's survival because of conscious, intentional U.S. strategies. As the Russian economy disastrously declines and real wages plunge, explaining the country's troubles as the result of the malignant intentions of an outside power shifts the blame from a failure of the Russian government to an American plot. The Russian government becomes the victim and the protector of the Russian people, who in turn are expected to rally behind the Kremlin.
Putin has recently made several statements praising Josef Stalin. Stalin had miscalculated the Nazis' intentions and signed a treaty with them in 1939, only to then face a German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. Stalin used the invasion to create a bond between himself, the Soviet state and the Soviet people. Whatever questions the public might have had about Stalin's wisdom in being so unprepared for the invasion became unimportant. Germany threatened the Soviet public, the state protected them and only Comrade Stalin could keep the state and the people together. There is a link between Putin's slow resurrection of Stalin and the idea that the United States is plotting Russia's destruction.
The reality of Russia's dire economic situation and the sense of embattlement the Kremlin is creating are two different things. To begin with, the Russian explanation for the American strategy is a desire to control Russian resources. The problem with this theory is that the United States is itself mineral rich, and the development of American energy technology dealt with whatever oil shortages existed. Most of the minerals the U.S. lacks are readily available in the Western hemisphere.
If the United States did need minerals, the idea that it would look for them in a massively destabilized Russia is far fetched. Accessing, extracting and shipping the minerals would present political, military and logistical nightmares. In the past, Germany and Japan have each considered accessing Russia by various means to alleviate mineral shortages. The United States has never entertained the notion because it either already has the minerals or can easily find them elsewhere much more cheaply.
The United States, in fact, would not like to see the disintegration of the Russian Federation. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it collapsed largely into orderly parts, with Russia as the successor state. If Russia were to collapse, there would be no order. Russia borders Scandinavia, the European Peninsula, Turkey and China. The United States gains little advantage from chaos and might be drawn into situations that could spiral out of control.
Also, Russia has several thousand nuclear weapons and missiles. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington and Moscow worked to transfer all nuclear weapons in former Soviet territory into the control of a responsible state. The thought of loose nuclear weapons and missiles in Tajikistan or other former Soviet republics was an American nightmare. If Russia disintegrated, it could lose control of these nuclear weapons, posing an existential threat to the United States and to other countries. The idea that the United States would risk this level of chaos in order to secure control of Russian minerals runs counter to all strategic or geopolitical thinking.
The problem is not that the United States is plotting the disintegration of the Russian Federation. The problem is that the Russian Federation is moving toward disintegration on its own. The single greatest failure of post-Cold War Russia was not using oil revenues to underwrite, possibly with outside investment, a robust and diversified economy. Putin wanted to do this, but the complexity of the Russian political system resulted in the diversion of revenue from a drastic modernization drive to creating a stable coalition to maintain the status quo. Political reality blocked economic necessity, as has frequently happened in the Russian system.
The Russians could not control the price of oil - the foundation of the Russian economy. When the China bubble burst and Europe entered a long-term crisis, expectation of growth in demand for oil evaporated. At the same time, due to irrationally high prices and new technology, oil surged into the market. The outcome was the collapse in oil prices and eventually the realization that these prices might represent the new normal. Russia funds much of its national budget and regional governments through oil revenues. There is a growing funding problem as resources dry up, and the regions' umbilical cords to Moscow are disintegrating.