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Russia today is the largest country in the world (by a fairly wide margin). That is true after the other 15 or so "Socialist Republics" left and went their separate ways in 1991, leaving Russia with a bit more than three quarters of the former Soviet land area. If physical size were the main determinant of power, Russia would not have lost all that much.

Another measure of Russia's lost power is the decline of population. Here, the loss was more serious, because Russia was left with only about half of the population of the former Soviet Union. And today's Russia seems to be a shadow of its "former" (Soviet) self.

So is one fourth (based on land) or one half (based on population) a better (rough_ guess of the decline in Russian power when the Soviet Union broke up? Are there any other other measures of power (e.g. GDP, nuclear warheads, troop strength, Nobel Prize winners, or any other relevant power source) that might provide a better estimate of Russia's loss?

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I don't think Nobel Prize winners (especially in Literature) are a good way to measure power :) Also, GDP is not a good way to measure power of USSR vs. RF, since the changes in GDP likely had more to do with non-breakup issues. – DVK Mar 23 '13 at 0:23
Power can't be compared across time without hefty assumption and extrapolation; the world is constantly changing, and the Soviet Union would have been changing as well. Russia may be "weaker" in some relative terms (e.g. share of global GDP, men under arms), but so are the United States and Europe, with the rise of China and the other emerging economies, even though they are stronger in some other terms. And once you invent a mechanism for the USSR to remain intact, you venture into alternative history. – choster Mar 23 '13 at 1:38
@choster - Tell that last one to Putin :) – DVK Mar 23 '13 at 21:48
Just think of all those Olympic medals that are now achieved by former USSR republics... – Darek Wędrychowski Mar 27 '13 at 8:49
@Anixx do you have sources for them being well aware other than in hindsight? – Drux Mar 28 '13 at 9:31
up vote 13 down vote accepted

There was a serious drop in GDP. The following graphic shows drop in GDP per captia for Russian Federation (not the USSR):

enter image description here

Passengers transported by civil air transport (RSFSR compared to Russia): enter image description here

Passengers transported by intercity rail transport: enter image description here

There was also a serious drop in demographic indicators. The following plot shows birth rate (red), death rate (black) per 1000 citizens for Russian Federation:

enter image description here

For a longer period:

enter image description here

There was an increase in crime rate (red=murders, green=drugs-related crimes):

enter image description here

Number of drugs addicts: enter image description here

Growth in tuberculosis rate (red=Russia, green=Ukraine): enter image description here

Average wage in kilograms of potatoes: enter image description here

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The question is how much of the impact did the break up of USSR had on any of these charts, vs unrelated causes (e.g. if they would have stayed the same if USSR didn't break up) – DVK Mar 27 '13 at 17:30
So this might average out to 42 percent loss overall, right? :) – Drux Mar 28 '13 at 9:33
OOC, where did these numbers come from? I ask because I was repeatedly told back in the 80's that you couldn't really get accurate GDP numbers out of communist countries because they didn't have a market economy to measure. What I heard from Russians at the time was "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us". So I'm wondering how much of the old 80's numbers were "pretend" GDP. – T.E.D. Apr 15 '13 at 13:45
@T.E.D. I will try to find the source of the graphic, but you can find a similar graphic on the site of Andrey Illarionov, former Russian president advisor and now an opposition politician: aillarionov.livejournal.com/383615.html Note that his graphic shows ratio of the GDPs per person of Russia and the USA (USSR in red, Russia in blue). – Anixx Apr 15 '13 at 14:15
@Anixx Who talked about "dependence"? I sure didn't. "Many plants simply could not produce anything with new borders" - Trade was not made impossible by these borders. What happened was that post-USSR production was out-competed in price, quality, speed and flexibility by the rest of the world. So the problem was not that new borders arose, but that the wall around the Soviet block fell. – Lennart Regebro Sep 30 '13 at 18:31

I doubt whether one can expect any meaningful overall quantitative evaluation on this topic (also given the background of external commodity price index rises during that time).

For instance, how would one quantify the effects of Russia's brain drain? Sure, one could start by multiplying some average-income-plus-cost-of-education with the known number of emigrees. One Sergey Brin (Сергей Михайлович Брин) was born in Moscow: so would we have to subtract (say half of) Google's stock value from Russia's current mineral wealth? Besides, who may know in which countries exactly the oligarchs' giant fortunes may currently reside? An what is the real "monetary" cost of being led by a former KGB officer (some say in the mold of Yuri Andropov)?

So with that I think any real answer to Russia's relative gain or loss has to be a qualitative one, despite what investment bankers do all the time :)

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