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World News and Trends: Blizzard of catastrophes ahead for Russia?

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Blizzard of catastrophes ahead for Russia?

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"Russia is afflicted by three fundamental destructive trends, which will converge in 2003 to accelerate and magnify all our problems," said commission member Viktor Opekunov.

Of immediate concern is the nation's infrastructure, said to be literally crumbling. Roads, bridges, railways, oil pipelines, the electric-power grid, houses and even the once-vaunted military are collapsing. Power blackouts in recent months led to emergency shutdowns at several military bases and nuclear-power plants.

A study found that in the last decade investment in basic infrastructure was only a fourth that of 1989. "We live amid the functioning relics of the Soviet age as if in a museum, and no one is building anything new," observed Alexander Yashin, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's industry-and-construction committee. "The point of massive, self-sustaining breakdown is approaching within three years."

If that isn't bad enough, in 2003 Russia's foreign debt is expected to balloon, potentially leaving the government with even less money to address critical problems.

Beyond that is a predicted major demographic crisis caused by shrinking birth rates and increasingly early deaths. Currently there are three working-age adults for every pensioner; that ratio is expected by some to reverse in less than 20 years. For more about Russia's problems see "Russia's Time of Troubles" on page 14. (Source: The Independent on Sunday [London].)