Cursed land: About a radically pessimistic scenario for Russia and the whole world

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at

(Kennan Institute – – Jan. 22, 2024)

Egor Mostovshchikov is a reporter, editor, publisher, director, screenwriter, and producer. He is the founder of the self-published media outlet Batenka, da vy transformer.

Machine translation:

Peter Zeichan is exceptionally selfless: in his works, he meticulously destroys everything that a person who grew up in Russia knows about his country. A well-known geopolitical strategist, analyst and writer, former vice president of the private intelligence and analytical company Statfor, which is often called the “Shadow CIA”, he operates with scrupulous big data, statistics, geodata, demographic information and makes the darkest predictions about the world of the future. It brings a lot of facts together, creating a sobering picture. Peter’s name is on everyone’s lips today because back in 2014 he predicted that a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine was inevitable and would happen no later than 2022. Russia, according to Zeihan, is a country that has never had a chance of salvation, and its population lives in deep self-deception. The Cursed Land, that’s what he calls it.

Its great rivers, celebrated in folklore, songs, and the media, are in fact insignificant, impassable, economically and commercially useless. The vast expanses are lifeless and impossible to guard, the soil is a little more than half barren permafrost. The population is dying: the demographic collapse, spurred on by a century of bloody experiments on living people, as well as alcoholism, drug addiction, HIV and tuberculosis, cannot be stopped. There is nothing here, only dilapidated infrastructure and an impoverished population. In a generation or two, this sad, pale shadow of the Soviet colossus will be ruled by completely different people, Zeikhan writes, “and not in the sense that this government will cease to be neo-fascist, but in the sense that it will not be the people we identify as Russians today.” Zeyhan foreshadows that even the Russian ethnos itself is already gradually disappearing, and in a few decades it will be gone.

Russia, it is true, is not the only one that will face painful decay, but it was its death that in many ways triggered the coming collapse of the world.

In his books and analytical notes, Peter Zeihan paints a stunning picture of what is to come. He says that we are on the verge of the end of the world, in the sense that the world as we know it has cracked, that order is gradually turning into chaos, and that everything that we think is ordinary will disappear forever. Globalization will end, and states will fall into a new feudal system, every man for himself, all against each other. In his 2020 book, Divided Nations: A Power Struggle in an Ungoverned World, Zeihan elaborates on this idea: international trade, rising education, living standards, and life expectancy, modernization and democratization, pumpkin lattes, and turning the planet into one connected village are just by products of the Cold War. And the shelf life of this product, which Zeyhan calls Order, is coming to an end before our eyes.

If we simplify the multi-page historical excursus given by Zeihan, we get the following. To ensure victory over the USSR after the end of World War II, the United States created the Order: it assembled its own international alliance with the dollar, weapons, and collective containment of the Soviets. The foundation was the US Navy, which grew to both hemispheres, and the benefit that lured the participating countries into the commonwealth was access to the global market, money, resources, knowledge, and safe and uninterrupted cargo shipping. They gathered everyone together – the lost empires, occupied Japan, and defeated Germany, connected everyone to the American economy and allowed dozens of countries to jump over several evolutionary steps and undergo accelerated industrialization. The idea is simple: you have resources, opportunities and money, you can participate in the pressure on the USSR. A conventional iPhone, designed in the United States, assembled in Taiwan or India, and then sold all over the planet, is one of a million examples of everyday life that was impossible before the advent of Order.

The fall of the Soviet Union, Zeyhan argues, has caused a new global redistribution: there is no longer a common strong enemy, and in the coming years, the United States will gradually lose interest in the role of the world’s policeman and guarantor of security . And as soon as they withdraw from world politics and focus on their own affairs, Order will turn into Disorder. And this change will be painful for everyone.

Much of Divided Nations is a collection of eerie predictions of the fate of various world powers over the next few decades. China will face starvation and the extinction of half of its population, Germany will face a painful retreat into the European background, France will face the long-awaited leadership in the region, Great Britain will become totally dependent on the United States, Turkey and Argentina will become a superpower, Saudi Arabia will become the main arsonist in the Middle East, and Japan will have its leading position in the international arena vacated by the United States. Everyone will have to feed, provide, protect, and heat themselves, and not everyone will have enough resources for this: everything that can now be imported from the other side of the world can no longer be brought.

In this macabre, Russia will simply slide into oblivion.

Zeihan’s analysis of the future is based on two main concepts: the recognition of the significant role of geography in the formation of nations, and the importance of ensuring continuous economic scaling. Those who have geographically protected borders (mountains, oceans, ranges), excellent and fertile land, and an extensive network of navigable and commercial rivers win because they can feed, protect, and unite themselves. Russia, Zeyhan writes, has never had any of this, so the relatively short world rule of the USSR can be called a miracle, if we take out of brackets the monstrous cost of this ascent.

Zeyhan portrays the heir to a once-powerful superpower that lost the Cold War as a crazed animal that fights (and loses) an aggressive, unequal battle against inherent geographical problems, man-made demographic catastrophe, and the consequences of bad (but inevitable) geopolitical decisions. The strategist repeats the words of Catherine the Great: “Russia must either expand or perish,” and shows a map of the country: for the most part, it has no natural geographical barriers and borders that would protect it from possible attacks. There is simply no one to guard these territories, and it is physically impossible, and that is why from time immemorial they have been so easy and quick to seize. Zeyhan sees Russia in a corner from which it has no choice but to attack its neighbors in the hope of gnawing off territories that will act as a natural buffer between them and others.

With the geography of Russia, according to Zeykhan, there was no luck at all. Rivers are not a symbol of power and abundance of resources, but a real logistical nightmare: the Volga, Ob, Yenisei and Lena are not conducive to transport, trade and building connections. Some of Russia’s harsh rivers flow not to the south, but to the north, to the Arctic, where they freeze, crash into uninhabited permafrost at full speed, and turn into deadly ice dams. Most of Russia’s land is fundamentally unsuitable for development, food cultivation, infrastructure construction, and defense, unless mass and slave labor is resorted to, which is what the Soviets did.

A cursed land with endless distances, expensive transportation, minimal barriers to invasion: short growing seasons, terrible floods followed by terrible droughts, then fires and locust swarms, and so on. Under such conditions and with such a low population density, a scalable economy is impossible, and therefore, Zeyhan notes, industrialization in this country could not have happened naturally.

Joseph Stalin’s forced industrialization dealt one of the many crushing blows to the country’s demography: for half a century, hundreds of millions of people survived the Civil and World Wars, the Great Terror, the Gulag, deportations, collectivization, resettlement from villages to single- industry anthhills, and man-made famines. The quality of life fell, health problems increased, and the program for the construction of affordable Khrushchev apartments, although it gave people a roof over their heads, drove them into tiny apartments, which also reduced the birth rate: people simply had nowhere to raise enough new people. According to Zeihan’s calculations, the Khrushchev settlement reduced the birth rate almost as much as the Second World War. Demography in Russia will never recover from this extermination of its own population.

In the late 1980s, during perestroika, a mini-baby boom occurred on a wave of hope, and in the mid-2010s, its echo was reflected in statistics: for the first time since 1991, the number of newborns exceeded the number of deaths . This was the basis of Zeihan’s prediction of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is a temporary phenomenon, but then there is only a corkscrew.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Zeyhan recalls, the government ceased to provide almost all public services: “The military, instead of protecting the nation, was engaged in drug smuggling, contributing to the nation’s heroin addiction against the backdrop of widespread alcoholism. The health care system has ceased to exist, bringing the country into an epidemic of tuberculosis and HIV.” All this has exacerbated the decline in the birth rate and the increase in mortality.

People flocked to big cities, but that doesn’t mean they were good places to live: even the capital was run for many years by Yuri Luzhkov, the husband of the richest woman in the country, Elena Baturina, who was associated with the Solntsevskaya organized crime group. This racketeering couple, Zeikhan writes, ruled Moscow as their own land, thwarted new construction projects to maximize rents, and caused many families to be locked into one-bedroom apartments, which, again, did not contribute to the birth rate.

The country is deserted – Zeyhan cites the figures of the 2010 census: it turned out that since 1990, residents have abandoned more than 11,000 small towns, where it was impossible and no reason to live. The useless Arctic wasteland has been further emptied, leaving behind permafrost that can only be built in the fight against nature – in the middle of winter, when it is necessary to build giant mounds of stone, sand, gravel and tar, harming the environment. Those who can, leave for other countries. Local industry has never been enough to sustain local consumption; the country does not have enough manpower to serve new industries; Since 2014, international isolation and sanctions have increasingly cut off the country’s ability to develop.

Last year, Peter Zahan released a new book called The End of the World Is Just the Beginning, and his latest analysis promises that Disorder will hurt everyone, especially those who have experienced the benefits of globalization, because these people will have something to compare the new era to, and they will be excruciatingly nostalgic for a time that can no longer be returned. Everyone will fight for their survival; Russia’s population will continue to age, die out, get drunk and move away, the economy will continue to stagnate and bury itself, isolation will not end, and help will not come: there is nowhere to go.