Is Russia about to disintegrate?

Experts: «All empires eventually crumble. To think that for Putin – and for Russia – it will be different is just another defect of the imagination.”

At a time when, on Ukrainian soil, the Russian Army seems to be able to regain positions, in the sector of Soledar and Bakhmut, in Donbass, talk of possible dissolution of the Russian Federation it may seem like wishful thinking, mistaking one’s wishes for reality. Still, the theme recurs. We wrote about it in the Review of 23 November. Guido Santevecchi has reported that, according to what some Chinese sources revealed to the Financial Times, “in Beijing they are convinced that ‘Putin is mad’ and that his Russia will emerge from the Ukrainian quagmire reduced to ‘a minor power'”. Federico Fubini, speaking of the thousands of Russian soldiers, especially from the regions furthest from Moscow, sent to die in Ukraine, he added that “the minorities are now starting to react”. And Danilo Taino he recalled that «power clashes and social protests in Russia» according to the 540 experts contacted by the Center for Preventive Action, they were one of the seven most probable crises of 2023.

Even more explicit were Casey Michel, in an intervention on Financial Timesand Janusz Bugajski, su European politician. Both used the word “disintegration.” And they both plot a parallel with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few, Michel recalls, predicted the collapse of the USSR, even if there were cracks in the building: the failed war in Afghanistan, economic stagnation, the difficulties in controlling the immense territory. “Now, with the Kremlin once again bleeding men and resources in a foreign war, and again sagging under a slumbering economy, Western politicians risk being taken by surprise a second time. Just as a flaw in the imagination blinded the West to the imminent end of the Soviet Union, so the same flaw—and an inability or unwillingness to understand Russia as the remaining colonial empire—is blinding politicians. westerners on the potential of one dissolution of the Russian Federation».

Michel does not intend to argue that this dissolution is imminent, but he is convinced that it can no longer be excluded from the horizon of possibilities: “None of this means that the territorial disintegration of the Russian state is inevitable, or even on the immediate horizon. But with casualties continuing to pile up and President Vladimir Putin’s messianic revanchism with no end in sight, the eventual dissolution of the Russian Federation it can no longer be ignored. Western policymakers need to start preparing for this possibility sooner rather than later.” Also because, as we have repeatedly argued in this Review, a possible collapse would have effects that are difficult to predict and potentially destabilizing at a global level.

However, Michel invites us to reflect on the fact that the Russian Federation is also a construction of colonial origin and “the invasion of Ukraine actually
blew up the myth of united Russia by Putin
also because the Kremlin has targeted, for conscription, national
specific nationalities, such as Sakhas, Tatars and Chechens». For this reason, critical voices speaking of “imperialism and colonialism and racial and ethnic discrimination” of the Kremlin are reportedly increasing on the periphery of the country. Michel’s conclusion is that «Putin’s war in Ukraine risks turning Russia into a failed state with uncontrolled borders. This offers the nationalities colonized by Russia and thrown into the jaws of conflict the possibility di claim sovereignty and freedom».

Not surprisingly, Bugajski, a fellow of the Jamestown Foundation and author of a just-released book called Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture, broadly agrees with him. And he says it right from the first lines of his speech: «We are currently witnessing a revolution underway in global security for which Western policy makers are clearly unprepared: the imminent collapse of the Russian Federation
». Bugajski is so convinced of this that he considers the proposals for ways out of the Ukrainian conflict “not humiliating” for Moscow and capable of guaranteeing the maintenance of the country’s integrity unrealistic.

Too late now, in his opinion: «Russia is a failed state. It has not been able to transform itself into a nation-state, a civil state or even a stable imperial state. It is a federation in name only, as the central government pursues a policy of ethnic and linguistic homogenization and denies all power to the country’s 83 republics and regions. However, hyper-centralization has highlighted the country’s multiple weaknesses, including a shrinking economy squeezed by international sanctions; the military defeats in Ukraine reveal the incompetence and corruption of the ruling elite and the unease in many regions about shrinking budgets».

Bugajski seems not to worry too much about the uncertainties that a possible dissolution of the Russian Federation, with the detachment of many border republics, would entail. And he invites, rather, to don’t underestimate its benefits. “With Moscow turning inward, its capacity for outward aggression will diminish. And as a rump state, the remnant of one that was much larger, ed.), subjected to intense international sanctions and deprived of its resource base in Siberia, it will have greatly reduced ability to attack neighbors. From the Arctic to the Black Sea, NATO’s eastern front will become more secure; while Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova will reconquer their occupied territories and will ask for the integration of the European Union and NATO without fear of Russia’s reaction. Central Asian countries will also feel increasingly free and will be able to turn to the West for energy, security and economic links. China will be in a weaker position to expand its influence as it will no longer be able to cooperate with Moscow and new pro-Western states will be able to emerge from within the Russian Federation, improving stability in several regions of Europe and Eurasia.

It seems to us that the wishful thinking don’t miss out on this vision of Bugajski. However, he reverses the accusation. The true wishful thinking, in his view, is to hope, as many in the West do, “that beneficial relations can be established with a post-Putin Kremlin, or that liberals can democratize the empire”. His conclusion is that «the West made a grave mistake when it believed that the collapse of Soviet communism meant the end ofRussian imperialism
. And, since imperial states invariably collapse when they overstep the line and when centrifugal pressures are fueled by economic woes, regional grievances and national awakenings, it must now avoid repeating that mistake, this time. incorrectly assuming that the current empire is permanent».

Conclusion practically identical to Michel’s: «All empires eventually crumble. To think that it will be different for Putin – and for Russia – is just another defect of the imagination”. Consider it good luck or bad luckperhaps it is better to start taking the hypothesis into serious consideration.

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January 13, 2023 (change January 13, 2023 | 10:43 am)

Is Russia about to disintegrate?