Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Neither Empires nor Imperial Restoration Movements are Eternal, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 7 – More than a generation has passed since the USSR disintegrated, and Moscow has little to show for its efforts to restore the empire besides increasing hostility among the former union republics, isolation from the international community, and anger among Russians about the enormous costs of its imperial policies, Sergey Shelin says.

            Indeed, what is striking but often overlooked is how little Moscow has achieved in any effort to restore the past, especially when compared with the Bolsheviks who rebuilt the empire during the Russian Civil War and with Stalin who added to it during World War II, the Rosbalt commentator says (

                The Kremlin can point only to several “unrecognized states” like Abkhazia and South Ossetia which it took from Georgia in 2008 and the Donbass which it continues to fight for in Ukraine. Its only “success” in fact was the absorption of Crimea, an illegal and increasingly expensive move that few in Russia think it would be a good idea to try to repeat elsewhere.

            Shelin consequently argues that there are three compelling reasons to believe that just as empires re not eternal, so too imperial restoration projects aren’t either, and that with time, they will become ever less attractive for Russia just as they have become ever less attractive for peoples in other former empires as well.

            First of all, “in the present-day world, imperial projects encounter much more opposition than in the era of the world wars. And this is not only about attitudes in the West.  For example,” Shelin says, “the attempt of Iran” to build an empire in the eastern Mediterranean has mobilized people against it.

            Second, “the statist feelings of the Russians even at their peak” in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss “were not accompanied by a mass willingness to sacrifice their lives” for such a project.  Crimea was popular because it was cheap; the Donbass because it isn’t is increasingly unpopular. 

            And third, “those on top because they are informed and the masses on an intuitive basis know that an empire is a very expensive thing.” The country that builds one has to spend money on the populations it acquires, often far more per capita than it does on its own people, as the case of Chechnya shows.

            One can’t exclude the possibility that the Kremlin will try to “solve” its domestic problems by once again playing up imperial “passions” and seeking to expand its borders, Shelin observes.  But each such effort becomes less and less attractive to the population and thus less and less effective for the rulers.

            Any effort to “return to the exaltation of 2008 and 2014 will be difficult even if those in power very much want it,” the commentator concludes. “There are no eternal empires, and there is no eternal imperial restorationism either.”

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