Thursday, August 13, 2020

Russia as an Empire By Definition Can’t Have a Maidan, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 10 – Ever more people are suggesting that Russia faces the possibility of a maidan sometime in the next few years, but Vladimir Pastukhov says that such a development is “by definition” impossible because maidans are “always a mix of democratic and national-liberation movements” and can’t take place in imperial states.

            The national-liberation component of such movements is always directed against the influence of some “very powerful foreign player” and provides additional energy to the democratic movement. Indeed, it may be the “main driver” of the maidan as a whole, the London-based Russian analyst says (

            That makes a democratic Russian maidan “impossible by definition,” Pastukhov continues, “because Russia is an imperial country” and therefore can’t behave in this way because any such effort would be “an oxymoron” directed against itself. The only possibility then would be a maidan-like movement directed not toward democracy but toward fascism.

            In many ways, the events of 1991 underscore why a maidan in Russia is impossible. Boris Yeltsin assumed that if he acted like Ataturk and let the periphery go, this would be “a path to Russian greatness.” But a decade later, Vladimir Putin replaced him and replaced that paradigm having decided that Moscow needs the periphery to be great.

            As a result, the London-based analyst says, change is likely to come to Russia not from the streets but from within the Kremlin and to appear more like Dmitry Medvedev than Aleksey Navalny; that is, to be a correction rather than a rejection in the current Putin course. In the short term, Putin will take from the Belarusian events a lesson many don’t want him to.

            The Kremlin leader will assume on the basis of what is happening in Belarus today that “any weakening will be the equivalent of death” for his regime. And he will assume that his best course is to promote from within his own regime rather than engage in any action that would bring in new forces from outside.

            Some Russian imperialists are liberal, while others are anything but, Pastukhov suggests.  The imperialism of the transition period from the USSR to the Russian Federation was the former and led to Beloveshchaya. Under its terms, Russia gave up some of its conquests but hardly all of them.

            Like the early Bolshevik variety, Pastukhov continues, this liberal imperialism “combined in itself hidden nationalism and an open westernism for show.”  Putin emerged from that milieu but over time he shifted from “Western-style imperialism” to “imperialism of the Asiatic Byzantine type,” thus throwing Russia ever further backward.

            Under the terms of this latter form, “our entire country is a colony,” some of it within Russia’s borders and some beyond that.  Some non-Russian parts are recognized by their people and by Russians as that; other, with a predominantly Russian-speaking population, like Siberia are also colonies but not always viewed that way either by their residents or others.

            “In fact,” Pastukhov argues, “Russian civilization is a colonial culture;” but to advance, it must shed its imperial nature either by allowing more of the periphery to leave and become independent countries or by transforming itself into a very large “nation state,” albeit one “without analogies in history.”

            If its rulers cannot accept the former, they must pursue the latter or condemn Russia to backwardness, he says. That will require the articulation of “a civilized nationalism.”  That might be liberal or it might be highly authoritarian, much as the nation building of Ataturk in Turkey was.

            Pastukhov concludes his interview by saying that he “in general never promimses anyone that Russia after Putin will be good.” In fact, he says, he is convinced that “Putin will be recalled as a very soft individual” when compared with the far harder rulers who are likely to succeed him.

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