Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Russia’s Problems Rooted in Its Continuing Attachment to Imperial Idea, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – Most of Russia’s political problems today arise because Vladimir Putin and a large part of the Russian population have not overcome the imperial complex of the Soviet and Russian past, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. But unless they do, “it will be impossible to construct a modern Russia.”

            In a commentary for “Vedomosti” today, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society, says that Putin’s suggestion that the Soviet Union was in fact Russia under a different name is emblematic of the inability of Russians to escape from the weight of this past (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2016/07/19/649709-chto-delat-posle-kraha-imperii).

            Empires have sometimes played a positive role in history, Inozemtsev says, because they have been “an important means of the dissemination of civilization.”  But for countries today, they suffer from two problems which undermine that fact and any value they may have for those who believe in them.

            On the on hand, he points out, “empires in history never were completely democratic and/or legal states.” And on the other, they always represent “a complex compromise between their political-ideological and economic components,” one that “with few exceptions,” subordinates the second to the first.”

            Empires continue to exist until the economic burden begins to overwhelm the geopolitical benefits of the imperial center, and in today’s world, those burdens are such that they make reduce to almost zero the possibilities for modern economic development in the center as well as the periphery, he argues.

            And it also follows that “all empires fall apart along one and the same scenario: they collapse” when “the dependent territories” have had enough; and he stresses that he is not talking about colonies in which those who came from the metropolitan center form the majority of the population but rather lands when “representatives of the imperial center rule.”

            In this regard, then, Inozemtsev continues, “the Soviet Union was not ‘historic Russia,’ since it included within itself territories which had the same relationship to Russia which Cameroon had to France or the Philippines to Spain – and it fell apart to a significant degree because of what Soviet leaders did to legitimate” anti-colonial struggles elsewhere.

            It is “impossible to turn these processes back,” he says, and “one can hardly continue to hope that the post-Soviet countries will again become a single (quasi-) state.”

            Thus, overcoming post-imperial nostalgia is a requirement for moving forward, and Inozemtsev points to three examples of how former imperial centers have tried to cope with this: First, some have sought to compensate for imperial losses in one region with conquests in another. But clearly Russia does not have much change to expand now.

            Second, “however strange this sounds,” some have sought membership “in a new pseudo-imperial project and either occupied leading positions in it or avoided complexes through the promotion of a sense of a new normal.”  That is what France did after it lost its empire but then became a dominant player in the European Union.

            Russia might have followed that path, Inozemtsev said, but unfortunately after a few steps in that direction, Moscow has turned in another direction, one not intended to integrate Russia within Europe but rather to struggle against it.

            And third, countries that have lost their empires can redirect their energies toward their economies.  That is what Japan did. It is not what Russia has done. Instead, Inozemtsev points out, Moscow has lived off oil and gas revenues rather than developing its infrastructure and industrial base.

            Unfortunately, he continues, “the Russian situation appears to be the most complicated of all those with which other countries which have had to deal with the destruction of empires over the course of the 20th century have had to deal” – and this is made worse by the fact that the country’s political leadership has not promoted this direction of development.

 Any such policy in the future is going to have to draw on other models, but for a start, Moscow must end “any attempts at restoring a post-Soviet ‘Russian world’ and the integration of former dependent territories which were earlier part of the Russian and Soviet empires.”

At the same time, Russia must turn to the West and seek to become part of a larger integration project, perhaps in the form of “a Northern Ring” including Europe, Russia and North Amrica.  But most important, Moscow must recognize that economic growth is its most important task, one that it will not succeed at unless it gives up its imperial dreams.

Inozemtsev concludes by pointing out that there are always “rational ways out” of any situation. They may not be easy.  But there is one direction that will always fail, and that is what the Putin regime is trying to do now – turning the clock back to a past that by its very nature will never be restored.

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