Staunton, November 11 – Russia, Czech analyst Vít Kučík argues, “the last survival of the past of European feudal and colonial empires … an archaic territorial entity which can be preserved only with the assistance of a strong authoritarian regime,” something that “threatens both its near neighbors and others further away.
“One can expect a liberal and economically effective system only after the collapse of Muscovite centralism and the fragmentation of the country into small national units,” he says (ceskapozice.lidovky.cz/rusko-neni-moderni-narodni-stat-ale-posledni-evropska-rise-po4-/tema.aspx?c=A171103_004319_pozice-tema_lubeinosmi.ru/politic/20171112/240718281.html).
He points out that “the centralism of power in the empire has an authoritarian and not liberal character” because “liberal mechanisms would quickly weal the power centralism, and the empire would begin to call into pieces.” But the authoritarian power now in its place relies on individuals rather than institutions, something that is reinforcing until it leads to collapse.
Moreover, in the Russian case, “the empire is the political peak of the era of a feudal agrarian economy of the village, while a nation state in turn reflects the industrial economy of the city. Present-day nationalism,” Kučík continues, “is an urban phenomenon and it is not widely distributed in the villages.”
All European empires ended their existence at the start or in the middle of the 20th century except for Russia where the formally imperial government was replaced by the Bolsheviks who “destroyed the national and liberal forces which led to the end of the European empires and with the assistance of a harsh dictatorship conserved the tsarist empire up to now.”
“In the 1990s,” Kučík says, “Russian lost its buffer zone of security in the form of its central European satellites and an outer belt of its own territory: the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine, the Trans-Caucasus and the Central Asian republics.” Only the coming to power of the authoritarian Vladimir Putin prevented Russia from continuing to fall into pieces.
But having decided to rely on the export of raw materials rather than the development of a diverse modern economy, the Kremlin leader preserved Russia as something other than a contemporary nation state. Indeed, “one can say that Russia is a European colonial power which still controls large but underpopulated colonies in Siberia and in the Far East.”
The Czech analyst insists that Russians are fully capable of developing a liberal democratic state, but they are prevented from doing so by a state that views all conquests as permanent and irreversible and is prepared to repress its own population in order to hold on to the empire.
The leaders of the Russian state know and the Russian people suspect that under conditions of democracy many non-Russian republics and large swaths of what they view as predominantly ethnic Russian territories would elect to cut their ties with Moscow. Consequently, they oppose any liberalization lest that happen.
To prevent it, Moscow must use carrots and sticks. Under the Soviets, sticks predominated; now, because the current regime is more “shaky,” the Kremlin prefers to use carrots, although it is rapidly running out of these – and both its supporters and opponents are well aware of that fact, Kučík says.
According to the Czech analyst, Russian foreign policy, “which always was active and at times even aggressively expansionist,” is defined by three factors: military, economic, and domestic political. Militarily, Moscow must cope with the fact that its European core has no natural geographic boundaries, and thus it feels always threatened.
Economically, it wants to dictate conditions and prices for the transit and sale of the raw materials on whose sale Moscow depends to survive. And domestic politics requires that Moscow ensure that the neighboring regimes are either like the Russian one or in chaos and thus not an attractive model for Russians to emulate.
Moscow’s ideal world would include “a belt of unstable and also poorer countries among which Russia would be set apart as a stable and flourishing state. This domestic political motive of Russian foreign policy is more important than all the others because so-called color revolutions can sweep away Russia from the map of the world.”
And because this is so, Kučík says, “the Russian empire will always represent a threat or at least a problem for neighboring states, including Eastern and Central Europe. Russian influence will spread ever further to the West until it encounters a balancing force which will be Germany or the European Union.”
He continues: “the post-Soviet countries with a successful liberal system near Russia have a negative impact on Muscovite authoritarian centralism which preserves the integrity of the empire. Such a system would give a difficult answer to the question of the internal opposition: ‘why don’t we have that if it is possible for them?’”
Because such countries can make their own choices about their relations with others, Kucik says, they are especially threatening to Moscow. It can have good relations only with the dictatorships around its current borders. With democracies, like Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic states, it will inevitably be in conflict.
Given this, he continues, “Russia will cease to be a threat only when it disintegrates into smaller formations.” Such states “will be able “to construct more effective economies and be less dependent on the sale of raw materials” and thus will seek to stimulate other forms of economic growth and cooperation.
Moscow will try to prevent this, of course, but it lacks the carrots to keep people in line and, if it tries to continue to hold regions in by force alone, it will alienate the population still further and block economic development for all. As a result, the collapse could occur quite quickly.
“The West is afraid of instability on such an enormous territory and therefore it will help the Kremlin leader to preserve unity, but just as in 1991,” Kucik says, “all these efforts will be for naught. The local liberation forces will turn out to be stronger, and besides, they will be supported by powers like Turkey, Iran, China and Japan which will see an opportunity for themselves to bring the new states into their spheres of influence.”
The collapse of the last empire, albeit “a century late, will simplify the life of Europe and of the Russians themselves,” the Czech analyst concludes.