Wednesday, July 11, 2018

‘The Russian Empire has Fallen Apart Twice, but God Loves a Trinity,’ Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 10 – Vadim Shteppa, the founding editor of the After Empire portal that is based in Tallinn, says that he came up with the idea for an online discussion forum on federalism during the unsuccessful revolution of 2011-2012 when not only Muscovites but Russians across the country protested against the regime for stealing the election.

            At that time, he and other like-minded regionalists came up with a Manifesto of the Congress of Federalists outlining their ideas. (For the text, see And in 2013, he and these people organized a conference on federalism in Russia (On that, see and

            But when Vladimir Putin entered his third term, the Kremlin made it virtually impossible to have such discussions within the country, Shtepa says. They frightened Russia’s rulers who were prepared to talk about federalism only in the case of other countries where Moscow wanted to establish breakaway regions (

            With the adoption of Putin’s “law on the struggle with separatism” in 2014, the situation became even worse because any serious discussion of federalism even at the level of previous years put those who took part in it at risk of being charged with a crime.  That is why he established After Empire in Estonia. 

            Unlike other Russian opposition publications, After Empire focuses on federalism and on the situation beyond the ring road. Unfortunately, “many people who leave Russia remain mentally in the condition of Muscovites. As some say, one can take a politician out of Moscow but one can’t take Moscow out of a politician.”

            If more Muscovites could come to see their city and region as distinctive rather than simply the capital of an empire, this would be a positive development, Shtepa continues; but so far, the number who do so is swamped by the number of imperialists.

            The portal ha been growing, largely because “there simply doesn’t exist in the Runet any other such portal, one where there are free discussions about the future geographic arrangements of Russia – or post-Russia if you like,” the editor says.

            “When this Kremlin regime collapses, all the same, the regions will not go flying off into space: they will remain in their places and have to arrange some kind of new relationships among themselves.” Even now, those possibilities make for “interesting discussions.”

            More important, however, is the fact that unless these possibilities are discussed, there is a great danger that Russia will remain centralist and an empire, albeit under possibly new names. It will thus not become a place of freedom for its peoples, including the Russians, the regionalist writer says.

            “Our chief goal,” the regionalist says, “is the enlightenment of the public” and “the introduction of the theme of regionalism and federalism into the mainstream of the opposition.”  Some progress has been achieved in that regard, but more is needed.

            Shtepa says he is reluctant to make any short-term predictions lest events race ahead of his expectations.  But several things are quite clear: “the more the Russian system will tighten the screws, the more it will break apart” in the future when the regime is weakened as a result of a crisis.

            “This empire can exist only in a harsh centralized and dictatorial form.” It could delay its demise by decentralizing but that would contradict its essence. Consequently, one thing is certain: “the final collapse of the empire which the Muscovite tsars established in the 15th century is inevitable.”

             And he concludes: “In the 20th century, it fell apart twice, in 1917 and 1991 – but unfortunately, no one has been able to transform this country” in ways that allow it to be democratic and at peace with the surrounding world.  “Therefore,” he says, “the third time is inevitable.”

            As people say, “God loves a trinity.” 

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