Tsybulenko says that he has no doubt that “Putin’s Russia is falling apart” and thinks that this will happen much sooner than many suppose. I well remember the last years of the USSR – already in 1989 people said that the empire would inevitably disintegrate but predicted that this process would last several decades.” Two years later the USSR was gone.
Today, he tells Vadim Shtepa of After Empire, “the Russian system is unprecedentedly corrupt, it is eating through its last reserve funds, and it holds out only because Europe continues to purchase Russian oil and gas. In the 1990s, Russia survived on Western credits and humanitarian help, but instead of saying thanks, Russia again declared the West an enemy.”
“This empire simply will not survive the latest economic crisis,” Tsybulenko says.
At the same time, he argues that there will not be “a literal repetition of the disintegration of the USSR.” The disintegration of the Russian Federation is more likely to begin with an ethnic Russian revolt in various parts of the country. Putin’s Russian Guard will cope with the first but be unable to deal with the increasing number of such risings.
“In various regions will appear new leaders and they will lay the foundations for a new system of power. In some places, there will be old bureaucrats; in others, criminal bosses … and in a third, normal politicians of a new generation who will conduct democratic elections.” This will not be an easy or peaceful process, but a normal future requires it.
A country as large as Russia “can exist only as a federation, but if the authorities themselves don’t want to have a normal federation, what remains is only an empire and its inevitable falling apart,” Tsybulenko says. And that process will be more violent and spasmodic precisely because Putin has promoted the rise of “angry militant imperialists.”
This interview was timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the organized Ukrainian community in Estonia, a community with older roots but which Tsybulenko now heads. There are some 25,000 self-proclaimed ethnic Ukrainians in that Baltic country, the third largest ethnic group there, but in fact, there are many more who were Russianized in Soviet times.
Tsybulenko says that the Ukrainians supported Estonia’s drive to recover its independence, have worked to ensure that Estonians overcome the Soviet view that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are all one people, and have promoted ties between Tallinn and Kyiv.
In other comments, the Ukrainian scholar who is the co-editor of a new book, The Use of Force Against Ukraine and International Law (link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-94-6265-222-4) says that in his view, Putin would be acting irrationally if he sought to seize Narva from Estonia by acting as he did in Ukraine.
The Kremlin leader would be resisted not only by Estonian forces but by NATO. Unfortunately, Tsybulenko continues, Putin lives in his own world and therefore one cannot be certain that he will act rationally in this case given that he hasn’t in others.