Friday, August 14, 2020

In Its Obsession with Territory, Russia Behaves Like an Empire Rather than a Nation State, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Russia has been an empire from the very beginning, Vladislav Inozemtsev says; and like all empires, it continues to behave as such obsessing with the extent of its territory rather than focusing on the well-being of its residents as nation states do even as broader historical forces threaten its continuing existence.

            In a preview of his new book (together with Aleksandr Abalov), The Unfinished Empire: Russia in Search of Itself (in Russian, Moscow: Alpina Publishers), the Russian economist argues that the transition from empire to nation state has been especially difficult because the Russian empire had a different form than others (

            “In European empires,” he says, “approaches to the colonies and dominions did not define the political structures of the metropolitan centers which in most cases developed according to their own internal logic.” But in Russia, whose empire developed contiguously, the division between center and periphery was far less clearly fixed.”

            That has meant that what the center did on the periphery bled back into the metropole; and “the metropole was transformed into something like a colony in relation to its sovereign.”  As a result, the center with the exception of the ruler and his court became a colony much like all the periphery.

            According to Inozemtsev, “Russia has never exited outside of an imperial state;” and so its rulers continue to be imperialist in their thinking. That is shown by the current government’s “obsessions” with territory, defending against any loss and seeking every possible gain rather than focusing on the standard of living of its population.

            Given that empires are doomed, that obsession drives the Russian state to ever more authoritarian approaches in the hopes of preventing yet another disintegration of its territory.  But its efforts in that regard haven’t worked, and over the last 100 years, Russia has lost some of its colonies. In the future, it will lose more.

            And that is especially likely, the Russian economist says, because the metropolitan center continues to seek rents from the periphery much as imperial states do. But that has to be expected because “Russia will not be able to be a non-empire. It will not be able to be ruled without an autocracy. And it will not even be able to survive” without oppression and the extraction of wealth from beyond the Urals, “be it furs, gold or oil.”

            Russia’s great tragedy, Inozemtsev continues, is that it is “a remnant of the past in the framework of a world alien to it,” to rephrase Marc Bloc’s observation of Venice and Byzantium.

            Inozemtsev says that he doesn’t see any signs of an evolution from empire to nation stae in Russia. “Vladimir Putin is a completely typical imperialist. He doesn’t intend to weaken his grip,” unlike his predecessor Boris Yeltsin who showed some signs of being willing to do so but then quickly turned back to the classical approach of Russian rulers.

            Under Putin, in fact, “an imperial renaissance has become the national idea,” even though that flies in the face of trends in the world, in Russia’s immediate neighborhood and in the Russian Federation itself. His policies are “purely imperial” ones, even though those impoverish Russians and hasten the day of the demise of their country.

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