Monday, December 14, 2020

Returning Crimea to Ukraine Could Have Same Impact on Russia Recognizing Baltic Independence Did for USSR, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Returning Crimea to Ukraine would not only represent a personal defeat for Vladimir Putin but could have the same impact on the Russian Federation that recognizing Baltic independence did on the USSR, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. That is, it could rapidly lead to the disintegration of the country.

            Since the Russian Anschluss of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, many in the West have called for the adoption of a non-recognition policy modeled on the one the US and other Western countries adopted with regard to Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, a policy that helped the peoples of those countries keep hope alive.

            But the parallels between the Baltic case and Crimea may be more powerful than many of these advocates have considered. According to the Russian economist and commentator, giving back Crimea to Ukraine would trigger the disintegration of Russia just as recognizing Baltic independence in September 1991 led to the disintegration of the USSR shortly thereafter.

            While Western governments in general drew a sharp distinction between their views about the legal status of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania under Soviet occupation and that of the 12 Soviet republics, most people in the USSR did not; and so when the Balts recovered their de facto independence in the early fall of 1991, the other republics were quick to follow.

            The same thing could happen again, Inozemtsev suggests, given that most Russians accept the idea that Crimea and Stavropol are federal subjects of the Russian Federation; and so the rectification of the crime of 2014 would almost certainly spark others in the republics and regions of that country to leave or at least try to.

            And that helps to explain why neither Putin nor anyone coming after him, all of them shaped by the “endless imperial” essence of the country will be likely to return Crimea to Ukraine and also why what Putin did six years ago is so fateful not only for Ukraine but for Russia and indeed for the entire international political system.

            Inozemtsev’s observation came in the course of an interview he and his co-author Aleksandr Abalov gave to Yekaterinburg’s It’s My City portal about their new book The Endless Empire ( reposted at

            In other comments, Inozemtsev says that “even if Russia doesn’t unite Ukraine with itself and loses the Caucasus and Belarus, it will all the same remain an empire because that is what it has always been. It is organized as an empire inside itself” and those imperial arrangements have “driven out” or prevented the development of “all other institutions.

            Because that is the case, he says, he doesn’t see the Khabarovsk protests now as a first step in this process but rather as a protest against the incompetent management of the country by the Kremlin. Moscow has succeeded in blurring “the border between its colonies and the metropolitan center.” (For more on Inozemtsev’s argument on that point, see

            Abalov for his part adds that “until the end of the 19th century, there was a clear opposition” between Russia west of the Urals and Siberia. At that time, “Siberia had the status of a colony but then it was absorbed and settled.” Now it is “an inalienable part of Russia,” especially given that China’s rising power makes a new Far Eastern Republic unthinkable.

            For these reasons and because Moscow won’t give up Crimea, Inozemtsev continues, he isn’t concerned that Russia is about to fall apart. Such suggestions are those of propagandists either who dream of disintegration or who believe that talking about the possibility will allow the Kremlin to strengthen itself.

            At the same time, he says, that “if Russia wants to develop, it simply can’t exist in its current form … Moscow has occupied too exceptional and dictatorial a place in Russia from the administrative and financial points of view.” Russia is the only country that calls itself a federation but in which the president can remove governors at will.

            In many ways, Inozemtsev says, Russia today “is in the worst position of any over the last couple of centuries.” But its leaders feel they cannot address this situation but must maintain the empire because only that and the external enemies it provides offer them a chance to retain their power.

            Abalov adds that this imperial nature has affected the daily life of Russians because all the repression they face is “a derivative of the imperial essence” of the country, although he concedes that he is not certain that “all Russians recognize this.”

            Inozemtsev says that their book begins from an understanding that Russia “was formed as an empire unlike European countries in which democratic institutions and a legal system existed” before they became an empire. Put epigrammatically, Russia became an empire before Russians became a nation; and the history of the country has been a playing out of that reality.

            The Russian commentator concludes by saying that he and Abalov wrote this book to show the baselessness of the claims of others who act as if the current empire is the work of Putin. In fact, he is simply the continuer of a long tradition. Consequently, Russians must struggle against that and not just Putin.

            That fight will be hard, Inozemtsev says; and it is unlikely to end with a victory of his opponents anytime soon.


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