Friday, December 4, 2020

Russia Sowed Seeds of Its Own Disintegration by Not Separating Metropolitan Center and Colonies, Inozemtsev and Abalov Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – In a new book, Empire without End: Russia in Search of Itself, Vladislav Inozemtsev and Aleksandr Abalov argue that Muscovy followed European strategies in building an empire but, unlike them, failed to separate the metropolitan center from its colonies and thus sowed the seeds of its own disintegration.

            European powers, the commentator and historian argue, generally kept the two largely apart (France with Algeria was an exception); and so when the colonies left, it did not pose a direct threat to the territorial integrity of the metropolitan center. Muscovy didn’t, and so it and its successors have had to face disintegrative pressures that extend into the center of the state.

            The Snob portal publishes an excerpt from the book (in Russian, Moscow: Alpina, 2020), in which the two make that argument about Russia’s approach, one that first promised even greater success in its imperial project than the Europeans had but ultimately entailed a far higher price than they paid (

            In empires which sought to incorporate colonies into a single state, like the Roman in classical times and the Russian more recently, the inevitable desire of the colonies to leave “automatically set off a process of the destruction of the state as a whole.” That has meant, they write, that Russia has never been able to form “a firm political unit.”

            When Muscovy became Russia, this situation became even worse and less susceptible of a solution, the two write. This has two significant consequences. “On the one hand, ‘the metropolitan center’ became wrapped up in the imperial state and ceased to exist as a distinct subject” and thus as the focus of the regime which did not use the periphery to benefit the core.

            And on the other, in the course of this transformation, the notion was formed among Russians of the fundamental similarity of all imperial territories, a view that had the effect of convincing Russians that “any contraction of territory would be a catastrophe,” rather than leading them to conclude that some parts could be lost without damage to the others.

            Together, these factors led to “the absolutization of the imperial foundation” in Russian politics and to insistence on defending imperial possessions regardless of where they are and how appropriately they are part of the core of the state as if they were in fact part of and identical to “the mythical metropolitan center.”

            The most serious consequence of this, of course, was that “the Russian people which could have felt itself the bearer of the heritage of ancient Rus did not take shape, even though the myth about ‘Russianness’ and about Russian history were laid down and accepted quite profoundly by the imperial metropolitan center.”

            As a result, Inozemtsev and Abalov say, “as soon as the empire encountered serious challenges, it turned out that is most natural ‘component parts’ demonstrated an active striving to exit from the imperial structures.” That explains the controversy that has arisen with Ukraine already and with Belarus in prospect.

            “The undefined nature of the borders of the metropolitan center lead in the end to a situation in which ‘the renewed Russia’ of the 1992 model, having lost territory on which it historically began,” was faced with challenges to its control and now force except state power to hold them within its borders.

            Given the way in which the Russian empire arose, “there is nothing surprising” in the way it is coming apart.” Indeed, the two authors suggest, it could hardly have been otherwise, with more negative consequences likely for the Russian state and the Russian people in the future.


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