Staunton, May 24 – Vladimir Putin’s remark that he and the Russian state are ready to knock the teeth out of anyone who tries to take away any part of Russia has attracted a certain amount of bemused comment given that no other state has declared more than his its aspirations to take over portions of others.
But, Andrey Kolesnikov of the Moscow Carnegie Center observes, behind Putin’s remark lies something more serious and worrisome: an emerging state ideology which is convinced that “the borders of the Russian world correspond with the borders of empire” and that the empire can grow only by becoming “more brutal” (vtimes.io/2021/05/24/imperiya-dolzhna-ozveret-a5188).
That notion has animated many Russian rulers in the past, but “the phantom pains of nostalgia for empire and conspiratorial ideas about the way the world is organized … have become not simply the fancies of several people who believe they can read the mind of [Madeleine] Albright but a state ideology which uses force to suppress dissent,” he continues.
And this is especially disturbing not only for countries on Russia’s periphery but for Russia itself given that as analysts as diverse as Henry Kissinger and Alexander Solzhenitsyn have observed, Russia now does not have the resources to retake the empire and may destroy itself and others in any attempt to do so.
At the very least, Kolesnikov says, “as long as [Russia’s] leaders believe that such forces exist, the isolation of our country from the world, the inefficiency of its economy, and the suppression of dissent will remain the hallmarks of Putin’s Russia” at home and an increasingly aggressive stance toward others abroad.
In some respects, the Putin regime is like Stalin’s, he suggests. It needs external enemies “to justify the character of its internal rule.” And if those enemies do not exist, Moscow must create them by its own actions, something it has shown itself all too willing to do again and again.
This approach to rule and state management resembles Russian governance since the 16th century, he continues, with the rulers exploiting their own population to export raw materials so that they can purchase Western goods without having to produce them on their own which could force change inside the country.
And this approach also requires not only enemies but buffer zones around Russia, something Moscow given this vision will always seek and that some in the West may be prepared to recognize as the best that can be done to deal with a weakening state that nonetheless aspires to empire.
But because of the belief among its current rulers that Moscow must be more brutal at home and abroad, there is an ever-increasing risk that the entire construction may collapse, possibly taking with it not only Russian society but much of the rest of the world as well.