Friday, March 18, 2022

Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Makes Any Revival of Soviet Empire Less Possible Now than Ever Before, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 14 – By his massive invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has finally made absolutely impossible the achievement of the goal he seeks. The old Soviet empire now has almost no chance of a revival, Sergey Shelin says. Instead, the former non-Russian republics will seek new partners and Russia will try on for size the role of assistant to the Chinese superpower.

            The majority of Russians support Putin’s actions in Ukraine, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm – the Kremlin’s restrictions on the news media shows that it has its doubts about them – not only because of the traditional Russian deference to those in power but also for two additional reasons, the Rosbalt commentator says (

            The first is the unrelenting government propaganda about Ukraine since 2014, whose message has been that the neighboring country is not simply not a friend but rather is “the embodiment of world evil.” But the second is deeper and more profound: Most Russians still view their empire as normal and nation states as a violation of that norm.

            As a result, efforts in Russia to form a political nation and a nation state have failed, while efforts in the former union republics to do so have made progress, some more rapidly and others more slowly but all in that direction. Now, as a result, Shelin says, “the former imperial center and its provinces” are on different sides of a civilizational divide.

            The division between Ukraine and Russia in this regard promised from the outset to be the most difficult because many on both sides saw few reasons for this divide. But in Ukraine, over time, such feelings have weakened or even disappeared, while in Russia, they have “even intensified.”

            The governing ideology in Russia, Shelin continues, “has become imperial-Soviet nostalgia. And the popular masses have shared in it, albeit not with the passion and enthusiasm” of its authors in the Kremlin. And so what is happening now is “the divorce of a nation state from an empire, which one of the sides does not consider final.”

            Many commentators including himself, the Rosbalt observer says, though Putin’s talk about restoring the empire was a bluff. But such people were wrong. Putin believed what he was saying and always intended to act on it. The events since February 24 leave absolutely no doubt of that.

            But the Kremlin leader is discovering that turning the clock back is “impossible” and that “even in the most extreme of imagined variants – the occupation of all of Ukraine – there is no way that there will be restored a situation in which it will be possible to restore a former Ukrainian province of the USSR.”

            Wars intended at reconquest often turn out differently than their authors expected. Putin was certain that by retaking Chechnya in a brutal war, he was restoring the integrity of the Russian state. But what he and the world faces is a Chechnya which nominally is part of

Russia but that often acts as if it were independent while getting tribute from Moscow.

            As a result of Putin’s latest moves in Ukraine, “Georgia and Moldova will seek to join the EU … Azerbaijan will become still more closely linked with Turkey. And for the countries of Central Asia, the main partner today is definitely China.”  Those are just some of the unintended consequences of what Putin is doing.

            “In spire of Kremlin illusions, after February 24, a return to the old Soviet empire has become even less possible than it was earlier. The former provinces” – with the possible but far from certain exception of Belarus – “will move ever further away from the former metropolitan center.”

            And Shelin concludes: “Our regime, which has dragged the entire country into its imperial myth and destroyed for the sake of that illusion everything reasonable, good and normal achieved in Russia over the last 30 years will now try out for the role of an aide de camp to the Far Eastern superpower.” Hardly what Putin thought he would get.

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