Staunton, Nov. 22 – Not only is Russia engaging in a failed imperialist war, often something that has led to the demise of other empires, Dmitry Oreshkin says, but its unilateral annexation of parts of Ukraine mean that Moscow now claims borders no other country recognizes. The two increase the chances the country will disintegrate more likely.
The Paris-based Russian political geographer thus concludes that at present Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader behind both of these actions, has become “the main threat” to the continued survival of the Russian Federation in one piece (severreal.org/a/glavnaya-ugroza-raspada-strany-vladimir-putin-kakoj-budet-rossiya-posle-vojny/32138315.html).
Even before he invaded Ukraine, Oreshkin says, Putin was taking actions that threatened the territorial integrity of the country by restoring the primitive Soviet model of hypercentralized territorial management and destroying the beginnings of more realistic federalist arrangements that were worked out in the 1990s.
According to the scholar, “Putin thinks that he has strengthened statehood … but in fact, he has destroyed the institutions which secure horizontal ties” and thus reduce everything to a question of relations between Moscow and this or that region rather than holding the country together in multiple ways.
That means that when the center weakens, the regional and republic elites are on their own and must contend with popular movements that want more radical programs than they do. That is what happened at the end of Soviet times in many places, and there is every reason to think it could happen again.
Genuine federalism is “theoretically” possible in Russia, Oreshkin says; but “practically” impossible because of the mental inertia left over from Soviet times. And that inertia has another aspect working against Putin: ever more people in Moscow at least want a Stalin and Putin isn’t up to that job. He has neither the inclination nor the resources to build a Stalin-type empire.
After Putin leaves the scene, it is very unlikely that Russia will be transformed into a democratic country. That would require a strong leader and a consensus like the one that existed in the early 1990s. Neither is on the radar screen now. Instead, fights among elites leading first to some kind of junta and then civil war are more probable.
What definitely won’t happen is the occupation of Russia by outside powers, Oreshkin says. On the one hand, although Russians don’t, people in the West conceive of geopolitics in terms of flows rather than territories. If they can control flows of materials and people, they don’t need to control land.
And on the other, the West recognizes that it can win a peaceful competition with Russia or its successor states more easily than it could manage an occupation. American elites “remember how Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union … and they areready to do exactly the same with Putin.” That means no occupation and also no Marshall Plan.