Staunton, Dec. 31 – If the Russian Federation disintegrates, and there are ever more reasons to think it will do so because of the intensification of its domestic problems as a result of Putin’s disastrous war in Ukraine, its demise will be more prolonged, more violent and more supported by the West than was the end of the USSR in 1991.
Those conclusions arise from a consideration of commentaries concerning the fate of the current empire which have been assembled by the editors of Novaya gazeta and need to be factored in by both those who welcome and support the end of the Moscow-centric state and those who fear and oppose it (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2022/12/30/rossiia-ty-zabolela).
First of all, the coming demise of the Russian Federation will likely to be far more prolonged. There is unlikely to be any Beloveshchaya moment because Putin has destroyed the kind of institutions which existed in the late USSR and therefore there will be a scramble for power.
Putin likely believes that his destruction of these institutions means that he has saved Russia forever, but as the author of these lines and others have long argued, Putin by his actions has not so much restored the Soviet Union as restored the conditions that led to that empire’s demise.
The Kremlin dictator likely can hold things together longer than the most optimistic of his nationalist and regionalist opponents think, all the more so because unlike Gorbachev, he isn’t limited by a fear of shedding massive amounts of blood. But while he can delay the demise of the Russian Federation, he is unlikely to be able to block it for all time.
Second, the demise of the Russian Federation will almost certainly be far more violent, not just because Putin will make it so but because there are vastly more guns in private hands and even the emergence of region and in the case of Chechnya republic armies that could be put in play if the situation deteriorates.
Even at the end of Soviet times, there was a single power vertical as far as the organs of coercion were concerned. That is less obviously the case now, and the cost is likely to be a violent one with all sides – and there will be many – willing to use what weaponry they have to pursue their goals.
And third – and this could be the most important factor of all – the attitude of the West toward the demise of the Russian Federation is changing. Given how often many in the West have taken credit for the demise of the USSR since 1991, it is all too often forgotten that most of these same people supported the continued existence of the Soviet Union right up to the end.
Putin’s war in Ukraine have led an ever-increasing number of their successors to recognize that the real Russian problem is not just Vladimir Putin but in the fact that it is still an empire and that it will continue to challenge the international order as long as it is allowed to remain one.
That doesn’t mean the West is on or is about to go on any campaign to destroy the Russian Federation, as some of the more hysterical in Moscow already believe and as Ukraine’s appeals to the regions and nations within the Russian Federation have given rise to concerns both in Russia and the West.
But it does mean that the West will approach the demise of the Russian Federation very differently than it did the end of the USSR, without one hopes the combination of triumphalism and neglect that marked the earlier case but with one also hopes greater understanding, involvement and support.