Saturday, February 18, 2023

Munich Security Conference Invites Russian Liberals but Not Regionalists or Non-Russian Nationalists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 17 – This year, the Munich Security Conference did not invite any Russian government officials, choosing instead to ask two liberal opposition figures, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Gary Kasparov, to speak for Russia. But organizers turned down requests by regionalists and non-Russian nationalists to take part (

            Given what Khodorkovsky has said his message will be – “convincing the West there is no need to keep Russia from restoring itself as a single federalized state once Putin leaves office” and that calls for the disintegration of Russia are “irresponsible” (, that will only deepen the divide between the liberals and the regionalists and the non-Russians.

            Russian regionalists and non-Russian nationalists do not believe that Russian liberals can achieve what they promise and also argue that the position of liberals like Khodorkovsky play into the hands of Putin by rejecting any possibility for changing current borders ( and

            Not surpringly, Russian liberals respond by arguing that any talk of disintegration inevitably helps the Kremlin leader by allowing him to portray himself as the defender of Russia against those who would divide the country up and thus rallying the population to his side even if its members do not agree with him on other matters.

            But far more important than the exacerbation of this internal debate is how the Kremlin are likely to view the Munich Security Conference’s decision to invite the one group but not the other. Those near the Kremlin will see this as the latest indication that the West favors the liberals and the unity of Russia above claims of self-determination by others.

            That may come as no surprise and may in fact be what is intended. But if so, there are two problems. On the one hand, it takes out of the hand of Ukraine one more important lever Kyiv can use against a Russian government now invading its territory and seeking to divide up Ukraine, thus reinforcing Russia’s view that its claims of asymmetry are reasonable.

            And on the other, and more profoundly, it reflects a pattern long prevalent in the West of ignoring those outside of Moscow and failing to see that those in the current Russian capital, regardless of whether they are liberals or totalitarians, have similar positions on key issues that make progress difficult if not impossible.

            During perstroika, the author of these lines argued that a liberal Russia might be possible but a significantly liberalized Soviet Union was a contradiction in terms. Now, with the experience of the Russian Federation in hand, I would update that to say that a liberal Russia might be possible if and only if it allows its colonial possessions the chance to go their own way.


            But even more serious, this decision by the organizers of the Munich Security Conference will be read in the Kremlin as yet another indication that the West accepts the view that a liberal Russia is not a contradiction in terms and will oppose any actions that will change the borders of the Russian Federation.

            That is clearly not the conclusion the Munich Security Conference and most Western governments currently accept. But as a result, we risk going through yet another cycle of Russian history in which  the first flowerings of democracy and freedom will again be suppressed by the Kremlin in the name of maintaining the empire at home and expanding it abroad.

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