Sunday, February 19, 2023

Only Some Unexpected Catastrophe Could Allow Regions and Republics to Gain Independence from Moscow, Golosov Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 15 -- The Russian Federation will disintegrate only if powerful anti-colonial movements emerge and fight for it or if the center decides to dispense with them as ballast holding it back, Grigory Golosov says. At present, there is no prospect of the first and only a slightly greater one of the second. Only a catastrophe could lead to that outcome.

The Russian political scientist bases that conclusion not only on the history of de-colonialization internationally but on the power of the center to suppress movements in the periphery that might challenge its effective control of the entire space the Russian Federation now occupies (

According to Golosov, the key factor in this situation is the presence of national identity in the regions and republics and the willingness of people to fight for it. People in Voronezh may be proud to be Voronezhites, but they also identify as Russians and are unlikely to fight for independence or come to be viewed by Moscow as ballast.

The situation in the non-Russian republics is “somewhat different,” he continues. The identity of people there is somewhat more distinct, “but even in the republics, no particular striving for independence is currently observed.” In the absence of such movements, the decision about their future lies with Moscow and not with them.

The leaders of these republics certainly want “significantly more independence than they have now but even if this happens, it will not lead to the disintegration of Russia” because “this path forward is open for only a few” in the Caucasus, the Middle Volga or the Russian Far East, Golosov argues.

Many who argue otherwise look back to the 1990s, but even those events were driven by the center’s loss of control rather than by the regions pushing for independence with the singular exception of Chechnya. And as the center restored its powers, it defeated even that challenge, albeit in the course of two wars, a warning to others of what it was prepared to do to them.

Others who argue that the Russian Federation will fall apart think in terms of the collapse of the USSR; but they forget that this was the product of a coming together of two factors, neither of which is present now: the center is not decaying as it had been since the 1960s and the union republics had a constitutional right to seek independence at least on paper.

According to Golosov, “the institutional system of Russia today excludes such a political dynamic.” Elites in the regions and republics are largely or even completely dependent on the center. They know that if they step even the slightest bit out of line, they will be removed, hardly a situation that will encourage radical moves.

He continues: “One must note that the decentralization which took place in Russia in the 1990s to a significant degree was conditioned not by the struggle of the regions themselves for independence but by the logic of ‘getting rid of the ballast.’” Given the tasks Moscow faced at the time, worrying about the regions was far down on its list of priorities.

“I think,” Golosov says, “that if the disintegration of Russia does become possible as a result of some catastrophic development of events, this will occur because of the center deciding to ‘get rid of the ballast,” which means that the center would give the regions and republics independence for its own reasons and not because the latter sought it.

In that event, he says, a Voronezh republic or a Bryansk sultanate become possible. But such an outcome would be “fraught with dire consequences” for the regions and republics, especially when veterans of the war in Ukraine return and there are more people in them with guns and the ability to use them.

While the 1990s showed that such veterans are “powerless against the state machine,” the events of those years also showed that “if this machine starts to fall apart, then they can easily turn out to be ‘kingmakers,’” in the regions and republics and perhaps even in the center of the existing state as well.

“But as they say, God forbid,” Golosov continues, because “for this to happen, the Kremlin must establish a government that is much crazier than the current one,” and that seems unlikely in large part because such a radical regime could come to power “only with the full support of the West and the West doesn’t need such a political dynamic in Russia.”

One could give “many eloquent answers” as to why that is so, the political scientist concludes, but two words suffice: nuclear weapons.”

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