Sunday, March 5, 2023

Not Just Propaganda -- Putin Really Fears Russia Could Fall Apart, Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 5 – Most commentaries on Vladimir Putin’s recent references to the possibility that Russia and the Russian nation could disintegrate have suggested that the Kremlin leader is using that possibility as a way of mobilizing the population of his country in support of his regime, Aleksandr Skobov says.

             But there are compelling reasons to think that Putin, just like earlier Russian rulers, really fears that there is “an abyss under their feet” and that “the fragility of the entire imperial structure” could lead to its collapse because its rulers have no way of correcting it while remaining in power, the commentator says (

            Like other empires, the Russian one always represented a combination of various territories and peoples who were kept together by force, Skobov says; but the Russian variant was distinguished by its strict limitation on the development of “’horizontal ties’” because it wanted to rule everything from the center.

            “In seeking to subordinate everything to a ‘vertical’ administration, its imperial ruling class interfered directly in the natural birth of horizontal ties among the various parts of the empire.” But the Russian empire did something more: it involved and deformed the Russian nation by compensating for its subordination by giving it a feeling of dominating all others.

            According to Skobov, this “organic connection between the imperial character of the Russian state and the authoritarian tradition permeating the entire system of social relations is obvious” and helps produce as an “inescapable” side produce “the anti-Westernism” of the Russian system, whose leaders view the West as threatening both state and nation.

            As a result, “an imperial Russia” under whatever name “easily moves from the state of being ‘a besieged fortress’ to that of ‘a crusade’ aimed at destroying” the West which is viewed as “’a nest of sin and vice.’” And that is especially the case because all events to “abandon both authoritarianism and anti-Westernism have generated powerful disintegration processes.”

            Russian elites naturally seek to combat that danger, setting in train a vicious circle in which fears of disintegration reinforces both authoritarianism and anti-Westernism, Skobov argues.

            And that pattern means this: “a Russian empire cannot be liberal and it cannot become part of the community of Western civilization.” Parts of Russia will never be willing to join the West, but the question nonetheless arises because of the European nature of Russian culture whether some parts of Russia could.

            The answer to that question almost certainly is positive, and as a result, “Putin fears that the imperial identity of his state without the support of an authoritarian power will easily divide up into regional identities. And then ‘the cursed West’ will absorb into itself ‘the Russian world’ part by part.”

            Putin’s references to parts of Russia such as the Urals breaking off is thus “not something intended to frighten the people. This is a genuine and deep fear of Putin himself. And what is primacy here is hatred to the West as a civilization which rejects granting unlimited rights to power and its use” by the Russian state.

            By themselves, of course, Skobov continues, “the appearance of Muscovites, people of the Urals and so on is not something anti-natural or tragic.” The question is only how this can happen without it growing into an uncontrolled explosion, something that almost everyone has a vested interest in seeking to avoid.

            Clearly, “a soft’ non-catastrophic scenario of the democratic restructuring of Russia, beyond doubt is preferable to a time of troubles arising from an uncontrolled disintegration.”  But that will be possible only if as “a program minimum,” all parties will gie “absolute priority to the liquidation of the imperial model of the state.”

            “As long as Russian statehood retains its imperial character,” Skobov concludes, “Russia will always remain a deadly threat to progress and world peace.”

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