Staunton, Feb. 28 – Both 30 years and again now, many are focusing on the fact that the Russian empire was a contiguous one, rather than an overseas one like the British or the French, and that its coming apart was a far more difficult development for those at the center to accept than was the case of the others.
The only two land-based empires that came apart in recent times, Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, did so as a result of military defeat and the imposition of border changes by the victorious powers, Russian blogger Vladimir Skripov says. There have been post-imperial traumas in both but nothing in comparison with that of Russia (ehorussia.com/new/node/28121).
Empires that develop in the form of contiguous expansion have borders that are necessarily “fluid and conditional,” given that people from the center move out and make what are colonies into part of the center over time. (That can happen in overseas colonies too but in a more limited way as occurred with the French in Algeria.)
Yesterday’s colonies rapidly became integrated with the metropolitan center at least in the minds of the center and its population but also to a degree with elites from the former colonies who move to Moscow and reidentify with the center’s values rather than retaining their own, Skripov says.
But the territorial integrity of Russian imperialism always carried with it the risk of hostility among those on the periphery who refused to become Russians, and that in turn led the situation to become like “a compressed spring,” in which movements on one side gave rise to counter-movements on the other, nationalism and imperialism alike.
Unlike many others, the blogger says, Putin understands this and has played to the desires of Russians to take revenge for 1991 and the sense among many of them that Russia is now in a zero sum game with the West as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned – either Russia will destroy Ukraine or Ukraine will destroy Russia.
And not surprisingly, Ukrainians have responded with the same sense that this is an existential war, one whose alternatives are either complete independence or total annihilation and genocide. Because that is the case, there is no possibility of any diplomatic resolution of this conflict. Only military actions can address this contradiction.
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