Staunton, Mar. 12 – Despite all its flaws, Putin’s Russia could have gone on for decades without coming apart; but by launching the expanded war in Ukraine, the Kremlin leader has opened the way for the disintegration of the Russian Federation perhaps not immediately but in the coming years, Aleksandr Etkind says.
The Russian specialist at Vienna’s Central European University says that there will be “more than a dozen new states” as was the case in 1991, that some forces will try to bring them back together, and that to avoid disaster the international community will be compelled to get involved (sibreal.org/a/istorik-aleksandr-etkind-o-buduschem-rossii/32153324.html).
As frightening as that prospect is, the historian continues, the most horrible aspects of it have already happened or are happening while we talk and involve both how the war has affected economic relations in Eurasia and how it is giving birth to a new elite that will rule part of the territory of what is now the Russian Federation.
Until Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine, “the West was prepared to support Putin in everything which concerned his domestic policy. He could do everything he wanted as long as he didn’t violate certain definite rules of the game.” But with Ukraine, he violated those rules, and now the West looks at him and his country differently.
Not only does the West not support Putin now, Etkind continues; it will not support “a second or a third Putin.” It is not prepared to have a repetition of what the current Putin has unleashed on the world with his war in Ukraine; and to prevent that, the West will have to adopt a far more interventionist approach than in the past.
Portions of what is now within the borders of the Russian Federation will now go their own way, but what is most worrisome is that those who will rule the central remnant of Russia will be those shaped by their experiences in the war in Ukraine just as some in Moscow are now shaped by their experiences in Chechnya or earlier in Afghanistan.
Those people will be prepared to use the most horrific violence to try to pull the country together again or prevent it from falling ever more apart. That will lead to violence, and to prevent it from escalating into a threat to the outside world, the West will have to take action to prevent those people from coming to power.
Many so-called liberals in Russia and the West can’t deal with either of these realities and remain contemptuous of all the other peoples of the former Russian Empire or the former Soviet Union. That is especially true of Muscovites who have benefited most from holding things together, but it is no longer justifiable given the Ukrainian war.
Etkind concludes his interview on the future with the following damning observations: The Soviet Union for all its crimes never carried out the kind of aggression that Putin and his team are. And the reason for that is something the West must closely examine and avoid in the future.
The monsters running Russia today, including Putin, arose “from impunity and boredom too,” the historian says. For three decades they grew rich, stole, grew rich again, stole again, and their yachts became longer and longer.” And over all this time, they came to have a sense of impunity, a belief that no matter what they do, they will get away with it.
The West’s response to Putin’s war in Ukraine shows them that such confidence is no longer justified.