Sunday, April 16, 2023

If, as Gusev Argues, Neither Nationality Nor Regionalism will Transform Russia, Then What Will?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 14 – Russian sociologist Aleksey Gusev, now living in Germany, argues that neither nationality nor regionalism will be the moving force in the transformation of Russia’s economic and geographic structure. The non-Russian republics are too small a part of Russia as a whole, and the Russian regions are too similar to one another, he suggests.

            “The tension exacerbated, the increasingly harsh political regime and the unequal distribution of state support undoubtedly will change Russia’s economic-geographic structure. But in contrast to the USSR at the end of the 1980s and Russia in the early 1990s, neither the nationality question nor regional federalism will be among the moving forces of these changes” (

            Such an apophatic approach, which starts by ruling out two of the forces most often pointed to as likely to play a role following the collapse of the Russian empire, may strike many as either a rejection of reality or worse a defense of the existing system. After all, if these forces aren’t going to matter, then what forces will play that role?

            In his Carnegie Endowment essay, Gusev doesn’t say; but he implies that they are likely to include not only the fragmentation of the current center but also tensions between places with multiple bases of economic activity as against those which primarily rely on a single sector of the economy.

            Gusev also doesn’t address three other factors that undercut his own overarching argument. First, while the borders of regions may be artificial, the infrastructure of highways and railways of the country are based on them, with the regional capitals being the spoke of a wheel in each, thus making regions relevant even if he doesn’t think so.

            Second, while war can unite a country as he suggests Putin’s war in Ukraine has united Russian regions, defeat in war can heighten pre-existing divisions and even spark new ones as regions fight over what they will receive now that the government is refocusing on development within the country rather than on a foreign war.

            And third, Gusev argues that Russia’s regions are all alike because they are economically similar. But this is wrong in two respects. On the one hand, the regions aren’t all alike especially in terms of wealth; and on the other, economics is one but only one of the factors defining regional identity, especially in a country as large as the Russian Federation.

            But what is perhaps most disturbing is that if the post-Russian future isn’t going to be affected by either nationalism or regionalism, then what will emerge almost certainly will be a war of all against all, a recipe for disaster for some time and a reason that many have invoke for trying to keep the Russian Federation together in one piece.

            That might make sense if the argument were being made by someone who believes that such an outcome is possible. But Gusev makes clear that he believes the country’s economic and geographic maps are going to be redrawn and so his vision points to a far greater nightmare for almost anyone than would be the case if nationalism and regionalism were to play a large role.

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