Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Russia’s Tragedy is that It Became an Empire Before It Became a Nation, Making Retention of Territory Central to Its Identity, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 2 – The tragedy of Russia can be summed up in a single sentence: the country became an empire before its people became a nation, Vladislav Inozemtsev says; and as a result, the retention of any territories the empire occupied has remained the central preoccupation of the state and people and continues to generate new wars.

            It is important to remember, the Russian analyst says, that “no European country began to expand into overseas territories until after it had become a centralized state.” But in Russia, “the empire did not arise on the basis of a nation state” (

            Instead, Inozemtsev continues, “the ideal of Muscovy as a state was from the outset imperial,” with the existence of the empire “above that of the nation” and “expansion and retention of territory” as the main ideal. Muscovy in fact apart from empire “had not national identity.”

            And that view continues to this day, he suggests, pointing out that and if Russia’s rulers “have no ideal other than the empire and its state and the nation does not exist at all, [they] will always sacrifice people for the sake of insane ideals.” And its people will support them because they fear that the loss of territory will lead to a loss of identity.

            “To this day,” Inozemtsev says, “any loss of territory [once or now held] is viewed not as the loss of a colony” which people can accept and continue to view themselves as Russians “but as part of the country. And thus the even the collapse of Russian which many now dream of will spark new civil wars” as Russians try to retain the basis of identity they have.

            Overcoming this will require radical steps, he suggests, ones at least as radical as the United Kingdom adopted in 1997 with its devolution of power to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That devolution, everyone should remember, led not to the collapse of the UK but rather to something unexpected: “Scotland then voted against secession.”

            If Russian imperialism is to be changed, the center “must offer the national republics such powers that they cannot even dream of.” They must be told you will have your own police, your own taxes, an effective veto on the distribution of national wealth, a vote on the federal budget and a Russian presidency filled on a rotating basis by the presidents of the republics and regions.

            To be sure, Inozemtsev says, “Moscow should remain the center of decision making, albeit controlled from below.” But this change can’t be introduced from below but only from above. If it is done “from below,” he suggests, “then we will get a second Soviet-style disintegration” but this time with violence.

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