June 6, 2023

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Index – abroad – time to prepare for the collapse of Russia

In fact, the combination of a losing war abroad and a weak, rigid system at home is increasing a kind of decline by the day. Regardless of whether this is good or bad for the West, he writes, policymakers should prepare for this outcome. on foreign policy In his published analysis Alexander J. At the motelProfessor in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University.

There are different scenarios for what could happen in Russia after the debacle in Ukraine. Mostly Russian President Vladimir Putin resigns From office, a vicious power struggle could ensue between far-right nationalists who want to continue the war effort and destroy the existing political hierarchy, authoritarian conservatives interested in the establishment, and a resurgent quasi-democratic movement committed to ending the war. and reforming Russia. According to the analysis, it is not yet known who will win such a fight, but it can be safely predicted

The power struggle weakens the system and distracts Russia from what remains of its war effort.

And a weak regime, combined with a dysfunctional economy, will encourage disgruntled Russians to take to the streets, perhaps even with guns, and encourage some of the non-Russian political entities that make up the Russian Federation to opt for greater self-determination. These include Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Chechnya, Dagestan and Yakutland, the world’s largest non-governmental administrative unit.

If Russia survives this mess, it will become a client state of China. Otherwise, the map of Eurasia could be completely different

– The author writes.

Given Russia’s vast size, history of unsettled regions, and large number of non-Russian ethnic groups—all the result of centuries of imperial conquest—the scenario of central control and confederal disintegration would draw much attention.

State collapses have a rich history following wars, revolutions, organizational collapses, economic crises and other epochal events. Napoleon’s empire collapsed after the disastrous war against Moscow and the subsequent defeat at the Battle of Leipzig. In 1918, the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian empires also collapsed after military defeat. Of course, people, decisions and politics also played a role, but ultimately the war and accompanying economic and social crises pushed these states to the brink of political chaos and often violence.

Severe structural problems

Consider the breakup of the Soviet Union that few Russians could have wanted or imagined when Mikhail Gorbachev took office as head of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985. In early 1991, a majority of Soviet citizens voted in a referendum in favor of keeping the country. It is true that all the republics, including Russia, declared their sovereignty in 1990, and all but Russia declared full independence after a failed hardline coup in 1991.

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But the system collapsed primarily because Gorbachev decided to reform the Soviet Union by dismantling the Soviet Union’s key features of authoritarianism and central planning. Autonomy and independence. Perestroika — Gorbachev’s signature policy of economic and political restructuring — unknowingly killed the Soviet Union.

If today’s Russia follows in the footsteps of these countries, that is going downhill, which may have little to do with the will of the Russian elite or Western politics. Large structural forces are at work here. Putin’s Russia suffers from a series of mutually reinforcing tensions that have created a state far weaker than its statements suggest. These include the military, moral and economic failure of the war in Ukraine, but also the weakness and ineffectiveness of Putin’s highly centralized political system; the collapse of his flamboyant cult of personality as he faces failure, illness and visible aging; disaster management of Russia’s oil-centric economy; Unlimited corruption that permeates all levels of society; and the vast ethnic and regional fault lines of the world’s last unbuilt empire.

Although few favor the division of Russia today, it is not too difficult to imagine a situation where growing political, economic and social instability will at some point force the country’s constituent parts to seek safety in independence.

When Ukrainian intelligence chief Kylo Budanov celebrated his birthday earlier this week with a cake depicting Russia in pieces, it was an epic prank. But the idea behind the frozen image is not so far-fetched.

A single spark can be enough to cause an accident

In today’s scenario, a stimulus would be enough to create that system Push him down the slope. The failed war with Ukraine, which exposed the weakness of Putin and his government, could easily have been the spark that ignited the crumbling pylons of Russia’s institutions. Of course, the sparks are unpredictable, and Russia can weather the current crisis and survive in its current form under Putin or a successor. But even if that happens, it will be severely weakened as a state and there will be structural tensions. Putin can guess this. In his 2023 New Year’s address, he mentioned the potential threat of war to Russia’s independence – something he had never said before.

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If the spark goes out, will Russian collapse have destabilizing and violent consequences, perhaps including civil war? According to historian Marlene Larouelle, director of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, yes.

Collapse would produce a series of civil wars as the new states fought each other for borders and economic assets. Meanwhile, the Moscow elite will respond violently to any separatism

he said.

Similarly, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued that “the disintegration of Russia, or the destruction of its strategic political potential, could force its territory, which spans 11 time zones, into a dangerous vacuum.” Russian groups may attack each other and use violence, while external powers may also use violence to advance their demands.

All these dangers are exacerbated by the presence of thousands of nuclear weapons

– wrote Kissinger. He advised that it would be best to avoid Russia being “weakened by war” and instead engage Russia in a “peace process”, whose details and enforcement capabilities would be blurred.

It is impossible to calculate the final result

Laruelle and Kissinger’s predictions are worst-case scenarios and should be treated with extreme caution. Although the collapse of empires is often tumultuous for the collapsing countries, history shows that the outcome is not always bad for neighboring countries or the rest of the world. The fall of Napoleon ushered in an era of peace in Europe. When Austria-Hungary broke up, there were initial clashes between the Poles and the Ukrainians, but after a few years the situation settled down. Even the Soviet collapse was remarkably peaceful—perhaps the newly independent former Soviet republics and newly sovereign European satellite states all had recognized borders, functioning administrations, and their own elites ready to state.

On the other hand, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to terrible fighting between the Turks and the Greeks; The collapse of the Russian Empire created conflicts from the Baltic to the Pacific; And the collapse of the German Empire in 1918 led directly to World War II.

What path can we follow if Russia collapses?

No one knows, including Laruelle and Kissinger, and the history of empires shows possible scenarios of both relatively peaceful transition and violent collapse.

Putin made the country fragile and unstable

Pessimists point to the possibility of a new Russia at war with all the breakaway countries. Optimists say that after the defeat in Ukraine, Russian forces will be depleted and will not be in a position to fight on multiple fronts. Pessimists might argue that new non-Russian states in the North Caucasus or elsewhere might eventually fight each other, while optimists would say that non-Russians have administrative boundaries, existing regional governments, and abundant economic resources (which now come from Moscow) that would allow them to avoid conflict with their neighbors. .

Pessimists will say the situation could get much worse and point to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The only thing pessimists and optimists have in common is that a Russian coup will trigger a civil war, not because of large and well-armed private armies.

The bottom line is that whether we are optimists or pessimists – we can only observe the drama of Russia’s potential collapse. Neither Western politics nor Putin can do much to stop this. This is because Russia is already beset by deep institutional crises, which are greatly exacerbated by man. made Russia fragile and unstableAnd the man who created the spark that caused his downfall: Vladimir Putin.

Not that the West should sit back and watch Russia fall. It is important to prepare for possible breakdowns. Based on Laruelle and Kissinger’s improbable worst-case scenarios, policymakers should hope for the best, anticipate the worst, stay calm, and prepare for eventualities.

It must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, such as trying to help the apparently dying Soviet Union survive and putting Russia’s needs before those of its neighbors.

Countries bordering Russia — from the Baltic states to Central Asia — will be key to containing any instability within Russia if they can remain stable and create a garden sanitarium. They will be instrumental in ensuring the stability and moderation of the newly independent successor states of the Russian Federation. From this perspective, strong Western support for Ukraine — and for key countries like eventually free Belarus and Kazakhstan — is the best guarantee that the fallout from Putin’s empire will be minimized.

(Cover Image: Vladimir Putin on December 15, 2022. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP)