The last months in the West, in particular in scientific and journalistic circles, goes extensive discussion about prospects for the collapse of the Russian Federation. The overwhelming majority of participants agree that this is one of the most likely outcomes of the Russian-Ukrainian war, one of the episodes in the long process of decolonization of the post-Soviet space. They are offer view history as it unfolds before our eyes in the broader context of the fall of empires.
Professor of political science at Rutgers University, author of the well-known work “The Results of Empires: Decline, Disintegration and Revival” Alexander Motylwatching the tragic events in Ukraine, calls the collapse of Russia “quite possible maybe be even probable scenario for the development of events. Therefore, the West must prepare for its disappearance in the form in which we know it, in order to minimize subsequent geopolitical challenges.
Motyl recalls that at one time for many leaders of the Western world, the collapse of the Soviet Union came as a surprise.. It was not part of their plans, moreover, they resisted such a scenario of development of events, taking into account security factors, and yet it was realized. The author recalls the textbook speech of the then US President George W. Bush, delivered by him within the walls of the Verkhovna Rada, in which he called for preserving the integrity of the USSR, and dubbed the desire for independence “suicidal nationalism”.
According to Motyl, the same fate awaits Russia, since it is no less incompetent, like the USSR, with such shortcomings embedded in the system as hyper-centralization, corruption, etc., which all together lead to institutional decline. In this waythe author emphasizes, we should expect a new “parade of sovereignties”, as a result of which the Russian Federation “may turn into 10 or more states, only one of which will be called Russia”.
In his next column for EUobserver, published on 30 June, Motyl and co-author Max Pizyur notes that Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan (South) can be considered “candidates for exit”; Sakhalin Region, Primorsky Territory, Khabarovsk Territory, Kamchatka Territory and the Republic of Sakha, i.e. Yakutia; Tatarstan and Bashkortostan (Center). According to the authors, if the war ends with a victory for Ukraine or reaches a stalemate, then the instability of the Putin regime will increase significantly, which, in turn, may lead to secession of some of the mentioned regions.
Associate Professor of International Relations at Concordia University, Director of the Canadian Center for Strategic Studies Julian Spencer-Churchillin his article for The National Interest, also considers the scenario of the liberalization of the Russian regime with the further isolation of territories dominated by ethnic minorities as very likely.
The author believes that the collapse of Russia will not be as catastrophic as the collapse of the USSR, taking into account a more homogeneous population, and will take place mainly on the periphery, in particular in the Caucasus and the Far East. With this or that development of events, the first may become an object of intervention by Turkey and Iran, and the second, respectively, by the PRC. Spencer-Churchill concludes that the West may refuse to further disintegrate Russia to counter the expansionist policies of communist (but not democratic) China.
Senior Researcher fund “Jamestown» Janusz Bugaisky considers the collapse of Russia as the third phase of the destruction of the empire after the collapse of the socialist camp and, in fact, the USSR in the early 1990s. The author is also of the opinion that this process was accelerated by a full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine, which did not achieve its goals, as well as economic sanctions imposed by the West in response to the aggressive actions of the Kremlin. His job “Mapping the Devolution of Russia”, published at the end of June, an attempt to analyze possible scenarios for the disintegration process (including regime change) and its likely consequences.
According to Janusz Bugaisky, the process of disintegration could be hampered by the transformation of Russia into a real federation, but the Kremlin at one time went the way of repression and centralization, so now in the picture drawn by Bugaisky, all decisions lead to one end – the decline. At this stage, he characterizes military defeat (or a prolonged stalemate at the front) as the key driving force behind the collapse of Russia, which will certainly be reinforced by other factors, including economic ones. According to Radio Liberty columnist and expert on ethno-political issues Harun Sidorov, Bugaisky actually describes the Libyan scenario of overthrowing Gaddafiaccording to which political, regional and ethnic conflicts are superimposed on each other.
Casey Michelle in an article for The Atlantic, he believes the Kremlin must lose the empire it still holds to avoid further bloodshed.
The author emphasizes: Russia is the last European empire, the responsibility for the revival of which lies entirely on the shoulders of the West, in particular the United States, where at one time they preferred stability. They failed to simulate that the end of the “evil empire” was to be the defeat of not only communism, but also colonialism. Therefore, now the West must finally complete the project, started in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union, namely to strive for “complete decolonization of Russia” — to support her subjects on the way to complete freedom.
Meanwhile, Casey Michel thinks that the decolonization of Russia does not have to be accompanied by its complete dismantling.. A powerful impetus for decolonization could be the assertion of a real — not on paper — democratic federalism. Even a simple recognition of Russia’s own colonial past and present, the author believes, will have some meaning.
The Russian diaspora in the West also actively joined to the discussion. So, Alexander Etkind emphasizes on the imperial nature of the Russian Federation, and also predicts its disintegration due to the war, the so-called defederalization. According to him, the collapse of Russia has long been predicted. For some time, this process was slowed down, but the war became a trigger that significantly accelerated the collapse.
According to him, it is now difficult to predict how many parts Russia will fall apart – this will be influenced by many factors: economic, cultural and other. Some young countries will be democratic, others authoritarian. In problem regions, for example, in the Caucasus, wars are possible. In the end, a new peace conference will be convened, which will fix the new order in Eurasia.
In its turn Leonid Bershidsky in article for Bloomberg indicatesthat a military defeat in Ukraine, together with Western sanctions, could lead to a situation that preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union, reinforcing centrifugal tendencies. Although he refuses to believe in the collapse of Russia, he admits: she “does not cope well with her size.” In addition, the author doubts that a “decolonized”, “defederalized”, “split” Russia will cease to threaten its neighbors. Just the opposite, this may lead to growing revanchist sentiment. As a consequence of such humiliation, Bershidsky argues, extreme nationalist and populist forces could rise to power and inherit Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which would not disappear even if Russia disintegrated.
Sooner or later, empires fall apart. The Russian Federation is no exception. Some researchers in the West are sure that the current stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war has only accelerated this completely natural process launched by the collapse of the USSR. It can lead to both complete and partial disintegration of the Russian Federation, as a result of which new nation-states may appear on the world map. Therefore, it is now necessary to prepare for possible geopolitical challenges.