Nearly two weeks after Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, the future of military action and its implications for Russia, its environment and the world as a whole are still a matter of great curiosity.
Writing for The National Interest magazine, Janusz Bugajski, a member of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, addressed the possibility of disintegration of Russia, which is driven by neo-imperial ambitions.
“Although much has been written about moscow’s expansionism, less attention has been given to the trembling foundations of the Russian Federation. The Kremlin could become more aggressive internationally to hide its internal rifts. The escalating domestic problems have convinced Moscow that a bolder and riskier foreign policy strategy can bring domestic benefits by rallying citizens around ‘strong Russia’ and silencing the opposition.”
Bugajski noted that if the war in Ukraine lasts a long time and is paid for with heavy sanctions, this will backfire on the Russian regime.
“Re-imperialism or fragmentation will expose the Western alliance to critical political decisions, both to deter Russian attacks and defend itself.”
“Russia follows a policy of restoring imperialism”
Emphasizing that the Kremlin has a policy of restoring imperialism by dividing countries along its borders, reducing US influence in Europe and undermining the NATO alliance, the author said:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin complained that the end of the Soviet Union was not only a disaster, but also the death of ‘historic Russia’. Kremlin officials continue to believe in global empires and claim that the world should organize on a ‘multipolar’ basis with small countries revolving around powerful centers. The Kremlin sees the ‘power pole’ as being from the north of Eurasia or Eurasia and as much as possible from Europe, especially the regions that were part of the Russian sphere during the Soviet and even Tsarist periods.”
“Russia ‘needs to get rid of itself’
Bogajski stressed that, unlike other imperialist countries that have survived their overseas empires, Russia must ‘get rid of itself’.
“Russia neglected nation-building”
Noting that Russia became an empire before the Russians became a nation and Russia became a nation-state, the author continued;
“As an empire, Russia focused on its regional size and largely neglected the construction of nations. Their national identity has repeatedly expanded, enclosing and Russianizing many ethnic groups that cannot be fully assimilated. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the territory lost by Moscow was smaller than what western empires surrendered after the end of colonialism.”
Despite his assertive rhetoric and actions, Putin has failed to turn Russia into a great ‘power pole’ or a true source of political, economic and cultural appeal for neighboring states, he said.
“The occupation of neighbors and threats to Western countries are not a sign of strength, but frustration at subjugating them. Instead of succeeding in building empires, the Putin regime annexed some of the neighboring countries, but did not gain international legitimacy for its gains. In addition, unlike voluntary units, the conquest of states increases the economic and security burdens at the center with only short-term domestic benefits for national mobilization.”
“The Russian Federation is a failed state”
Suggesting that the Russian Federation was a failed state, the author said, “It was built as a successor to the disbanded Soviet Union, but it faces serious challenges to survive. In the last 30 years, attempts to turn Russia into a nation-state, a civil-state or a stable imperial state have been futile. The Federation is based on fragile historical and ideological foundations and has failed to establish a unified national identity.”
“Many potential causes of division in the country”
Bogajski emphasized that there is a constant struggle in Russia between nationalists, imperialists, centrists, liberals and federalists over Russia’s future.
According to the author, potential causes of division in the country include Putin’s attempt to hand over power to his successor, a protest against the economic crisis, the transformation of an ethnic conflict into a wider conflict, a rebellion in the army as a result of the failed war in Ukraine, or conflicts based on ethnic loyalty within the army.
The division of the state will also affect neighboring countries, he said, suggesting that some countries will benefit from Russia’s divisions by reclaiming lost territory.
The federal collapse would also affect the positions and strategies of major powers, Bogajski wrote.
“Russia will shift towards an existential crisis”
“Without democratization, decentralization and real federalism, without economic modernization and diversification, Russia will shift towards an existential crisis,” Bogajski said.
“U.S. must develop strategy to manage Russia’s collapse”
Although the Russian Federation does not directly face ‘demographic collapse’, negative population trends will undermine the stability of the country, the author wrote, “The United States should develop a forward-looking strategy to manage the collapse of Russia by supporting regionalism and federalism, accepting the demands for sovereignty and separation, adjusting the position of other major powers, developing connections with emerging state institutions, strengthening the security of countries neighboring Russia.”
Bogajski concluded his article with the following assessment;
“The sudden collapse of the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago should serve as a lesson that geopolitical revolutions have taken place, regardless of the Kremlin’s denials or the West’s commitment to a temporary process.”