What happened to the Russian Empire? It disintegrated at the end of an imperialist war. What happened to the Soviet Union? It disintegrated at the end of the Cold War. What will happen to the Russian Federation?
The answer is obvious, although it saddens many. Russian patriotism is such that even those who do not support the Kremlin regime are unwilling to acknowledge the imperial nature of the current Russian state. Even those who consider the current Russian government unfair, incompetent or simply dangerous believe in the survival of the Russian Federation with its current borders. Even people like me, who want a military victory for Ukraine and an international trial for the Russian rulers, are not ready to admit that this will consequently lead to the end of the country itself.
The collapse has been feared and predicted for a long time. It could have been stopped by taking advantage of the favorable economic situation, relying on a competent government, a clever diplomatic game or simply counting on luck. The ruling party had managed to choose a name that reflected its deep fear of disintegration, as well as its lack of other values: “United Russia”.
On the international stage, Russia’s partners did not want this disintegration. Some were grateful to the federation for ending the dangerous and costly Cold War. Others simply resented the changes, whatever they were, fearing them more than the war itself. The collapse that threatens the federation will not occur because of foreign peoples or governments, but against their will and in contradiction to their predictions. It is also likely to happen against the will of the Russian population: these problems are not usually resolved by voting.
For a long time, two decades, nothing really significant happened in Russia. Everything changed with the second Russo-Ukrainian war, a war that supporters of the idea of a united Russia should never have started. For those concerned about the preservation of the federation, the moment of truth has arrived.
The age of empires is behind us. The empires of the past collapsed after wars and uprisings, giving rise to a multitude of nation-states that arose on the ruins of their former colonies. The Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad argued that there was not a single piece of land in the world that had not been colonized. England, a former Roman colony, became the metropolis of a new empire. Poland, the center of gravity of Eastern Europe, was divided by three hostile states. East Prussia, former metropolis and site of royal coronations, became a colony. Previously, something similar had happened to the land of the Tartars. The story unfolds without rules. Empires rise and fall, like waves on a stormy sea.
That said, almost all empires disappeared in the 20th century, in a process that has been called “decolonization.” The empires were defeated by other types of state: national and federal. Contemporary Russia, a nation-state, calls itself a federation, like Germany or Switzerland, when in reality it behaves like an empire in its hour of decline.
What is the difference between a federation and an empire? A federation is defined by the free entry and exit of its members. The empires are maintained by force, while the federations do not oppose their self-dissolution. In the early 20th century, this was called “the right to self-determination, including secession.” This principle was enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia, adopted by the Bolsheviks in November 1917. It later disappeared from the constitutional texts.
Some “composite” federations have disintegrated without the use of force, such as the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. But other cases of disintegration provoked civil wars with international interference. This happened before in the United States and it happened before our eyes in Yugoslavia: the forces were unequal and one side imposed its will on the other. In other cases, the disintegration was peaceful but wounded pride and aborted ambitions led to deferred violence. This is called revenge and opens the way to a new war.
I am not asking for the collapse of the Russian Federation, I am predicting it, and that makes a difference. Again, the disintegration could have been avoided: it would have been enough not to start a war with Ukraine. But revenge was stronger than caution. The collapse of this federation, a complex, artificial, highly unequal and increasingly unproductive community, will be brought about by its leaders in Moscow, and by them alone. Those who love the federation; those who think that if people disappeared they would be worse off; those who see the idea of a united Russia as the main and even the only political value, should all blame those and only those who started this war.
I am not asking for the collapse of the Russian Federation, I am predicting it… the disintegration could have been avoided, it would have been enough not to start a war with Ukraine.
Into how many parts will the federation be divided, and will these parts correspond to the current delimitations of its republics and provinces? In each case, the people will decide. At the local level, existing institutions, leaders and borders will all have a role to play in implementing the “right to self-determination, including secession”. But there are many other conditions: economic and cultural, national and international. The new states will be diverse: some will be democratic, others authoritarian. Everyone will be more attached to their neighbors, their business and security partners, than to their old, worn out and repulsive “relatives”.
Territories that belonged to other national entities before becoming part of Russia after World War II (East Prussia, parts of Karelia, the Kuril Islands) will leave the federation with undisguised pleasure. Ethnic and religious tensions in particularly complex regions like the Caucasus may lead to new wars. With the collapse of the federation, social inequalities, a hallmark of Russia in recent decades, will further increase. The provinces producing raw materials will be richer and other regions will be poorer. Enjoying the freedom, your people will show a new creativity. They will begin to trade what only free societies can create. They will invent their new and unique comparative advantages.
The story will continue. Sooner or later the international community, which does not like shocks, will take note of the changes and will strive to avoid bloodshed. At this point a peace conference will be held, modeled after the 1918-1919 Paris conference, organized by the victors of the First World War. Russia, which had signed a separate peace agreement in Brest-Litovsk, was not invited. In the new peace treaty, the neighbors of the new countries will mediate in the negotiations: Ukraine, China, Norway, Poland, Finland, Kazakhstan and others. The historically most successful federations, such as the European Union and the United States, will have their part to play. A new Eurasian Treaty will complete the work begun at Versailles a century ago.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.