Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russia Likely to Fall Apart -- and for Many of the Same Reasons the USSR Did, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 10 – The disintegration of the Soviet empire is not over, according to a Moscow analyst, and the forces which broke that state apart 20 years ago are now shaking the largest surviving “fragment” in ways that suggest the Russian Federation will disintegrate in much the same way in the relatively near future.
In a two-part article, journalist and commentator Andrey Gusev surveys the factors which played a key role in the demise of the USSR and then considers the ways in which similar factors are having a parallel impact on the Russian Federation now ( and
“It is useless to struggle with historical processes,” Gusev argues, noting that “the 21st century is not the time of empires” and adding for good measure that “the final stage” of the disintegration of the Soviet empire has “still not completed,” although its end is “not all that far in terms of time.”
In 1986, “a knockout blow” was delivered to the Soviet Unioin when Arab countries increased the production of oil and the price of a barrel fell from 32 US dollars to eight dollars. Now, the price of oil is much higher, but if it fell to 60 US dollars a barrel, the Russian federal budget would move into deficit and if it declined to 40, “the effect” on Russia would be similar.
But that is only one of the parallels between the Soviet Union before its collapse and the Russian Federation now. There is the matter of corruption of the elites, the extraordinary difference in incomes between Moscow and the provinces, demographic collapse, the situation in the North Caucasus, ethnic and religious imbalances, and the number of dissidents.
In addition to the demographic decline of the Russian nation, there is the reality that the influx of Chinese in the Far East means that the share of Russians there is approaching 50 percent. “The Soviet Union collapsed when the share of ethnic Russians in the population fell to 50 percent. Now, in the Far East, the situation is very similar.”
The situation in the North Caucasus, Gusev continues, is also reminiscent of problems that the Soviet Union faced and that are today in many ways worse. “Sooner or later the Muslim forcdes in the Caucasus will unite,” and when this happens, there will be “a domino effect” elsewhere in the Russian Federation.
Indeed, Gusev suggests, “if in the south of the current Russian territory as a result of explosive events were to appear a monolithic Islamic state, then this would become the signal for separatisms throughout all of Russia,” a possibility most people in Moscow and in the West are loathe to acknowledge.
Also important as a factor in the demise of the USSR and the threat to the continued existence of the Russian Federation are the number of political dissidents. Such people played a major role in the destruction of the Soviet Union,” Gusev says, and “there is no doubt the growth in the number of prisoners of conscience in contemporary Russia may lead to a similar result.”
Moreover, just as at the end of Soviet times, the current Russian leadership appears to be living “in a certain virtual world where the real problems of the state are subordinated to happy illusions.” That led Moscow leaders then and now to act like Marie Antoinette and suggest that if the people lack bread, they should eat cake instead.
Talking about the future of the Russian Federation in this way is certain to be dismissed in exactly the same way that Andrey Amalrik was when he wrote his classic “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” The USSR passed that date, but it collapsed in 1991 and many then saw the dissident as a prophet.
Just how Russia will collapse is uncertain. Many scenarios have been offered. “Howver, just as in the times of the USSR, these predictions are taken seriously by very few with most people preferring to bury their heads in the sand and call the authors of such scenarios short-sighted marginals.”
But if one looks at the facts, Gusev suggests, the prediction of disintegration does not appear so far-fetched. The federal districts look like potential countries, and places like the North Caucasus, Kaliningrad and the Kuriles are already Russia’s “internal abroad,” just as the Baltic states were 30 years ago.
Indeed, any objective consideration of the situation, Gusev says, leads to the conclusion that “Russia is approaching the completion of its history as an integral state” and that by 2050 Moscovia, the Urals, Siberia and the Far East will be their own state formations, separate and autonomous from Moscow.
But there are three things to remember about this process. First, the end of the Russian empire won’t mean the end of the Russian language world. Second, the disintegration of the Russian state may in fact create conditions in which Russians will flourish more than they do now. And third, these new states will be less threatening to their residents than Russia is now.
This outcome might be prevented if the Russian Federation were to become a genuine federation, but the very worst outcome for “the salvation of Russia” would be “the formation of a unitary police state.” Such an approach would likely keep things together for a certain time, but in the end, it would dissolve in violent clashes.
“States, just like individuals or civilizations … are born, live sometimes many centuries and then alas age and die,” Gusev concludes. Sometime in the future, when historians consider the disintegration of Russia, they will be able to list the causes. One can only hope that they will not see these things pointing to the opening of a new Time of Troubles.

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