Janusz Bugajski is a senior researcher at the Jamestown Foundation. His new book, Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture, has just been published.
We are currently witnessing an ongoing revolution in global security for which Western policymakers are manifestly unprepared – the impending collapse of the Russian Federation.
Instead of planning for contingencies for external fallout and capitalizing on Russia’s deimperialization, however, Western officials seem to be stuck in a bygone era, believing they can return to the post-Cold War status quo. some even offering Moscow security guarantees to keep the country intact.
But Russia is a failed state. It was unable to transform into a nation-state, a civic state, or even a stable imperial state. It is a federation in name only, because the central government pursues a policy of ethnic and linguistic homogenization and denies all power to the 83 republics and regions of the country. However, hyper-centralization has exposed the country’s multiple weaknesses, including a shrinking economy constrained by international sanctions, military defeats in Ukraine that reveal the incompetence and corruption of its ruling elite, and disquiet in many many regions faced with shrinking budgets.
Moscow is finally exposed as a rapacious imperial center that is exhausting its ability to hold the country together. Yet most Western leaders still fail to see the benefits of Russia’s disintegration.
The breakup of the Russian Federation will be the third phase of imperial collapse after the breakup of the Soviet bloc and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It is driven by elite power struggles and the intensification of rivalries between the central government and disaffected regions, which in some parts of the country could lead to civil wars and border disputes. However, it will also encourage the emergence of new states and cross-regional federations, which will control their own resources and no longer send their men to die for Moscow’s empire.
As Moscow withdraws into itself, its capacity for foreign aggression will diminish. And as a rump state, subject to intense international sanctions and deprived of its resource base in Siberia, it will have significantly reduced capabilities to attack its neighbors. From the Arctic to the Black Sea, NATO’s eastern front will become more secure; while Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova will return to their occupied territories and seek integration into the European Union and NATO without fear of Russian reaction.
Central Asian countries will also feel increasingly liberated and able to look to the West for energy, security and economic connections. China will be in a weaker position to expand its influence as it can no longer collaborate with Moscow, and new pro-Western states may emerge within the Russian Federation, enhancing stability in several parts of Europe and Russia. Eurasia.
Although nuclear weapons will remain a potential threat, the Russian leadership will not commit national suicide by unleashing them against the West. Instead, they will try to salvage their political future and their economic fortunes – as the Soviet elite did. And even if some emerging countries acquire such weapons, they will have no reason to deploy them while seeking international recognition and economic assistance. Post-Russian states are more likely to pursue nuclear disarmament – much like Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The idea that Western leaders are only helping President Vladimir Putin by talking about Russia’s collapse is misleading. The Kremlin claims the West wants to destroy Russia regardless of the actual policy, and denials from Washington and Brussels only fuel Kremlin conspiracies.
On the contrary, a much more effective approach would be to clearly specify what the West stands for. Openly supporting pluralism, democracy, federalism, civil rights and the autonomy of its republics and regions can help embolden Russian citizens by demonstrating that they are not globally isolated. They will also need access to the information that Moscow suppresses, especially when it comes to ensuring security, economic development and cultivating peaceful and productive relations with neighbors.
Even after the horrors of Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the justifications the country’s heads of government and advisers gave for the genocide, the hope of Western officials that beneficial relations could be established with a Kremlin post-Putin, or that liberals can democratize the empire, is illusory thinking.
The West made a grave mistake when it assumed that the collapse of Soviet communism meant the end of Russian imperialism. And since imperial states invariably collapse when they go too far, and when centrifugal pressures are fueled by economic distress, regional resentments and national revivals, he must now avoid repeating that mistake – this time wrongly assuming that the present empire is permanent.