Preparing for the inevitable: why West should already be discussing the collapse of Russia

In 1969, the young Russian historian Andrei Amalrik wrote the famous essay “Will the Soviet Union Survive 1984?” This happened a year after the occupation of Czechoslovakia and during Moscow’s greatest achievements in space.

The USSR, as the incarnation of the Russian Empire at the time, was shrouded in communist ideology and looked firm and steady. None of the Western Soviet scholars could have imagined the collapse of the USSR at the time, and the slogans on the buildings of occupied Czechoslovakia boldly proclaimed “With the Soviet Union forever and ever!”.

History has shown that Amalric was right and erred in his prediction for only a few years. However, if you had been told in the summer of 1989 that the occupied Central European countries would be liberated from Moscow by the end of the year and what would happen to the USSR before Christmas 1991, you would have doubts about the narrator’s mental health.

People often miss the most obvious things. And professionals even more often, because they mostly specialize in the status quo.

Due to the inability of Western experts and politicians to predict the collapse of the USSR, the sudden emergence of a new reality, the West of that time could not react in time and thoughtfully. The result was improvisation and tragic failures that lasted for decades. Today we see them in the form of a number of Russian-occupied territories in the countries of the former Soviet Union and especially the bloody war in Ukraine.

The disintegration of Russia is just as inevitable – and if Europe and the West are not ready for this, its consequences will be the same or more tragic.

Missing, slow, or wrong decisions by untrained Western politicians could lead to the long-term Balkanization of today’s Russia. Unlike the Balkans, its territory is 50 times larger than Yugoslavia’s and has 6 times the population. And with nuclear warheads.

Therefore, thinking about the future disintegration of Russia is not entertainment or acceptance of what is desired, as supporters of the Putin regime believe.

Without understanding this scenario, we will not turn it away – and vice versa, thinking about it, we will not call it, even if we want to. There are hidden internal reasons for this, and the question is not whether the “Russian Federation” will disintegrate, but when it will.

The quotation marks used in the name of the state are not accidental, because today’s Russia is a vertically controlled and centralized empire that has nothing to do with a real federation. The very name of the state is a classic Potemkin village, a fiction designed for naive foreigners.

Only three forces hold the Russian Empire together: the ideology of the superpower, the security apparatus (Cheka – NKVD – KGB – FSB) and oil and gas revenues. The last one makes it possible to finance militarism, the repressive apparatus and to corrupt politicians in Europe and around the world.

All three of these forces will weaken and collapse sharply in the coming months and years as a result of Russia’s prolonged military defeat in Ukraine, Western sanctions and the rapid development of electric mobility.

Russia’s military and repressive forces are bleeding in Ukraine, Russia’s great chauvinism will be deadly, and a rapid drop in oil and gas sales combined with further sanctions will destroy the Kremlin economically and prevent it from further bribing political elites inside Russia and abroad.

Without a corrupt gingerbread man and a whip of power, the ideology of imperial Russia will not be viable and degrading.

In 2016, in my essay “Will the Russian Federation Survive 2031? Russia, China and the Inevitable Consequences of Climate Change,” I described the collapse of Russia as the theme of the next decade.

However, the attack on Ukraine radically accelerated the development of events – so the collapse of Russia becomes a matter of the next 3-5 years.

Of course, this is only an estimate – various subjective factors and specific decisions of specific politicians can speed it up or, conversely, delay it a bit. However, Europe is facing the collapse of the Russian Federation.

The defeat of the Russian army in Ukraine means a significant weakening of the repressive military apparatus that keeps the peoples imprisoned in Russia in chains. Of today’s official 140 million people in Russia (their actual numbers may be smaller), only about 75% of the population are ethnic Russians, and their share is steadily declining.

On the contrary, the number of non-Russians, especially Muslims, is growing. In addition, the figure of 75% can be significantly overestimated. Representatives of many oppressed ethnic groups often identify with the Russian ethnic group because it benefits them.

There is probably no need to explain this to Slovaks – just mention the “Hungarianness” of Hungary’s ethnic Slovaks in the 19th century or the suspiciously low number of Roma in Slovak censuses. The same phenomenon is happening in Russia – and, obviously, due to prolonged Russification pressure, it may be much more common.

This is especially true for the descendants of Ukrainians in mixed Ukrainian-Russian marriages, where Russian identification is very common, and therefore the actual number of Ukrainians living in Russia may be much higher than the official 1.4%.

Considering the lines of demarcation of Russia’s future disintegration, it is easiest to start with the territories occupied by it. First of all, it means the return of the occupied Crimea and Donbas to Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia, and Transnistria to Moldova. There is nothing to argue about.

Equally simple is the issue of the return of the Russian-occupied Kuril Islands to Japan and Karelia to Finland. There may be more debate among Europeans about the future of occupied and annexed Königsberg.

The fate of the Russian Far East may be interesting – much of today’s Khabarovsk and Amur regions belonged to China until 1860, and we can assume that it can make legitimate claims against them.

The disintegration of the rest of Russia will be an even more difficult process. Even with only formally only 25% of non-Russian nations among Russia’s 140 million people, the emancipatory efforts of many nations cannot be stopped without police oppression and corruption of ethnic elites at the expense of money from oil and gas sales.

After all, there is no reason to doubt that Russians living in St. Petersburg, the Urals, Siberia, or the Far East will want to remain ruled by a genuinely hated Moscow that is perceived by both Urals and Siberians as a voracious parasite. Thus, Russia can be divided into several smaller Russian-speaking states.

However, another thing is important: the West already needs to analyze possible scenarios for the collapse of Russia.

This is important because such a breakup will open up great challenges – both risks and opportunities. The risks are that Europe and the West may fail again, as they did after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In this case, the post-Russian space will face Balkanization, a long period of poverty and violence.

Or the West can act prudently, quickly, pragmatically and sensitively – and give the peoples of Russia and the Russians themselves a chance at a decent future in freedom and, at least, relative prosperity.

But you have to be ready for that. And this, at least, requires Europe to lift the “internal taboo” on discussing the possible disintegration of Russia.

by Jurai Mesik, public and political activist, analyst (Slovakia)

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