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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #355

One of the challenges facing the international community at the conclusion of the current western confrontation with Russia over Ukraine is how to change the government structure with Russia effectively so as to ensure that there can be no recurrence of Russian imperialism. Ultimately this will require the division of the Russian empire into a series of constituent units, just as all prior empires have had to be divided in order to prevent the menaces associated with empires from proliferating, This was a project that should have been embraced by the West at the end of the (first) Cold War, but we were distracted by an ideological confrontation between capitalism and communism that caused us not to see that the Soviet Union was really an extended Russian empire. While the Soviet Union was broken up into its constituent socialist republics, those republics remained with limited de facto independence notwithstanding their de jure independence principally by means of connected infrastructure, ongoing political connections with Moscow and cooperation between their local security agencies and the much larger Russian security and intelligence agency network that continued to exercise dominion over them.

Now a number of these states have begun to pull away from the Russian imperial architecture of government which involves oppressive state control over ordinary people’s lives, the suppression of entrepreneurship and at best only fake democratic institutions in which elections may take place periodically but their results are preordained. Hence we see the beginnings of democracy and rule of law in countries as far away as Georgia and Kazakhstan; various countries are making their way out of the post-imperial Russian orbit and the frozen conflicts intentionally created by Moscow, such as that over Nagorno-Karabakh dividing neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan, are being gradually resolved because the weakness of the Russian Armed Forces (or, more accurately, their need to devote all their energies to the conflict in Ukraine), are starting to dissolve. This process has taken forty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union but real if gradual progress has been made.

Now the same process needs to pursued within the Russian Federation itself, which remains an empire all of its own. It is fallacious to assume that Russia is a cohesive unit of Russian peoples all of whom feel an affiliation to Moscow and participate as free and equal citizens in Russian politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Russia is comprised of a series of different federal units with varying degrees of theoretical autonomy but all run by dictatorial writ from Moscow. The reason these federal units of different kinds emerged through the history of the Russian Empire was expediency: ways of placating various national groups dotted across Russia’s enormous imperial territory with pretensions of autonomy to prevent or conclude wars of independence. Nevertheless these different units are all now governed by a single man. The contemporary Russian constitution gives the President of Russia absolute power to appoint the governors of all these different federal regions and the only political party tolerated in each of these regions’ parliaments is the United Russia Party, which is a successor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. So the Russian constitution is a sham; it is used as a pretext to continue Russian imperialist rule under the banner of “managed democracy” rather than Soviet communism but really it all comes down to the same thing: the control of diverse people with diverse interests all from the centre in an imperial style of government.

Some of the people in these various areas have expressed clear desires for independence that have been crushed. The Chechens are the best example; there were two Chechen wars since the end of the Soviet Union in the second of which Vladimir Putin ruthlessly disposed of all Chechen aspirations for independence from Moscow. But there are many other groups across what is called the Russian Federation but is really a Russian empire in which diverse peoples are controlled dictatorially from the centre, who would like to be independent of Moscow’s control and exercise authority locally over their own affairs. Given Russia’s thoroughly undemocratic history of imperial control over her dominions, this is understandable. The only way to bring to an end Russia’s consistent historical imperial aspirations is to break up the Russian Empire so that the individual peoples of what used to be the empire can govern themselves.

Now involved in all of this would be a fight over infrastructure and natural resources; because the Russian Federation’s natural resources are not evenly distributed but maybe that is for the best. Azerbaijan has become a small, wealthy country by reason of her hydrocarbon wealth since independence from the Soviet Union and so to an extent has Turkmenistan. Some of the countries to be newly formed out of the break-up of the Russian Federation might lean towards China by reason of geographical proximity and there would be nothing wrong with that, although an understanding with China that these new countries maintain their sovereignty would be important, as has Kazakhstan notwithstanding significant Chinese influence there. China would not resist a break-up of the Russian imperial heart into a network of states, because it would give China greater regional leverage to negotiate with smaller countries rather that with Moscow: something Beijing finds most distasteful.

If these new states were to be democracies governed by rule of law, and to exhibit the value of freedom - in other words, were this break-up of the Russian Empire to be in the mould of western values - then significant capacity building and institutional improvement measures would be necessary. The European Union and NATO might even open individual negotiations with such newly formed states to fast-track them into Euro-Atlantic structures. All these grandiose idea would require the removal of the controlling depot Vladimir Putin as Russian head of state; but he cannot live forever and what I consider as the inevitable entry of NATO troops into Ukraine in 2025 to bring the conflict in Ukraine to a conclusion might be the step that leads to his downfall or removal. He is not invincible. Then we can return to the project that ought to have occupied us in the West at the end of the (first) Cold War, namely not just deconstructing the constituent republics of the Soviet Union into separate states but undertaking the same task within the largest of those republics, the dominating one, the Russian Federation, as well. This seem like a task of some enormity; but it is the only way of ensuring that Russian imperialism ceases to be a threat to the world.


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