Beyond the Collapse of Russia

Debating Russia’s Discorporation,” by Mark Safranski, Zen Pundit, 19 April 2005,

Following up a debate on what Russia’s disintegration would mean, Mark opines

Dan’s connectivity observations regarding what we might call the first great centrifugal wave of nationalism that rocked the Soviet empire concerned true nation-states, all of which had previous experience with political independence, however briefly and long cultural histories. Georgian and Armenian historical memory stretch back to antiquity, the Ukranians to Kievan Rus, St. Cyril and Byzantine tutelage in Chritianity and civilization. A few of the original memnbers of the Commonwealth of Independent States like Belarus, Moldova and Tadjikstan have somewhat shakier national pedigrees but all of them outshine the potential aspirants of the second centrifugal wave battering Russia, of which the Chechens are but the cutting edge.

Currently Becker and Posner are debating the viability of small states, arguing in the main that the current world economic and political climate is more receptive to the survival of small polities. I agree provided the polities come with good governance – something I have grave doubts can be achieved by numerically tiny peoples like the Ossetians, Kalmyks, Mingrelians, Abkhazians who are little more than tribes yearning for flags, dominated politically by mafiya oligarchs and ex-Communist thugs.

Perhaps a free Tartarstan can make the grade, being larger and having oil but I don’t forsee a Yakut, Daghestani or Ingush state anytime soon petitioning for admittance to the WTO. They simply aren’t yet playing in the same civil society league that the Lithuanians were in in 1990 and at present the retreat of Russian power from these territories today is apt to spawn a constellation of failed states – a subsaharan Africa on the Caspian.

Mark’s write that dozens of microrepublics would be a disaster. Such a scheme is based on the federal components of Russia – its 89 parts. While Tartarstan and Kaliningrad may be viable, another model would be Russia’s federal districts

1. Central Federal District, 2. Southern Federal District, 3. Northwestern Federal District, 4. Far Eastern Federal District, 5. Siberian Federal District, 6. Urals Federal District, 7. Privolzhsky (Volga) Federal District

The Far Eastern Federal District was independent shortly after the Russian revolution, and many of the other districts have attributes of stable states.

Mark also has another point: Russia contains “Core,” “Seam State,” and “Gap” elements depending on geography. One solution would be to continue yoking these areas together under Moscow’s leadership. Another would be allowing discorporation, followed by a multilateral effort to connect everybody.

Why should only Russia be worried about Dagestan or Inguishtina? Why aren’t EU, NATO, or even Indian troops helping to connect the Caspain Sea littoral?

I am not saying we must collapse Russia, or press for this outcome. But such a future, it is happens, is not worth fighting.

Update 27 October 2005: Mark at Zen Pundit watches Russia die.

6 thoughts on “Beyond the Collapse of Russia”

  1. Dan,

    Very nice application of the Core/Seam/Gap continuum.

    Vladviostock is going to naturally gravitate to Chinese/Japanese/South Korean market connectivity which will spiderweb from there further inland. I imagine in a quarter century its population will be predominantly Chinese and Korean.

    Middle Siberia (5) is going to be unconnected for a long, long time the distances to Europe, India and the Far East are immense. Their only hope would be a Kazakh natural gas boom to create a nearby market.

    Book rec for you – _Siberia: Conquest of a Continent_ by W. Bruce. Lincoln. Actually, I’d give all of Lincoln’s books my strongest endorsement. Met him several times and took in a number of his lectures. Lincoln was a scholar’s scholar.

  2. You are right about Middle Siberia. Additionally, it will remain unconnected regardless of its independence or not. It’s in a bad situation. Fortunately, it’s sparcely populated.

    An interim solution would be for it to be a “client state” of the world economy, as some of the Western states are to the US. As long as it retains an acceptable market economy, government activities (road building, etc) would be subsizied by development funds.

    It’s not the best solution, but it’s not the worst. All of Russia has a very low birthrate — we won’t face the problems we see in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, etc. Finally, such clientism works better with Middle Siberia being independent, rather than now as a forced client of Moscow.

  3. Um, what on earth are you people talking about? There is absolutely no way that there will ever be a break-up of Russia along the lines that you are imagining here. The simple reason is that there is virtually no cultural difference between Russians in the different “zones” you have so fancifully created. Perhaps there has been some growing economic regionalism in the past 10 years, especially in the Far East where China has become a dominant player, but that is hardly the same as national disintegration. Russia is not some patched-together collection of different markets or regional power blocs, it is a nation. Russians do not identify as “Middle Siberians” or “Far Easterners”, they identify as “Russians”. You see, it’s quite simple: there will be no “second wave” of dissolution. It makes no sense. Imagine how ridiculous it would look if I were to look at foreign investment patterns in the USA and draw a map predicting that the “Midwest” and the “Pacific Northwest” would soon be independent nations (actually there are probably more cultural differences between American regions than between the ethnically Russian regions of the RF)! What kind of nonsense is this? Do you really think that you (or your global heroes) are so powerful that you can destroy a thousand-year old nation so easily with a wave of your magic wand?
    And quite frankly, Dan, your comment about the low Russian birth-rates is disgusting. Are you saying that we should have as our policy the prolongation of the extreme economic misery that is the cause of these low birth-rates? What the hell are you suggesting exactly? Do you really think Russians will accept being a “client state” with “low birth rates” for any length of time?
    This is repugnant nonsense and you are lucky that you are just idle bloggers with no responsibility because if real US policy-makers were to advance such propositions, they would be regarded as acts of war upon Russia and we’d be under a rain of Russian ICBMs right now. I do not think that is something we need to have on our plate right now, thank you very much.
    One final question: why such hatred towards Russia? What did they ever do to you?

  4. While I don’t share Shonin’s vehemence, I do agree with his main thrust. All this talk about Russia fragmenting is really not much more than fanciful theorycrafting, harmless but nonsensical. You are overestimating the centrifugal forces that are tugging at the Russian federation while completly ignoring the gravitating ones. Russian nationalism if anything will keep all present areas of Russia firmly Russian even if economically speaking they are more connected to elsewhere than to Moscow. To fragment in your description, there would need to be two things, a major schism in policy opinions between moscow and whatever particular region, and the sublimation of russian identity to whatever new local one emerges. Both of these need to acheive a level of critical mass for seccession to be possible and even then there is the factor of military intervention from the Kremlin to keep things together. Although regional politics may not always flow with Moscow’s, Putin is now directly responsible for appointing governors and I doubt they would disappoint him. Even more so, nationalism is in the upswing in Russia not down and while technically only 50% percent of Russia’s population are ethnic Russians, they are concentrated where it counts.

    In regards to the Russian far east, there is already a significant Chinese population there and while economically its ties are growing with China’s northeast, there has already been considerable tension within Russia about the fear of being “overwhelmed” so to speak by Chinese in the area. A lot of xenophobic anxiety about possibly being squeezed out economically in the area by the new Chinese settlers whom despite being peasants have done quite well for themselves

    Of course the Russians tend to have short memories, the southern portion of the Russian Far East, or more precisely the Primorskey and the Khabavrovks territories south of the Amur river used to be Chinese territory. The border between Russian and China had been settled by the treaty of Nerchinsk in the late 1600’s but during the second opium war the Russians seized the area in 1858 in part fueled by their desire for a warm water port. Vladivostok was a Chinese city prior to its Russian settlement. I for one wouldn’t complain if that little chunk of the RFE desired to emancipate itself from Moscow :).

  5. Shonin,

    You obviously need to brush up on your reading comprehension skills or should be less lazy and click links to follow the discussion from the origin point. If you had bothered to read carefully, you’d realize that I was arguing that Russia’s disintegration is *not* in America’s interest.

    Dan’s suggestion regarding districts was in response to my point that microstates that cleave off from Russia were too small and poorly governed to be viable states.

    Secondly, ethnic secession from Russia seems to be a considerable fear in the Kremlin – try reading some excerpts of Putin’s address.

    Before you start lecturing people you need to get your own head straight on what is being discussed.

  6. It would be interesting to see how the Far East is settled by Koreans and Chinese. Would a significant Korean minority in a largely Chinese part of Russia help or hurt Korean national aspirations?

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