Staunton, October 21 – Because Vladimir Putin has reversed the steps Boris Yeltsin took in the direction of federalization and has been able to restore “the empire in the most petty details,” the Russian Federation “inevitably faces” the same fate that the USSR met with in 1991, according to a Russian analyst.
In a post on Ekho Moskvy yesterday, Konstantin Borovoy argues that “the collapse of Russia is inevitable” and, because of Putin’s policies, “cannot be other than the fate of the USSR.” A new empire “cannot exist in reality for many political, economic and social reasons.” The only issue is “how this will happen”(echo.msk.ru/blog/k_borovoi/1181298-echo/).
According to Borovoy, “the catastrophically declining effectiveness of the economy” will be the main driver of this process. That is because, in his words, “the regional authorities at a certain moment must lead the process of autonomization – or completely lose their own legitimacy” in the eyes of the population.
Heads of federal subjects will face the task of attempting “to save the region and its citizens” faced with declining subventions from Moscow. That is something these officials must solve or face the prospect that it will be solved by their successors who will be installed by “a hungry people.”
“For citizens, this will be simply a factor of collective SURVIVAL,” Borovoy says, whatever anyone may think in Moscow.
One can, as Putin would perhaps prefer, forbid people “to speak about this or even think” about this prospect. But in that event, Borovoy says, “this process will be transformed from “a final civilized divorce’ into a bloody bacchanalia,” one in which the country will tear itself apart.
There is not a great deal of time “for recognition of the inevitable and for taking important decisions,” Borovoy suggests. The Russian budget under Putin cannot operate when oil is 110 US dollars a barrel, even though “under Yeltsin, nine dollars was enough.”
Despite his apocalyptic tone – and such apocalypticism about the Russian Federation is an increasingly feature of Moscow commentaries – Borovoy is almost certainly correct about the nature of the challenge that the center and the periphery now face in a country that is barely more than 20 years old.
But what he fails to discuss at least in this post are the non-economic ways that the central government may respond. Three are obvious: First, as appears to be the case, the regime may try to win support by playing the nationalist card, an effort that could win time even if it ultimately led to the disintegration of the country in another way.
Second, Moscow could try to break the power of the regional leaderships both by continuing to impose its own people on the federal subject and by giving more assistance to cities and sub-federal district entities. That too could win time, but if the economy continues to get worse, it probably won’t be enough.
And third, the Kremlin could seek to rely on what some call the last refuge of scoundrels, getting the country involved in foreign conflicts. Positing a foreign threat or getting involved in conflicts will gain the center some support, but the more obvious what the regime is doing becomes, the less effective such a strategy will be.
As Borovoy points out, the process of imperial decay that was in evidence in 1991 is not yet at an end. Instead, it almost certainly will be the driver behind what Moscow does, however much many in Moscow and the West may not want, as the Moscow writer and political activist says, to “talk” or even “think” about this.