Putin in front of the map of Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States at his residence Novo-Ogaryovo just outside Moscow, August 11, 2006. (Image: kremlin.ru)
Vladimir Putin is celebrating Brexit and the wave of separatist challenges to European countries that it has unleashed, Dmitry Zapolsky says; but his happiness is likely to be short-lived because this latest separatist wave will soon engulf Russia and lead to its disintegration.
Zapolsky, a Russian journalist who was forced to move to Finland, has the unusual background of being a descendant of a Scot entrepreneur who came to Russia at the end of the 18th century. He thus offers a unique perspective on the implications of the independence of Scotland for Russia.
Britain may ultimately not leave the EU even though Putin is treating that as a foregone conclusion and a victory for the Kremlin, but the Brexit vote is going to lead to an increase in separatist activity in Scotland, Catolonia, and the Basque country as well as in parts of Italy and Belgium, Zapolsky says; and that will mean that Putin’s “euphoria will quickly pass.”
“The process of regionalization which has been restrained over the last decades by unbelievable efforts will inevitably explode.” And “after several years,” it will come back to haunt Russia. “Alas,” he says, “for the current system of power and governance in the Russian Federation it is impossible to think up a worse trigger for disintegration than the departure of England from the EU.”
Consequently, Zapolsky continues, “the Kremlin will do everything so that the EU will not fall apart, although Russians are now being told exactly the opposite on television.” Even if a reduced EU ended sanctions and even if Donald Trump convinced the US not to pay attention to human rights in Russia, Brexit if it spreads would be bad for Russia.
That is because, he says, even such changes in Western policy would “not change the course of history: Russia’s problems are not outside it but within. And sanctions are not significantly deepening them,” however much some hope or fear.
“All empires die in approximately the same way; only the length of the agony varies in each case. In the case of the Russian Empire, it has been going on already almost a hundred years.” But it will end, and the future for Russia will be “still more difficult” than the present-day situation.
“England as it has always done in modern history has shown the trend line: a path of disintegration and separatism,” Zapolsky says. “This cup will not pass by Russia.”
Zapolsky does not make a prediction about when the separatist wave will again crash over Russia, but five developments this week in the Russian Federation itself suggest that it may happen even sooner than he appears to think:
- First, Mintimir Shaimiyev, the former president of Tatarstan, is reprising his role from the 1990s and urging his republic’s senators to vote against repressive new laws, a call that is likely to be taken up by other non-Russians if the past is precedent.
- Second, non-Russian nationalities are reaching out beyond their titular republics to their co-ethnics elsewhere in Russia, a process that took off in the 1990s but that has been actively opposed by Moscow since Putin came to power because it can magnify the influence of these groups when they act jointly.
- Third, the Russian defense ministry is studying how to fight color revolutions on the territory of the Russian Federation, revolutions more likely to be triggered by members of one or another nationality than by all of them together.
- Fourth, some Kremlin propagandists like Sergey Markov are now saying that all opposition to the Putin regime is a fifth column with close links to the Ukrainian “junta” and that there must be no mercy shown to those who, working with Ukraine and the West, want to destroy Russia.
- And fifth – and this is probably the best indicator – some Russian nationalist commentators are saying that Brexit will lead to the disintegration of the United States, the kind of projection that was favored by many Gorbachev-era analysts arguing against the demise of the USSR 25 years ago.
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