There are three reasons why the Russian Federation is unlikely to fall apart in the near future, Ukrainian political analyst Vitaly Portnikov says.
First among them is that while Russia hasn’t been able to establish a contemporary political nation, it has created “a certain imperial Russian nation which is the basis of the Kremlin’s ‘Russian world.’”
Second, he tells After Empire’s Slava Lindell, “unlike the situation in 1990-1991,” none of the regions of Russia feel themselves to be genuinely political subjects, a sharp contrast to the way people in the union and autonomous republics felt at the end of Soviet times.
And third, while the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the USSR did not contradict the Yalta world as confirmed in Helsinki in 1975 because these states “split apart into the states which constituted them, although at that time, they were only formally so.” But now something has changed – and not in Russia’s favor in many respects, Portnikov says.
Moscow likes to accuse the West of “’revising the results of World War II,’” but in fact, it has been Russia that began to destroy” those results, by creating the statelet of Transdniestria in the 1990s, using force to create the pseudo-independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and annexing Crimea.
“Therefore,” Portnikov continues, “’the Yalta world’ has been destroyed, and now we do not know how Russia will be regionalized and disintegrated. In short,” he says, “Russia in fact itself created a world in which there are no more unresolved legal problems about its own dismantling.”
Pandora’s box has been thrown open – “and now all kinds of self-proclaimed republics on [Russia’s] own territory are completely possible,” making it almost impossible to predict what is going to happen there, another sharp contrast with the end of Soviet times when the dividing up of the USSR was obvious.
“In essence,” Portnikov argues, “Russia has again entered into a period of serious political turbulence or more precisely, in the Putin years, it could only exist in such a state. And any such turbulence, which by its nature does not guarantee development, will end in collapse.”
Ukraine, he says, might suffer more than many imagine for “a sudden collapse of the Russian Federation;” but in any case, it is now “concentrating on European reforms and ideally it must proceed along that path in a synchronous way that sets itself up against this Russian turbulence.
Many Ukrainians are asking how long the West will support Ukraine in this effort, Portnikov says, but that is not the issue. Instead, it is how long and how much Ukrainians will support it because it is still the case that there are two views in the country, one looking West to Europe and the other East to Moscow.
If the first wins out, Ukraine will be a modern European country; if the second, it will remain “a borderland of the empire.” According to Portnikov, “the paradox of Putin’s policy” is that “by his aggression he has forced Ukrainians to believe in their own independence” and not to see themselves as part of the larger Russian nation and empire.
“I cannot predict,” the Ukrainian analyst says, “how many years it will take for the founding of a Ukrainian political nation; but in 2014, it successfully began.” In the past, such a transformation might have taken several decades; but as the situation in Eastern Europe has shown, it now can occur far more quickly.
This shift in Ukraine’s orientation is part of a far larger geopolitical movement, one that is leading to a Europe that ends at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Beyond that, he says, is Asia, a region that is coming to be dominated not by Russia but by China.
Portnikov recalls a conversation he had with Boris Yeltsin in 1991. The Russian leader told him that ‘if Ukraine leaves the post-Soviet space, then Russia will become an Asiatic country.’ I absolutely agree with this assessment.” Of course, Russia could become part of Europe if it accepted European values; but there is little sign of that happening.
Consequently, in the not too distant future, “Europe will end in Kharkiv; and there is nothing horrible about that.”
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