In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, US political analyst and author Janusz Bugajski predicts the imminent and dramatic demise of Russia as we know it today.
Janusz Bugajwski, a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC, is coming to Kyiv to discuss his hugely popular book Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture, which is now out in Ukrainian. According to Bugajwski, the Russia we know today, may soon cease to exist – in a very dramatic fashion.
Kyiv Post has obtained an exclusive interview with the expert analyst.
Is Russia really so unstable?
Russia’s state foundations, much like its military, are much more brittle than Moscow’s propaganda tries to convince its citizens and outsiders. Economic decline, a tightening budget squeeze, a personalistic regime without lines of succession, and a looming military defeat in Ukraine will spark conflicts within the elite, and between the center and numerous republics and regions.
We already see signs of conflict between different power institutions, mysterious deaths of over a dozen oligarchs, and frequent purges of the military leadership.
But Putin has a firm grasp on every aspect of Russia: Do you think he really could lose control of Russia?
Putin’s hold will significantly weaken with territorial losses in Ukraine that the Kremlin can’t conceal and with sharply declining economic conditions and government services as projected over the coming year. The rupture will accelerate after Putin expires or is ousted, as internal power struggles intensify, and some regional leaders will see an opportunity for forming new states similar to what occurred during the collapse of the USSR.
So, if Russia really does full-out collapse, upon what fault lines would it shatter?
The first to declare sovereignty and independence will be the more ethnically homogenous non-Russian republics – regions that resent Moscow’s exploitation of their resources and budgets, and republics and regions that have an outer land or sea border with neighboring states together with kindred populations.
Moscow will try to maintain the richer energy and raw materials producing regions within the existing state, but some political actors will view these as a valuable base for establishing independent states.
One should also not assume that the process of replacing Putin will be peaceful or swift or that one leader will emerge who is acceptable to all political and security organs. This will weaken the center’s ability to impose its rule across the country.
The Russian military however, is still massive. Would it not be able to quash any local rebellions or pushes for independence?
After the extensive military losses in Ukraine, Moscow will become more reliant on local militia and police forces to put down unrest and try to unseat any alternative governments.
However, its resources will become thinly stretched, the loyalty of local police cannot be taken for granted, returning armed veterans from the Ukrainian front will harbor numerous grievances against the regime and they will provide recruits for independent republican and regional militias.
But how would the West decide which of the competing factions it would recognize as the new “legitimate” leadership? What role would the nukes scattered across Russia play?
Emerging states will reach out for international recognition and not only from the West. Those that possess any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) on their territory will use these as concessions in exchange for international support.
The West’s priorities will be regional security especially in volatile areas such as Europe’s east and the Caucasus. The most effective way to contain threats and minimize conflicts will be to engage with emerging states and offer to mediate between the new governments and Moscow.
Surely, not everyone will “go with the flow.” What kinds of conflicts – even violent conflicts – do you think are possible?
Three kinds of armed conflict are likely – between Moscow and those republics and regions that the Kremlin is determined to maintain under its control, between some republics and regions over disputed territories and resources, and within some multi-ethnic republics over the division of power and resources in emerging states.
Chinese irredentism can be expected, resulting in conflicts with Moscow and with some regionalist movements. There is a growing probability of Beijing’s encroachment into Russia’s sparsely populated regions driven by huge population disparities between neighboring Chinese and Russian provinces. Beijing will seek more agricultural land, energy, and natural resources.
How will all of this affect Ukraine?
Ukraine will serve as a model for dealing with Russia’s imperial impulses, both militarily and in non-military domains – including cyberspace, information wars, corruption, and energy dependence.
Russia’s rupture will strengthen Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership and can speed up its path toward EU entry.
Kyiv should also be preparing contingency plans for Russia’s rupture and work closely with neighbors, NATO partners, emigre groups, and emerging post-Russia leaders in numerous republics and regions.
How can the West prepare for the dramatic end of Russia as we know it?
Washington and Brussels need to break out of their status quo mindset and start planning for all eventualities in Russia, including civil wars, peaceful secessions, extensive economic collapse, regional spillovers (war, guerrilla movements, refugees, etc.).
The West can strengthen the security of NATO allies and partners that border a collapsing Russia, facilitate cooperation among emerging entities to defuse latent conflicts, and launch initiatives for multinational cooperation, institution building, and democratic development. Post-Russia will be a challenge for the next generation just as post-communism was a challenge for a previous generation.
Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington DC. He has authored 20 books on Europe, Russia, and trans-Atlantic relations, hosts TV shows in the Balkans, and is a columnist for several media outlets in the US and Europe. His most recent book is Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture, which is now out in Ukrainian, and his upcoming book is titled Pivotal Poland: Europe’s Rising Strategic Player.
“Washington and Brussels need to break out of their status quo mindset and start planning for all eventualities in Russia, including civil wars, peaceful secessions, extensive economic collapse, regional spillovers (war, guerrilla movements, refugees, etc.).”
That seems to be unlikely at the moment. We have too many sleeping-at-the-wheel politicians, and many of those are hiding beneath their desks.
Yes they should be prepared and the US shouldn’t wait for Europe. I think we believe here that there will likely be many referendums after the Moskali get chased out of Ukraine. There will also likely be an economic collapse since Moskali are trained to get everything from the Kremlin demons. Add to that, the inevitable power grabs by the oligarchs and you could have all that spill out into the neighborhood…again.
Let it spill over to the mafia neighbors. Most deserve it.