Sunday, July 10, 2005

Bugajski on Russia
Janusz Bugajski, director of the East Europe Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington:

Russia's preoccupation with its own disintegration has several causes and effects. It is partly defensive, stemming from a deliberately exaggerated sense of victimhood, in which it is claimed that the West conspired to destroy the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. It is partly self-serving, as it enables Putin and his entourage to pose as the defenders of Russian national interests against external and internal enemies. And it is partly motivational, in that official warnings about cataclysms are intended to mobilize "patriotic forces," undermine the opposition, and reinforce public trust in the Kremlin.

Putin's critics also warn about Russia's fragmentation: the nationalists and communists because they favor a tighter dictatorship, and the liberals because they argue that Moscow's ultra-centralism will provoke centrifugal forces throughout the federation. Despite all these dire predictions, Russia has thus far held together, partly because Putin has proved to be more vertical than Yeltsin (pun intended), and partly because of inertia. However, Russia's potential disintegration could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although Putin has calculated that too much democracy would encourage separatism, rising political, regional, and economic aspirations may not be containable by Russia's incompetent bureaucratic and security strata.

However, we should not uncritically assume that the dissolution of the patchwork Russian Federation will be a cataclysm or that the emergence of several new countries will be inevitably destabilizing. An independent Kaliningrad can make faster progress toward Europe, an independent Siberia and Far East may attract more substantial Japanese investment and Chinese entrepreneurship, and independent Muslim republics in the North Caucasus can reduce growing Islamic militancy within Russia. As a more compact and manageable state, Russia itself could undergo more impressive development. It is high time that a sober debate on Russia's future is initiated both inside and outside the country, rather than the incessant warnings of Armageddon by Russian and Western alarmists.

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