The Providence of Ukraine’s Victory

How to Enhance the Security of the West

Part II

Part I

Оповідь українською, Рассказ на русском, Historia po polsku

Story by Taras Kuzio

Illustrated by Maryna Lutsyk

Russia as a Weak State

Russian leaders have always been sensitive to and paranoid about threats to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Russian leaders continually condemn the West for allegedly seeking the disintegration of the Russian Federation. The West is allegedly attempting to ‘divide’ the Russian people, a chauvinistic view based on a White Russian émigré claim of a pan-Russian nation encompassing the three eastern Slavic peoples. Ukrainians view themselves as an independent nation and have never viewed themselves as Little Russians. 

The West is also allegedly attacking ‘Russian spiritual values,’ a claim emerging from the false myth of a superior Eurasian civilisation compared to the allegedly ‘decadent’ West. In fact, it is Russia which is backward, kleptocratic, and as US Senator John McCain said, ‘a gas station masquerading as a country.’ Russia has worse rankings than the West in every social category from higher divorce and abortion rates to higher levels of alcoholism, lower life expectancies, and far wider regional and class inequalities. The invasion of Ukraine showed Russian leaders have contempt and complete disregard for human life among its own population and Ukrainians. The Kremlin’s war against Ukraine cost the lives of 100,000 Russian Federation soldiers in 2022 and tens of thousands of Ukrainians, possibly more if the estimated 100,000 killed in Mariupol is accurate.

Putin launched a genocidal war against Chechen nationalists who had de facto created an independent state after militarily defeating Russia in the mid-1990s. Putin’s genocide against Chechnya became the template for further genocide against Syria (from 2015) and Ukraine (from 2022). The wholesale destruction of Grozny was followed by that of the Syrian city of Aleppo and the Ukrainian port of Mariupol.

At the same time, Russia has undermined its neighbours’ territorial integrity in Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan (through its Armenian proxies), and Ukraine. Estonia was threatened in the 1990s by Russian territorial designs and fanning of Russian speaker separatism, but further steps were thankfully thwarted when Estonia joined NATO in 2002. Russian nationalists are threatening Kazakhstan with a repeat of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian SFSR, of which the Russian Federation is its successor, was a fake construct because it contained what was left of the Russian Empire not included within the non-Russian Soviet republics. The Russian SFSR always therefore resembled an empire rather than a national homeland for the Russian people. This made the Russian Federation different than the non-Russian republics which were homelands for Ukrainians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, and other nations.

Russians viewed the USSR as their homeland – not the Russian SFSR. This was deliberately constructed by the founding fathers of the USSR who only allowed Soviet institutions in Moscow.

The USSR was different from communist Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia where the Czechs and Serbs possessed republican institutions in Prague and Belgrade respectively separate to federal institutions. The Russian SFSR never possessed republican institutions except for a brief period in 1990-1991 when they began to be created after the election of Yeltsin as president. Russians therefore inherited an imperial identity from the USSR, viewing their homeland as greater than their republic. 

Fear of the disintegration of the Russian Federation has haunted Russian leaders since 1991 and was the central focus of the July 2021 National Security Strategy.[1] Putin came to power in 2000 vowing he would rebuild the Russian failed state which in the 1990s looked to be on the verge of disintegration. Putin has a pathological fear of reforms, blaming the limited changes introduced during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) in the second half of the 1980s for Russia’s near collapse in the following decade.

Putin’s domestic policies of hyper-centralisation and imperialistic foreign policies have precipitated the pending collapse of the Russian Federation. Over-centralisation has led to the Russian Federation pretending to be a nation-state when it is in fact an empire. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is leading to the destruction of Russia’s decrepit military machine and national assertiveness in the non-Russian regions of the Russian Federation.

The Myth of Eurasianism

Eurasianism was developed by White Russian emigres in the inter-war era and came to be popularised in 1990s Russia by neo-fascist ideologues such as Alexander Dugin. Eurasianism proposes it is natural for Russia to be a multi-national empire, not a nation-state, and importantly is adamant this civilisation was beneficial to the non-Russians over which it ruled. Eurasianism claims to be on a higher moral level than the ideologies of Western empires because the non-Russians allegedly benefitted from Russian rule, modernisation, and the ‘superior’ Russian language and culture; whereas western empires subjugated their colonies, Russia supposedly brought lightness and good to the non-Russians.

Russia’s messianic belief in the moral superiority of Eurasianism has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with Russia’s historic inferiority complex regarding the West stretching back to Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century. Russian social indicators, economy, trade, and (as seen in the war in Ukraine) military are all far poorer in quality than their equivalents in the West.

The war in Ukraine will speed up Russia’s decline as a great power and the disintegration of the Russian Federation. The EU weaned itself off Russian energy in 2022. Russia has few alternative markets for its gas which need pipelines to be transported elsewhere. Moscow did not invest in LNG. The poor performance of Russian weapons in Ukraine is leading to traditional markets cancelling contracts for Russian military technology. Moscow’s two main exports of energy and arms will no longer be the golden geese filling the Russian budget. Updating Senator McCain, Russia is an unpopular gas station masquerading as a country.

Russia has become China’s younger brother.[2] India is rising as a power in direct relationship to Russia’s decline.[3] Central Asia is already re-orientating itself to China. The non-Russians in the Russian Federation will do so as well, especially those living east of the Ural Mountains. Russia is no longer a pole around which the Kremlin could pressure countries to unite in Eurasia.

Further afield, countries are keeping their distance from Russia since it invaded and formally annexed Ukrainian territory.[4] At UN votes denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia is only supported by four countries and of these only one is in the former USSR – Belarus. It is embarrassing for Russia that it is only supported by international pariahs such as Syria, North Korea, Nicaragua, and Eritrea.

The concept of a ‘decadent’ West first came to the attention of the Western public when nationalist dissident Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the USSR. Contrary to many of his supporters in the West, Solzhenitsyn lambasted moral decline and ‘decadence’ in the West, contrasting this to Russia’s allegedly higher spiritual civilisation. Not surprisingly, Putin and Solzhenitsyn became close allies in the 2000s.[5]

Eurasianism is vehemently hostile to the transformation of Russia from an empire to a nation-state, believing Russia always was and always will be a multi-national state. Hence, Eurasianism has strong roots in imperial identities which controlled the Tsarist empire and the USSR and in those who believe ‘Russia’ should not be equated with the Russian Federation. The Russian homeland is all of Eurasia and not limited to the Russian Federation.

While claiming moral superiority over Western empires in the treatment of those it ruled, Eurasianism is also anti-democratic. Eurasianists believe Russia can only be led by an authoritarian leader ruling a centralised state, two hallmarks of Putin’s regime. Eurasianism is incompatible with democracy which it abhors and views as alien, Western, and based on ‘Anglo-Saxon’ values. Anti-Western xenophobia, a fortress complex, conspiracy theories blaming the West, and criticism of alleged Russophobia are central aspects of Eurasianism.

Eurasianism not only supports Russification and the denationalisation of the non-Russian nations Moscow allegedly looks after in a better way than Westerners did in their empires. Being of White Russian émigré origins, Eurasianism also denies the existence of Ukrainians and Belarusians claiming they are respectively Little and White Russians. This deep-seated Russian chauvinism is evident in the criminal conduct of the Russian occupation army in Ukraine.

Important to any discussion of the decolonisation of Russia is that Eurasianism and similar imperial ideologies have never allowed Russians to discuss and atone for their past chauvinism and racism towards non-Russian nations. Russians therefore continue to believe in the myth they brought light and civilisation to non-Russian nations, refuse to countenance their policies as racism and colonialism, and cannot comprehend non-Russians’ complaints about denationalisation and Russification. Russians look askance at Ukrainian historiography denouncing Russification and the denationalisation of Ukrainians by Tsars and Commissars alike. Indeed, Putin’s 6,000-word diatribe in July 2021 never once mentioned the Tsarist empire’s banning of the Ukrainian language in the 1863 Valuev Circular and 1876 Ems Ukaz or the Soviet nationalities policies of Russification. Little wonder Russian occupation policies in Ukraine have included banning the Ukrainian language, burning Ukrainian language books, and the reintroduction of Soviet era Russification.

A final central element of Eurasianism is the glorification of the tyrant Stalin, bringing the ideology close to that of national Bolshevism which merged imperial nationalism and communism. During Putin’s presidency, a Stalin cult has been promoted alongside the making of the Great Patriotic War into a religious cult. Stalin is praised for defeating the Nazis and winning the Great Patriotic War, building an east European empire, and transforming the country into a nuclear superpower. The millions of people who were murdered during Stalin’s reign of the USSR are ignored or excused as collateral damage in the building of a superpower. Russian propaganda has returned to the pre-Gorbachev era in denying Ukraine’s 1933 Holodomor ever took place, claiming it to be a fiction dreamt up by the Ukrainian diaspora and CIA.[6]

Putin’s regime is not premised on building a future ‘successful model of statehood and development’[7] but on a glorification of past imperialism and conquests of foreign territories. Putin and his kleptocratic cabal have nothing to offer about how the future will look to the non-Russian nations. Therefore, it is not surprising there is increasing regional support for nationalist movements clamouring for independence from the Russian Federation.

Russia Has Lost its Eurasian Sphere of Influence

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed Russia to be a fragile state and a Potemkin great power in the process of disintegration. Russia’s disinformation on the invincibility of its army, supposedly the second best in the world, has been exposed to be false. Russian economic power is weak and will become weaker because of Western sanctions, European energy independence from Russia, and the country’s withdrawal from globalisation.

Janusz Bugajski writes the Russian state stands on ‘rotting foundations.’[8] Russia has been described as a ‘mafia state’ since as long ago as 2010 and the country has economically, spiritually, and politically stagnated over two decades of Putin’s presidency. Evidence of the Russian mafia state has been clearly visible in the poor condition of Russia’s army, shoddy military equipment, and inability to provide logistic support to soldiers in the field.  Russia’s weakness in its war against Ukraine has revealed to the non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation and to its neighbours, former Soviet republics, it is a Potemkin great power.

Since the early 1990s, Russian leaders have demanded the West recognise Eurasia as Russia’s exclusive sphere of influence. In the 1990s under the supposed democratic Yeltsin, Russia used its security forces against weak Eurasian neighbours to impose frozen conflicts, military bases, and integration into Russian-led political and security structures. This influence is unravelling as Russia’s military defeats in Ukraine have shown its claim to be a great power to be hollow and it is no longer the preeminent power in Eurasia. 

Evidence of Russia’s declining influence is evident throughout Eurasia and is best witnessed in Ukraine where its brutal invasion and war crimes have turned Ukrainians against Russia for decades to come. Opinion polls show there is no longer any difference between Ukrainians living in the east or west of the country in their negative attitudes towards Russia. Just as many Ukrainians in the east now detest Russia and want to join NATO as do those in the west of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military successes are changing the dynamic in Moldova, where Russia’s manufactured Transnistria frozen conflict led to the placement of an isolated and small military garrison of 1,500 troops which cannot be re-supplied by air or land. Ukrainians and Moldovans, backed by Romania, could intervene to defeat the Russian garrison and return Transnistria to Moldovan sovereign control.

The country touting itself as the second biggest military power in the world after the US has a shortage of military manpower. Russia’s critical manpower shortage is being resolved by offering amnesties to prison inmates, including murderers, to join the Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) to fight in Ukraine. But these, and troops withdrawn from Eurasian military bases, will not change the dynamic in the war. Ukraine mobilised long before Russia and is fighting an existential war on its own land against an invader seeking to commit genocide.

Russia is withdrawing forces from Russian military bases throughout Eurasia, freeing up countries to undertake military interventions against Russian proxies. Russia’s military withdrawal from Armenia of nearly 1,000 troops for combat in Ukraine was a signal to the South Caucasus Russia’s sphere of influence was in decline. Armenia has refused to see the writing on the wall and continues to place all its eggs in the Russian basket, unwilling to loosen its ties to Russia despite Moscow no longer being able to provide security.

Azerbaijan, which has instead pursued a multi-vector foreign policy and not joined Russian-led Eurasian projects, has used Russia’s waning influence to launch military pressure against Armenia. The EU had valiantly tried, but so far failed, to broker the signing of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan delineating their border and putting to rest three decades of conflict over Karabakh which only worked in favour of Russian interests. Mass Armenian protests in Yerevan opposed the signing of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan despite the country not having the economic and military power to defeat its neighbour and the CSTO having gone AWOL.

Georgia is controlled by pro-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili who became a billionaire in 1990s Russia. Georgia has democratically stagnated and was not granted the EU candidate status offered to Ukraine and Moldova. Georgia has thus not supported Ukraine and together with Armenia has assisted Russia in evading Western sanctions. The Ivanishivili regime will not survive Russia’s defeat in Ukraine. Most Georgians support Ukraine and blame their pro-Russian rulers for Georgia not receiving EU candidate status. The largest military unit fighting Russia in Ukraine’s International Legion is Georgian.

The 2022 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation revealed the degree to which China had replaced Russia as the economic power in the region. Arriving just after Russia’s military rout in the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, Putin was humiliated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the Emir of Qatar, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov who all kept him waiting. Putin was well-known for being late for meetings, but the shoe is now on the other foot.

Russia has only two loyal proxies left in Eurasia – Belarus and Armenia. The Russian-led CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union, which has more members, are dysfunctional. With most of the fifteen former Soviet republics turning their backs on Russia, Moscow is no longer the Eurasian pole around which non-Russians unite. Paul Berman writes:

‘But Putin’s resentment does not point to a shining future. It is a backward-looking resentment without a forward-looking face. Here, then, is a Russian nationalism without anything in it to attract support from anyone else.’[9]

Berman continues:[10] ‘But hardly anyone seems to share Putin’s ideas. There is nothing to share. Nor does anyone around the world suppose that Ukraine’s destruction will usher in a new and better era. The doctrine does not offer hope. It offers hysteria.’

Ukraine and Moldova are firmly within the EU’s sphere of influence. Azerbaijan has cemented a strategic alliance with Turkey and is a rising economic and military power whose energy resources the EU will become increasingly reliant upon after breaking from its dependency on Russia. Georgia’s unnatural pro-Russian stance is crumbling and will not survive Russia’s pending defeat. Meanwhile, China has replaced Russia as the preeminent power in Central Asia. Russia’s embarrassing military performance in Ukraine and crumbling Eurasian influence has made it China’s younger brother.

Russian Empire to Russian Nation-State

The multi-ethnic Russian Federation will disintegrate, Ben Hodges, former commanding general of United States Army Europe, believes, a view upheld by a growing number of Western scholars and experts. As in 1991, disintegration will be again brought about by Ukraine’s drive to independence from Moscow’s control. Ukraine’s military victory will be a defeat of the Russian imperialistic view of its neighbour as a rebellious province. Therefore, Ukraine’s victory will also be a defeat for the myths holding together the Russian Federation.

The fragmentation of the Russia Federation may not be as ‘clean’ as the USSR in 1991; nevertheless, the process has begun. At the very least, Russia will return to the time of troubles in the 1990s with a fragile and weak state and a Moscow imperial centre at loggerheads with the non-Russian nations. High unemployment and no economic future, growing secessionist tensions, a growing number of veterans from the war in Ukraine, and anger at disproportionately high casualty rates taken together create a combustible mix which will shake the foundations of the Russian Federation. Private military groups such as Wagner and convicts hired by them and given weapons are an added factor posing a threat to Russia’s stability and have the potential to lead to a civil war.

Luke Coffey suggests the US should back six policies to deal with the security challenge of the disintegration of the Russian Federation. As Coffey argues, a Ukrainian military victory provides an opportunity, ‘to put Russia inside its geopolitical box for a generation’ as a Russian military defeat would open ‘a new geopolitical reality.’[11]

  1. Support the peaceful drive to independence for non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation.
  2. Ensure any violence is constrained to the Russian Federation.
  3. Safeguard Russia’s nuclear weapons.
  4. Use the turmoil in Russia to support Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine to reclaim their territorial integrity by removing Russia’s proxy entities in the frozen conflicts.
  5. Support a big bang NATO enlargement to bring in Ukraine and Georgia.
  6. Encourage African countries to expel Russian mercenaries, such as Wagner.

A post-imperial nation-state would no longer launch imperialist wars of aggression against its neighbours, ruining its economy and killing hundreds of thousands of its people. Bugajski pointed out:

‘Russia’s size and reach, accomplished through hundreds of years of imperial conquest and colonisation, is a fundamental structural weakness. It inhibits the development of an enduring nation-state by focusing government attention primarily in preserving extensive territories, diverse ethnicities, and disparate regions within its borders.’[12]

The Russian Federation conflates Rossiiski and Russkii, creating tension between a civic loyalty to the Russian Federation in the former and the promotion of the Russian language, culture, and the Russian Orthodox Church as the spiritual core of the state in the latter. Denationalisation and Russification of the non-Russian nations takes place under the camouflaged cover of an allegedly civic but, in fact an ethnic, nationalist state.[13] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an ‘ethno-national project and an imperial-statist agenda.’[14]

This tension is made doubly worse by the Kremlin’s goal of uniting the “pan-national” nation of what it believes are Great, Little, and White Russians within the Russian World. The non-Russian nations are not only battling against the Russian ethnic state seeking to denationalise and Russify them but are also competing with Russia’s definition of its identity as encompassing Little and White Russia (the imperialist names for Ukraine and Belarus respectively). Russian leaders have long claimed Ukraine’s south-east is ‘primordial Russian land,’ suggesting the identity of the non-Russian nations is not ‘primordially Russian.’ In December 2022, on Russia’s First Channel, Boris Nadezhdyn, president of the Institute for Regional Projects and Legislation, said since the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation is increasingly threatened by ideological conflicts over what constitutes ‘Russia’ and why the Russian Federation is not the same as ‘Russia.’ Nadezhdyn warned history should teach Russians once-marginal groups can quickly gain public support, whether the Bolsheviks in World War I or non-Russian nationalists in the non-Russian nations today.

These tensions within the Russian Federation and with Russia’s neighbours reflect those of a failed state which has been unable to forge a coherent and united national identity. Most Russians do not view the Russian Federation as their national homeland. Regional and ethnic instability, economic stagnation brought about by poor government policies and Western sanctions, declining social trust, and withdrawal from global trade and globalised economic integration will have disastrous consequences for the stability of the Russian Federation. Regional economic disparities were already pronounced and deep prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and these will only grow, generating conflicts between Moscow and the non-Russian nations and fuelling separatist movements.[15]

The supreme religious leader in Russia’s Buddhist republic of Kalmykia, Telo Tulku Rinpoche (Erdni Ombadykov), has condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine. He said Ukraine was on the side of righteousness in the conflict because it was defending its own land. This is the first public condemnation of the conflict by an official leader of one of Russia’s traditional religions.[16] Bashkirs are also mobilising against a war they do not see as their own,[17] and have launched an armed underground movement opposed to the war in Ukraine and in support of national independence.[18]

Conflicts within the Russian army are growing between Christians and Muslims and between Russians and non-Russians from the Russian Federation.[19] Gun battles, fighting between nationalities, and brutal hazing of newly mobilised conscripts from the non-Russian nations are commonplace in the Russian army. Ethnic conflict is simmering in Dagestan where there are high levels of anger at the disproportionate use of Dagestanis in the war in Ukraine and the very high level of casualties.[20] A disproportionate number of Tatars in Crimea have been mobilised as conscripts.

Historically, Russia has sought to overcome internal crises not through reforms but through external expansionism and military aggression. Autocracy, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and dictatorship in Russia has always been a prerequisite for external expansionism, military aggression, and the forging of empires and spheres of influence. As Bugajski wrote, ‘In effect imperialism prevents or delays implosion.’[21] At the same time, Russia is continually wracked internally by conflicts over identity, historical narratives, religious and cultural markers.

Berman writes of the fear of the Euromaidan’s liberal principles spreading to Russia:

‘So he [Putin] consulted with the ghosts of Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and Stalin, who referred him to the master thinker, who is Nicholas I. And Nicholas I told Putin that if he failed to invade Ukraine, the Russian state would collapse. It was life or death.’

As Berman adds, Putin ‘might have taken Ukraine as a model, instead of an enemy—a model for how to construct the resilient state that Russia has always needed.[22] But he lacks the categories of analysis that might allow him to think along those lines. His nationalist doctrine does not look into the future, except to see disasters looming. His doctrine looks into the past. So, he gazed into the 19th century, and he yielded to its allure…Down into the wildest depths of tsarist reaction he plunged.’

The Levada Centre, Russia’s last remaining independent sociological service, has reported a high majority of ethnic Russians support the Russian army in Ukraine.[23] At the same time, a high proportion of Russians, especially the educated and from urban centres, do not wish to participate in the war. The fleeing from Russia of three quarters of a million Russians reflects an existential identity crisis within the country. A growing number of those fleeing Russia are from the non-Russian nations because they are angry they are being disproportionately sent to fight Putin’s imperialist war in Ukraine.[24]

The brutal and criminal behaviour of the Russian army in Ukraine will negatively impact Russian society. Criminality and murders are growing, often with the use of stolen or purchased weapons. The Wagner group is placing weapons in the hands of criminals who have agreed to become mercenaries in return for a shorter prison sentence. Moral decay will lead to higher levels of social strife and violence within families, leading to higher divorce rates and orphans. The diversion of resources to the war economy will reduce social welfare, medical care, and pensions provision by the Russian state. Russia, The Economist correspondent in Russia Arkady Ostrovsky believes, ‘could become ungovernable and descend into chaos.’[25]

The former understanding between the Russian state and Russian people who propose ‘you leave us alone and we won’t protest’ was destroyed after the introduction of ‘partial mobilisation’ in autumn 2022. Untrained or poorly trained conscripts with barely any military equipment have been sent into battle in suicide waves leading to high casualty rates. In one Ukrainian attack on New Year’s Eve in 2022, 400 newly mobilised Russian conscripts were killed and 300 wounded because the impact of the HIMARS rockets was magnified by the incompetence of storing ammunition and artillery shells in the same building where they were billeted.

Russia’s tipping point will occur when a high number of Russians come to understand the Russian state is the biggest threat to the Russian people because it sends them as cannon fodder in its imperialist war against Ukraine. Putin cannot defeat Ukraine. His criminal use of over 4,000 missiles and thousands of Iranian drones will not lead to Ukraine’s capitulation. Most of the Russian missiles and Iranian drones are shot down by Ukraine’s air defence. After suffering defeats in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson, the Russian president has no strategy of how to prosecute his criminal war.

Towards a Post-Putin Russia

Russia’s pending military defeat will have greater ramifications than France’s military defeat in Algeria and Portugal’s in Africa. The myth Russia is a great power with the second-best army in the world will come tumbling down. Russian political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann describes the Russian Federation ‘as we know it is self-liquidating and passing into a failed-state phase.’[26] Such views are no longer stated by only opposition-inclined experts.

Daniel Johnson writes:[27]

‘Past Russian despots left substantial legacies: Ivan the Terrible created the Tsardom and made Moscow supreme; Peter the Great built St Petersburg and opened Russia to the West; Catherine the Great conquered Crimea and made Russia a great power; Alexander I defeated Napoleon.  Even the worst, Stalin, left the Soviet Union more powerful than he found it, at a great cost in blood.’

‘But Putin? He has robbed Russians of the modest liberties they gained under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. By denying the world Ukrainian grain, he has reverted to Stalin’s tactic of using famine as a weapon of mass destruction. After nearly a quarter of a century of his rule, Russia has joined Iran as a marginalised, impoverished, and reviled rogue state.’

Rumours of Putin’s ill health is important to consider in the light of the lack of a successor. Putin has no sons to which he could pass the baton. Nothing could replace Putin’s personality cult in the event of his incapacitation due to ill health or his death. The deterioration of Putin’s health will lead to bitter and possibly violent inter-elite conflicts. In some regions, local elites would seek to take control of the security forces. In the non-Russian nations of the Russian Federation where there has been a disproportionately high level of casualties, local elites would mobilise anti-Moscow populist sentiment as a means of coming to power.

Berman believes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a calamity and ‘monstrous failure of the Russian imagination’ that has brought about the very collapse into barbarism and the danger to the ever-fragile Russian state that Putin thought he was trying to avoid.’[28]

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is generating the opposite to what Putin and the Kremlin intended:

  1. The invasion mobilised and reinvigorated Ukrainian national identity and forever changed it to being anti-Russian. Pro-Russian sentiments in Ukraine are dead and buried.[29]
  2. It revealed how Russia is a Potemkin great power and military force and transformed Russia into China’s younger brother.
  3. It has shown the links between domestic tyranny and Russia as a weak and fragile state and that of Russia’s penchant for military aggression against its neighbours.
  4. It has set in motion the disintegration of the final Russian empire masquerading as the Russian Federation.
  5. For the first time in history, the Russian empire will be replaced by a smaller in territory Russian nation-state.
  6. The Russian Federation is set on a path of decolonisation leading to independence for the non-Russian nations who have been subjected to centuries of denationalisation, Russification, and genocide.

Why the West Needs to Support Russia’s Decolonisation

Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, public discussion of the disintegration of the Russian Empire has moved from the margins of political life to the mainstream. As Johnson writes, ‘Putin’s days are clearly numbered. If his Ukrainian debacle heralds the demise of the evil empire – not merely Soviet, as Ronald Reagan thought, but Russian too – it could be a blessing in disguise.’ Johnson continues: ‘Will Russians learn from his legacy? We can only pray that they will indeed save their motherland, by abandoning his imperial dream forever and leaving Ukraine in peace.’[30]

Russia’s unprovoked and criminal invasion and brutal war crimes have shown Russia to be a Potemkin great power and military force with a weak, failed state and no coherent national identity. Ukraine was key to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine’s military successes and inevitable military victory over Russia are bringing about the disintegration of the Russian Federation, the world’s last remaining empire.

The West should support the emergence of a smaller Russian nation-state which would no longer be a threat to the Russian people or to its neighbours. A nation-state would be the best chance historically for Russia to evolve into a democracy. The West should welcome the freedom of the non-Russian nations whose independence will also liberate the Russian people.

Other stories written by Taras Kuzio

Other stories Illustrated by Maryna Lutsyk

Taras Kuzio is a British academic and expert in Ukrainian political, economic, and security affairs. He is a professor of political science at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the book “Putin’s War Against Ukraine: Revolution, Nationalism and Crime” (2018).

[1] and

[2] Alexander Gabuev, ‘China’s New Vassal. How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow into Beijing’s Junior Partner,’ Foreign Affairs, 9 August 2022.

[3] Roger Cohen, ‘Russia’s War Could Make It India’s World,’ New York Times, 31 December 2022.

[4] Catherine Belton, ‘Putin, unaccustomed to losing, is increasingly isolated as war falters. A new gulf is emerging between the president and much of the country’s elite,’ The Washington Post, 30 December 2022.

[5] Robert Horvath, ‘Apologist of Putinism? Solzhenitsyn, the Oligarchs, and the Specter of Orange Revolution,’ The Russian Review, 70, 2 (2011): 300-318.

[6];; and

[7] Bugajski, Failed. State, p.36.

[8] Bugajski, Failed. State, p.XII-XIII.

[9] Paul Berman, ‘The Intellectual Catastrophe of Vladimir Putin. The meaning of Russia’s war in Ukraine is its own national weakness.’ Foreign Policy, 13 March 2022.

[10] Ibid.,

[11] Luke Coffey, ‘Preparing for the Final Collapse of the Soviet Union and the Dissolution of the Russian Federation,’ Hudson Institute, December 2022.

[12] Bugajski, Failed State, p.19.

[13] Bugajski, Failed State, pp.21-22.

[14] Bugajski, Failed State p.26.

[15] Alexey Kovalev, ‘For Opposition to Putin’s War, Look to the Fringes of His Empire,’ Foreign Policy, 20 May 2022.

[16] ‘Russian regional Buddhist leader publicly opposes war in Ukraine,’ BBC Monitoring, 3 October 2022.

[17]; and

[18] Paul Goble, ‘Bashkirs launch armed underground movement against Russia’s war and for national independence,’ Euromaidan Press, 19 October 2022.

[19] Aslan Doukaev, ‘Inter-Ethnic Animosity Saps Effectiveness of Russia’s Army in Ukraine,’ Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19, 77 (25 May 2022.

[20] ‘Inevitable’ Conflict: In Daghestan, Kremlin’s MobilizationInflames Ethnic Tensions,’ RFERL, 2 October 2022.

[21] Bugajski, Failed State, p.18.

[22] Berman, ‘The Intellectual Catastrophe of Vladimir Putin.’


[24] Emily Couch, ‘Russia’s Minorities Don’t Want to be Putin’s Foot Soldiers,’ Foreign Policy, 14 October 2022.

[25] Arkady Ostrovsky, ‘Russia risks becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos,’ The Economist, 18 November 2022.

[26] Ostrovsky, ‘Russia risks becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos.’

[27] Daniel Johnson, ‘How Putin’s dream of a new Russian empire was destroyed on the fields of Ukraine,’ The Daily Telegraph, 1 January 2023.

[28] Berman, ‘The Intellectual Catastrophe of Vladimir Putin.’

[29] T. Kuzio, ‘Russia’s invasion has united Ukraine,’ Atlantic Council of the US, 22 December 2022.

[30] Johnson, ‘How Putin’s dream of a new Russian empire was destroyed on the fields of Ukraine.’


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