Some observers of the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine point to the likelihood of Russia’s disintegration,
hoping that this will bring an end to the war and potentially to Putin’s regime. Others are afraid that internal conflicts along ethnic lines could be a likely outcome of Russia’s defeat in the war and lead to violent secessionist movements. Most agree
that ethnic nationalism in Russia’s regions is a crucial factor that could drive such processes. Indeed, the voices of oppositional ethnic minorities, especially from diasporas abroad, have been especially loud (or finally heard) since the beginning of the war , and Russia’s ethnic diversity has suddenly become visible
for outsiders, which was not the case before. Reshaping center-region relations
The discourse on decolonization has finally become applicable to the Russian context and has even become mainstream
in the discussion of Russia’s future in Western academia and media. Calls to decolonize the aggressor state themselves are an echo of imperialist claims that Russia is using to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine. The decolonization discourse, however, is also flipped by the Russian political elites and used as another legitimizing idea conveyed to the Russian public: that Russia is actually fighting against the colonizing West.
Therefore, due to such ambiguity around the term “decolonization,” and not to mislead the reader, I will not emphasize the “decolonization” narrative in the discussion below. Although it is important to refine its applicability to Russia and the space that used to be called post-Soviet, in this essay I focus on the issue of territorial autonomies versus the federal center. This framing of the question can help shape a more realistic approach to the policy measures and international response to possible – and always rapid in such circumstances – developments that might happen in a vast, resource-rich country like Russia, which cannot be isolated for long.
One of the issues to consider when talking about the prospects for Russia’s disintegration and the violence that may accompany it is related to ethnicity: Is the ethnic factor of primary importance for grabbing greater autonomy from the center in a highly centralized state?Unite and resist versus divide and rule
First, most observers discussing the likelihood of succession highlight the significance of ethnicity and the shares of titular ethnic groups in each of Russia’s two dozen “ethnic regions.” The same observers then make claims that the Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union, that the titular groups are a minority in most of those regions and the share of ethnic Russians in them is often over 80%. Therefore, most of Russia’s regions, including ethnic ones where the titular groups account for a minority, do not have incentives to disintegrate, they conclude.
conducted in the early 2000s in ethnic regions suggests that