Russia: The matrix of (un)certainties

Mykhailo Gonchar,
The CGS Strategy XXI,

In general, we can identify 3 basic scenarios for the future of Russia. The matrix of probable scenarios has many more, but one way or another they can be reduced to three.

Scenario 1: “Long-lasting Putin’s state” (according to V. Surkov`s definition in 2019). Russian Federation is being transformed into a Slavic-Orthodox version of the USSR 2.0. It can be realized under the condition of completion of the creeping Anschluss of Belarus and occupation of Ukraine. This automatically sets a new program of further expansion in the post-Soviet space to eliminate the consequences of “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” (according to V. Putin) – the collapse of the USSR. Both the US fiasco in Afghanistan, which demonstrated the weakness of the collective West, and the success in Belarus, are tempting. Moscow has successfully made Minsk its proxy for waging a hybrid war against the EU – so far with migrants and creating a projection of force against the Baltic states and Poland, as well as forming the northern front against Ukraine.

Scenario 2: “Sino-Russian Bicentric”. Russia’s growing dependence on China and the kinship of authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Beijing, plans for geopolitical and geoeconomic expansion lead to synergies between RF and PRC. Both countries use the classic scheme of authoritarian regimes – “uniting the people around the leader in the face of growing imperialist threat and subversive activities of Western agents from within.” Russia’s war against Ukraine and China`s war against Taiwan, if successful, will be an indicator of a new geopolitical reality, where Russia would be a vassal of China and play the role of a global “bad cop”, while Beijing would be a “good cop”. The geopolitical goal of the new Eurasian empire from Hainan to Vyborg is the dispersion of the European Union and NATO, the ultimate separation of Europe from North America through the partnership with Germany and its transformation into a high-tech appendage of Sino-Russian Bicentric.

Scenario 3. “Managed disintegration”.  V. Volodin’s famous statement in 2014 “There is Putin – there is Russia, there is no Putin – there is no Russia,” indicates that the authoritarian regime led by Putin is in fact a guarantee of the existence of Russia as a formally federal, but in fact centralized state, where national and regional centrifugal movements intensified. In the event of a critical mass of dissatisfaction with Moscow, it will explode in the most problematic regions. Under such circumstances, the Kremlin can go for a conscious disintegration on the principle of Boris Yeltsin “take as much sovereignty as you can,” separating from Russia its northwestern part. The center of “Russia Light” is transferred to St. Petersburg, Moscow is given the role of the second capital.

“Russia Light” will include energy-rich Arctic regions with pipeline and port infrastructure that brings them to the EU market through the Baltic “window to Europe” cut by Tsar Peter I. Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamal-Nenets regions, Moscow and St. Petersburg – the largest of the 13 contributors to the federal budget, providing more than half of all tax revenues, while 70 other subjects of the federation and the occupied territories of Ukraine (Crimea, Eastern Donbas), of Georgia (Abkhazia, Tskhinvali region) are chronic recipients of subsidies .

This is not just an early Putin’s wish to build two powerful oil pipelines (Baltic Pipeline System-1; 2) with terminals in Primorsk and Ust-Luga near St. Petersburg. It is also about the development of Yamal and Arctic oil fields on the Arctic shelf with the simultaneous construction of gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 and LNG plants in Yamal. The relocation of Gazprom’s headquarters to St. Petersburg is also not accidental. This is a well-thought-out strategy in case of disintegration, based on the experience of the collapse of the USSR and the internal Russian processes of the 1990s.

Although Scenario 3 seems unlikely today, the oppositional to Moscow national movements of the Ural-Volga region (Idel-Ural), regional centrifugal forces in Eastern Siberia and the Far East, are reviving and gaining strength in Russia. Unlike the Soviet-era Kremlin, Putin’s Kremlin senses threats and tries to calculate a self-preservation algorithm that will provide its ruler with power and money, regardless of the future scenario for the Russian state as such and even in the event of its disintegration.

In mathematics, there is a category of problems that do not have an unambiguous solution. Russia’s future does not seem to have a clear prospect, despite Kremlin propaganda efforts to impose the concept of a “long-lasting state of Putin.” However, the matrix of possible options, as in the case of the USSR, contains scenarios, contrary to the will and intentions of the Kremlin.


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