Russia Haunted by Spectre of Disintegration

The spectre of disintegration is already haunting Russia. Politicians and pundits are scared to discuss it publicly. Shortly after annexing Crimea and stirring separatism in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin introduced a law which makes “incitement of any action undermining Russia’s own territorial integrity” a criminal offence. Yet the greatest threat to Russia’s territorial integrity is posed by the Kremlin itself and its policies in Ukraine.

By breaking the post-Soviet borders, Mr Putin opened a Pandora’s box. If Crimea “historically” belongs to Russia as he has claimed, what about Kaliningrad, the former Königsberg, an exclave which Germany lost to Russia after the second world war? Should not eastern Karelia, which Finland ceded to the Soviet Union after the winter war in 1940, be Finnish and the Kuril Islands return to Japan?

Even more perilously for Russia’s future, Mr Putin brought into motion forces that thrive on war and nationalism. These are not the forces of imperial expansion—Russia lacks the dynamism, resources and vision that empire-building requires. They are forces of chaos and disorganisation. Eastern Ukraine has turned into a nest of criminals and racketeers. They cannot spread Russian civilisation, but they can spread anarchy. __ Russia Breaks Up

Whimsical Future Map of Siberia Russia Breaking Up?

Whimsical Future Map of Siberia
Russia Breaking Up?

In short, Russia under Mr Putin is much more fragile than it looks. Vyacheslav Volodin, his deputy chief of staff, recently equated Mr Putin with Russia: “No Putin, no Russia,” he said. It is hard to think of a worse indictment. __ After Putin, the Deluge

China is investing in Central Asia, Ukraine, Belarus, and in the Russian Far East. In Short, China is anticipating the need to pre-position its assets and forces, before the disintegration of Putin’s Russia.

China recognizes the benefits of balancing its trade linkages with Russia and Ukraine, and is keen to embrace lower-cost imports from Ukraine’s crisis-ridden economy. The fact that China is keeping its diplomatic and economic strategies separate means that Ukraine can pivot towards China to help rebuild itself economically from the ashes of war. Chinese capital can facilitate the expansion of Ukraine’s growth industries like information technology and real estate construction, in addition to making China a reliable new market for Ukraine’s agricultural exports.

Ukraine’s pivot to China could also ease its long-term economic dependence on Russia. Even though the countries are at war, Russia remains Ukraine’s largest single trade partner. Increased Sino-Ukrainian economic cooperation could also compensate for the West’s reluctance to offer Ukraine large-scale economic assistance. __ WaPo

Under Putin, Russia is becoming far more dependent upon China. The dependency is, in fact, growing irreversible. It is not clear how far China will go to take advantage.

‘My forecast is rather a sad one,’ he said. ‘I am not even sure if I should voice it – for fear of spoiling people’s moods. I am afraid that beginning from March 2014 we have determined the destiny of our country for a long time. On one hand, this destiny will be about economic and technological downfall, and on the other on our rising dependency on China. This dependency might turn into a truly dominant one.’

He fears China exploiting a switch which has seen Russia angle its trade towards Beijing and away from Western countries which have imposed sanctions on Moscow.

‘I know just too well how good China can exploit it,’ he said. ‘These days we have literally cut ourselves off from the Northern – or Western – civilisation.’ ___ Former Head of Moscow FSB Speaks

A Natural Relentless Ongoing Incursion by China Into the Former Russia

A Natural Relentless Ongoing Incursion by China Into the Former Russia

China will reclaim large parts of Siberia. But which parts, and how large?

The 1.35 billion Chinese people south of the border outnumber Russia’s 144 million almost 10 to 1. The discrepancy is even starker for Siberia on its own, home to barely 38 million people, and especially the border area, where only 6 million Russians face over 90 million Chinese. With intermarriage, trade and investment across that border, Siberians have realized that, for better or for worse, Beijing is a lot closer than Moscow.

The vast expanses of Siberia would provide not just room for China’s huddled masses, now squeezed into the coastal half of their country by the mountains and deserts of western China. The land is already providing China, “the factory of the world,” with much of its raw materials, especially oil, gas and timber. Increasingly, Chinese-owned factories in Siberia churn out finished goods, as if the region already were a part of the Middle Kingdom’s economy.

One day, China might want the globe to match the reality. ___ China Will Reclaim Siberia

It looks as if China has plans to wrest influence in Central Asia away from Russia. Further, its investments in Siberia, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. suggest that China is preparing for a long term future where Russia may as well not exist at all.

But first, China will have to get past some rather serious economic problems of its own. Regardless, the only way for Russia to prevent the slow absorption of Siberia by China would be to forcibly relocate ethnic Russians from west of the Urals — and strongly induce them to have multiple children per woman. Such a move is not likely to be well received by the neo-serfs of Putin’s Russia.

Most of the border region — an area roughly the size of Iran — used to be Chinese. Russia took the territory in 1858 and 1860 with the Treaties of Aigun and Peking, respectively. Of all of the unequal treaties forced upon the Qing dynasty by outside powers in the 19th century, these are the only two China has not managed to overcome. China and Russia signed a border agreement in 1999, but the Beijing government has never formally accepted the Aigun and Peking treaties. __ ABC News

As Garri Kasparov has pointed out, the longer Putin hangs around, the stronger the likelihood that Russia will disintegrate.

Disintegration of the Russian Federation could be triggered by just a few federal subjects that are potential hotbeds of separatism. They already have plenty of ethnic and/or economic reasons to separate from Moscow. If such sentiments escalated, Russia’s further existence as a single state would be impossible due to a number of reasons.

The first such province is the modern Ural Federal District that is clearly divided into two specialized regions: Tyumen Oblast (or Yugra comprised of the oil-rich Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug) and the steelwork-dominated Ural including Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk oblasts. Adjacent is Kurgan Oblast dominated by industrial machine building.

Tyumen Oblast with its two autonomous okrugs has the most abundant resources in Russia. It provides 2/3 of all Russian oil and over 90% of natural gas (Gazprom is nothing without it). Deprived of its minerals, the rest of Russia would automatically turn into a huge importer of natural gas and would hardly be able to export oil or oil products, but would most likely have to import those as well. The population of Tyumen Oblast was a mere 3.55 million at the beginning of 2014, with just 2.15 million in the autonomous okrugs that extract oil and gas. This makes the region comparable to Kuwait in terms of oil extraction per capita (Kuwait’s population is 2.7 million people). The only difference is that Tyumen Oblast extracts 3.5 times more oil and over 150 more gas than Kuwait does.

Moscow is currently taking all rent from these riches, channeling it into confrontation with the outer world and support of depressed regions inside Russia, including a toll to North Caucasus republics. Thus, even though ethnic Russians make up an absolute majority in Tyumen Oblast, they have sufficient socio-economic motivation to get independence. Remote as it is from China, it faces minimum Chinese threat. The scale of its integration with European economy opens vast possibilities for entering the protectorate of the EU and NATO. That option would be much cheaper for the region compared to the funding of all Russia and its growing spending on the military industry and external expansion. __ How Russia Might Disintegrate

Russia Will Disintegrate — Vladimir Bukovsky

Former GRU officer Viktor Suvorov predicts that it will take Russia about 10 years to disintegrate.

More on the disintegration of Russia at Stratfor’s 10 year forecast, 2015-2025

Even before Putin “jumped the shark” last year, Russia was in rapid decline on several fronts. Putin has merely greased the skids.

All indications show that the Russian Far East is fast becoming (if it has not already become) economically dependent on China. Its future is in the hands of the local Chinese, not Russian local authorities. The Chinese cultivate the land, which the Russians are not motivated to do on their own. Local authorities and businessmen don’t complain about dwindling Russian manpower beyond the Amur River as they can easily replace native workers with Chinese who are willing to work 12 hours a day or more.

These short-term economic benefits for individual Russians are accompanied by tangible social trends. In the late 1990s, Russians found it unthinkable to marry Chinese, but today, Russian women hardly hesitate to take Chinese husbands, who are perceived as harder workers and softer drinkers than Russians.

… Russia may soon become a raw material appendage to China should the present trend continue. ___
Analysis of China’s Future in Siberia

The “present trend” — China taking over Siberia by stealth invasion — cannot help but continue, given inexorable demographic trends. The Russian Far East will have a Chinese future. But how will the rest of Russia disintegrate? That is a more interesting and uncertain story.

More: Russian Regions Running Out of Money

Russia Regional Debt Stratfor

Russia Regional Debt

Russia has entered its second recession in six years. The effects of the country’s economic downturn have begun to trickle down from the federal level, spreading to Russia’s regions, cities and people. The federal government has long relied on the regional and municipal governments to carry their own burdens, and many are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy or collapse as Moscow siphons off a growing share of their funds. The Russian people are also beginning to feel the economic pressure more acutely as an increasing number of citizens fall under the poverty line and watch their savings dry up.

… All of Russia’s regions must meet a series of burdensome obligations to the Kremlin and social spending. Of the income each region generates, only 37 percent stays in the region itself; the rest goes to the federal government. The Kremlin returns a small portion of that in the form of subsidies, though no more than 20 percent of the original payment. Since 2011, the federal government has raised regional taxes by 12 percent.

… In response to their mounting financial burdens, Russia’s regional governments have already begun to slash their spending. According to the Higher School of Economics, 26 regions have cut funding for education, 21 have reduced spending on health care and 16 have slashed social security spending in the first half of 2015. For months, minor strikes have taken place across Moscow after 28 hospitals shut down and 7,000 medical employees were laid off. Teachers in Novosibirsk have protested repeatedly in 2015 in response to a 20 percent cut to their salaries. __

Knowledgeable analysts predict the disintegration of Russia from the outside inward. That is a regional projection, given the huge size of the Russian landmass, and the shrinking size and quality of ethnic Russians who are somehow expected to hold the riches of Russia without credible outside help.

More: Russia’s navy and air forces are falling on hard times.

China plans on eating Russia in bite-sized pieces

Transbaikal officials are working on a deal with China that would allow Chinese firms to lease more than 300,000 hectares (1.2 thousand sq mi) of land in that Russian region, but a Beijing official says that the deal won’t go through unless Moscow agrees to a massive influx of Chinese workers…

As Mikhail Sergeyev, the head of the economics section of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” observes, the Beijing writer “considers the transfer of land in the Transbaikal kray to be only the first swallow after which must follow others” and that such transfers are not “only” about an economic profit.

Beijing has already identified nine territories in Siberia and the Russian Far East which it would like to lease and then introduce a Chinese workforce, Sergeyev writes.

Beijing has strong economic leverage over Moscow. Each of these “small” (thousand square mile) land-grabs may be presented to Moscow as “offers that Putin cannot refuse.” Not if he wishes to retain his seat of corrupt power in the Kremlin.

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14 Responses to Russia Haunted by Spectre of Disintegration

  1. Abelard Lindsey says:

    What you must understand with regards to all of this is that the Chinese do, in fact, have the world’s oldest, continuous civilization. This means, despite their many flaws (corruption being number one), the Chinese do possess a certain long-range view of history and the patience to undertake long-term goals with regards to their neighbors, such as the Russians.

    • alfin2101 says:

      I have my doubts about China having maintained “the world’s oldest, continuous civilization.” China has had multiple revolutions and radical changes of government, has been conquered, has broken into many pieces and reformed in multiple different combinations over and over. It has adopted new philosophies and religions, and absorbed new populations which had significant impact on China’s underlying reality.

      Many people make the same claim, often without thinking through what has actually been going on in China all these thousands of years. 😉

      • Jim says:

        It’s sort of a semantic point – what exactly counts as a “continuous civilization”? Has Egypt been a “continuous civilization” since the fourth millennium BC?

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        All of this is under the rubric of the “dynastic life cycle”. The Chinese manage to remain Chinese through all of this.

        • Jim says:

          Are the Egyptians today the “same people” as they were in 3000 BC? The Shang Dynasty ruled over only a small part of present day China. There isn’t any evidence that at the time of the Shang Dynasty the many peoples living in what is now the territory of modern China had any sense of common identity. You may be projecting a more recent sense of common “Chinese” identity onto a past in which no such common identity existed.

  2. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Some of us do expect Russia to disintegrate during the 20’s. In any bet between Russia and China, I would bet on the Chinese.

  3. This blog is great regarding energy, batteries, physics and so on.

    Under Putin’s government practically every social and economic indicator has improved in Russia (life expectancy at birth increased from 65 to 71 years between 99 and 2013, maternal mortality per 100.000 live births went from 57 in 2000 to 24 in 2014, Gross National Income per capita went from 1710 USD in 2000 to 13200 USD in 2014, all this data is from the world bank’s database

    The Russian far east has always been sparsely populated.Japan and China have always had much larger & denser populations, yet those countries attempts at colonizing-conquering Siberia have always been timid. If China isn’t even willing to interfere in the territorial integrity of Mongolia or Tayikistan, thinking that it will one day capture 3-6 million square km’s away from Russia is dellusional.

    P.S. There’s currently a bill to allocate public land for individuals & families willing to relocate in the russian far east.

    [editor’s note: This comment has been edited ]

    • alfin2101 says:

      If you had been reading this blog, you would have known that we covered the 1 hectare land offerings recently, and pointed out many ways in which it was likely to backfire — just as previous efforts to do exactly the same thing have backfired very badly.

      Contrary to your claim, Russian Siberia is still losing its ethnic Russian population at a significant rate — both through natural losses and by emigration. Read through the “Russia” posts with an open mind, and you will find ample documentation for this trend.

      Statistics can easily be made to lie. Certainly Putin’s inner circle has grown richer — which distorts certain national statistics of wealth. But the trends have taken a decidedly downward turn since Putin’s irrational invasions of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Things are looking grim, and only clever propaganda can raise the sun over Russia these days — and that only for those foolish enough to believe it.

      Be careful how seriously you take Kremlin propaganda. Read between the lines of official statistics to the demonstrable and supportable data that undergirds the “real parameters.” Until then, Russophiles will only be myna birds chirping the official Kremlin line.

  4. Jim says:

    In general few of the boundaries in Eastern Europe or in Central Asia are natural or stable. The borders of political entities such as the Ukraine or Poland have changed enormously over history including recent history. The existing borders in Eastern Europe were largely drawn up by Stalin at the end of WWII. What happened in what was called “Yugoslavia” shows how unstable these borders are.

    It is a mistake to think of the vast areas in the interior of the Eurasian continent as constituted by “nation-states” in the sense of recent Western European history. The whole geographic extent of Russia today is not a nation-state and neither were the former Soviet Union nor the Russian Empire but more akin to something like the Ottoman Empire. I think your maps are a little misleading in suggesting that the vast interior of Eurasia will be organized into something like nation-states in the future. Most likely this area will continue to be what it has always been – a vast sparely inhabited area that is not really under any permanent and stable authority.

    I think you place too much emphasis on Putin as an individual. You speak of him as opening a Pandora’s box by taking over the Crimea as if his not having done so would mean that present borders in Eastern Europe would be stable. Of course they never have been stable for long in the past and they certainly are not going to last in their present form for much longer. As for “losing” Karelia, I doubt that many Russians give a flying-fuck about Karelia.

    A “country” like the Ukraine is going to be unstable and highly prone to internal conflict and violence no matter what Putin does or does not do. You seem fixated about Putin as the unique source of “evil” in this area of the world. Putin is just another thuggish strongman. Americans tend to personalize everything and we figure that if we get rid of say some “bad guy” like Khadaffi or however you spell it that a place like Libya will become “normal” as we think of a normal Western type nation-state. If anybody manages to get control over all of Libya in the future that individual will be just as big a son-of-a-bitch as Khadaffi. Until then the chaos in Libya is great for jihadist groups.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Yes, that is an interesting point about the lack of control of borders within much (most) of Asia. A lot of smuggling is done more easily that way.

      Most of the articles about Russian decline on this blog consist of excerpts from published articles from outside sources with brief comments by the blog writer. The maps also come from published articles from outside sources. I try to source images to the original material.

      You may wish to re-read the article above to understand exactly with whom it is you are arguing, on specific points.

      you have clearly read much of the article, unlike some who instinctively comment on an article’s topic without bothering to read the article’s content.

      Russia could gain a lot of good will by giving Karelia back to Finland, Konisberg back to Germany, the Kurils back to Japan, and the stolen lands back to China.

      Right now, inside Putin’s Russia, it is all about the “empire” vs. the world. The vodka-swilling rednecks of Russia (those who support Putin by heart rather than merely by word) do not intend to give anything back, and would like nothing better than to grab the Baltic states, Moldova, and more more more.

      Unfortunately for them, Russia’s essence is fading — more quickly since Putin, of course. Seen beneath the Potemkin facade, Russia is more the mangy dog than any sort of bear.

  5. brian h. says:

    Ridiculous, why would anyone try to invade a country with a nuclear triad for something as worthless as siberia. Lousy climate, bad soil, permafrost everywhere. Some minerals sure, but why risk a nuclear war to save some money on bauxite.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Now don’t you feel silly, Brian, writing a comment on an article that you did not bother to read? The article was about the disintegration of Russia from within, not about a military invasion by China. Of course, China is undeniably involved in a stealth invasion of Russia, which Putin is abetting and aiding generously. But that is quite different from what you appear to be protesting.

  6. bob sykes says:

    If the current hiatus were to end, and global warming started up again, the vast empty spaces of Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Scandanavia, Greenland might become viable territories for agriculture and cities. That would radically change international relations. A frozen Siberia or Canada is not worth the effort or risk of annexation, but wheat fields and pastures would change that.

    Moreover, there are separatist movements in every country, including the US, but most are presently very small. But the ever-growing alienation of the mass of people in every country from their Ruling Classes also might change things. A Ruling Class might be overthrown or the mask of democracy might be taken off and the clubs be wielded.

    Also, besides the obvious revanchism in many European countries, a number of countries like the US have problem neighbors that invite a military solution or outright annexation.

    No border anywhere in the world is stable. The fragmentation of Russia (which would disperse and possibly end its nuclear arsenal) could be the catalyst for a world-wide political reorganization.

    • alfin2101 says:

      These things must be done delicately, and best from within. At the same time, shadow governments and infrastructures should be built, tested, and fortified. Most of these “separatist” and “secessionist” movements are led by outright incompetents who could not build an outhouse, much less a complex society.

      Modern people are accustomed to organised society, and will find it difficult to go completely “cold turkey.”

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