Russia: An Identity Crisis Recent years have triggered a rush of attention in the fate of empires. That is to say the attention has been in an interest in their rise, decline, and fall. Much of the writing on this subject has been intended to serve as assurance, or interchangeably, warning to the current leading power, the United States. This is reasonable. Considerably less attention is paid to what happens subsequently. We overlook the study of what happens when the decline and fall of the empire is accomplished, and the empire ceases to exist. Russia no longer remains as an empire, and it is never going to be an empire again.
Nevertheless many features set up in the imperial era are still detected in modernity. Russia is not simply “lost in transition” but it is also in translation. The actual situation playing out in Russia is historical transformation. This takes much longer and it has no immediately recognizable end. Dissimilar to all the other affiliates of the Soviet bloc or former states of the Soviet Union, the country of Russia has had to live and deal with its imperial heritage, and this element has weighed deeply in the country’s failure to accept integration into the West.
Focused chiefly on itself, and attempting to avoid being lead or dominated by any other countries, Russia is determined to rebuild itself as a great power. It trusts it has enough resources to act an important role as a counterbalance in world politics, a swing state upsetting the international balance (Brown 59). Whether this desire has any substance depends on how effectively the nation reforms its economy and institutions. But whatever happens, whether Russia does in the end modernize or not, there will be no new manifestation of its bygone empire.
The Russia of today is in the state of being a post-empire rather than a neo-imperial one (Gorenburg 27). All empires do rise and eventually fall. When an empire falls, they occasionally join with stronger powers, whether ex-enemies or allies. The Japanese Empire and the German Third Reich went down in utter ruin, first crushed on the battlefield and occupied, then restructured by the winning powers. England and France, though among the victorious in World War II, lost almost all of their possessions abroad within a few decades as a consequence of decolonization fter the war. Minor European imperial powers, such as the Netherlands and Portugal, led vicious colonial wars, realized that they could not win, were forced to pronounce defeat and return to their respective home countries (Acton 35). Whatever the situation might have been, these countries succeeded comparatively soon to reconstruct themselves as successful and prosperous nation-states. When the physical parting with imperial territories had transpired and trade had been diverted or diversified, imperial nostalgia eventually waned. What was left was cultural influence.
The British Empire produced numerous societies, which now constitute the English-speaking part of the Western world. Even countries as varied as South Africa and India have taken from their former colonial power its legal system, language, and basic values of government (Acton 49-50). Adjoining empires were more challenging to break up. But separation when it did finally occur was more complete. For many decades after 1923 Turkey experienced a very limited global role, above all in its former imperial territories. Similarly, after 1945 West Germany experienced a limited global role.
Spain, having lost its colonies in America in the nineteenth century, had to endure in comparative obscurity, basically up to the moment it unified with the rest of Europe by way of membership in the EU in 1986 and NATO in 1982 (Acton 142). Decades after the collapse of their empires, some of these nations rose up to become powers in their region such as Turkey. Or they materialized as the leader of a united Europe such as Germany or put together an informal role for themselves as a guide in the Balkans and along the river Danube, this being Austria.
The imperial attitude of the respective powers, when demolished, resumed later in a redirected form of responsibility, arbitration, and leadership. In all these situations, however, the length of time between empire and post-empire was long, and throughout that time the nation-states redeveloped and matured (Chronology of Russia). Russia, which by the 1980s had constructed an enormous formal and informal empire, is a rare condition of a recognized imperial state having neither disappeared nor redeveloped itself as a nation-state.
Nevertheless, in putting forth claims to a regional base and international interests, it is not allowing the type of revanchism that in the 1920s and 1930s, ruined post-Versailles Europe. No longer is Russia an aspirant to global supremacy and remaining within its contracted borders, Russia is seeking to institute itself in the topmost echelon of the world’s foremost powers and as the prevailing power in its region (Chronology of Russia). Simultaneously, it is struggling to remain a viable country. This is an undertaking almost never before attempted in modern history.
Whether or not the undertaking succeeds is an important question, and a decisive one. The USSR departed swiftly away in 1991. In the 2000s we saw the fading of the former Soviet Union as a convenient concept. The indicators of this process involve Ukraine’s Orange Revolution one in 2004, the Russo-Georgian war and its repercussions in 2008 and the recent public fight between Belarus and Russia in 2010. It is a possibly that importantly thinking about the former empire is retreating from the Russian mind (Acton 97).
Nowadays throughout that region, new generations of people with no direct experience of the former Soviet Union have arrived in an industrious and productive age. Old connections between the former Soviet republics have worn, and fresh ones presenting post-imperial actualities have arose (Gorenburg 27). People born after 1985 find it difficult to truly understand the fact that countries as diverse as Turkmenistan and Latvia used to be part of the same empire state. Instead of the Soviet Union, three new regions have developed. One the regions can be entitled New Eastern Europe, comprised of Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine.
The second region is the South Caucasus. This includes Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and the splinter territories of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Lastly, we have Central Asia, containing Kazakhstan, and four states that used to be called in Soviet times, Middle Asia (Chronology of Russia). The interests of Russia in this region are genuine, and its cultural influence continues to be significant and potentially dangerous. Russia’s existing area of direct influence goes out only to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The union between Belarus and Russia, publicized in 1999, has long looked unattainable and is now realized as never going to happen. However a trade union among the countries of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan is a realistic proposition that, in the future, could be the foundation of economic assimilation, but not an area of influence for Russia (Chronology of Russia). Meanwhile, though Russia is no longer reluctant about using its power when dealing with smaller countries on its boundary, looking for advantage is not the same as pursuing annexation.
As for Russia today, it did not have resurgence as a nation-state, like republican Turkey or postwar democratic Germany. It did not contract to a minor fragment, a token of a past imperial glory. It organized the Commonwealth of Independent States, which has nothing in common with the Commonwealth of Nations but for the term itself. It has encouraged a notion of a community of people who speak Russian (Gorenburg 25). Nonetheless it is essentially an agenda to remain a great power as it was before. However Russia is unable to be too great of a power, though.
Russia can no longer have the aspiration to play a major political role in Europe, which is now unified through the EU. And it can’t hope to do this in Asia either, where the two powers are India and China. It is surely not looking for any significant role in the Middle East (Gorenburg 25-26). The Russian Federation today occupies all the land between China and the EU. But its critical demographic difficulties, including a disastrous rate of mortality, does not help the idea of a continuous projection of power. It has just two percent of the global GDP; Russia is by its own standards not at the top of the global hierarchy.
Since the statisticians at World Bank eliminated the category of transition economies, Russia has now officially joined the category of developing countries (Chronology of Russia). Since the Soviet Union’s fall twenty years ago, imperial renewal has never been seriously deliberated by the leaders of Russia, nor wanted by the Russian people. Instead, Russia has gone the opposite way. Previous expansion in the country has come now to introspection, and grand and imposing public schemes have given way to the private agendas of thousands of wealthy influential people.
Nonetheless, the idea that Russia is basically finished as a country to be seriously dealt with is still to be tested and might eventually be found to be premature (Chronology of Russia). It is useful to remember that post-WWII Germany did not upswing because it had great and friendly allies, who were also its occupiers, but mostly because of its economic miracle produced by the German people themselves. It was Germany’s assimilation into world markets that brought about its economic recovery. It will not be until Russia replicates that economic miracle in some way that it will truly recover and become a great power.
Russia’s attempts to accomplish modernization through alliances will only have an incomplete impact (Brown 311-314). At this point in time, the future looks hazy. Russia is not an empire, but it is not a nation-state either. Put in another way, it has yet to develop into a republic. If Russians are to unite as one empire, they must first agree on the rules of their union and agree to abide by them. While the private inclinations of the people is yet still dominant in Russia, almost completely overriding the public ideals, there are signs that this national detachment from fellow Russians may soon be coming to a close.
The idea of individual success and survival permitted the more active members of Russian society to augment and prosper. Nevertheless some of them are starting to realize that their private agendas may not be achieved in the future due to the fact that constraints have been imposed by an inflexibly outdated system. The system is stronger than any individual and so individuals in Russia need to come together and unite. They must now go public in order to attain their individual aims (Brown 114-116). It is significant to note that there is an interesting parallel Russia has with its citizens.
Russia as an individual unit, an international actor, is also living for its own private aims. There is no national goal or ideology, no real set of values, but a strong sense of pragmatism. The motto in Russia is simple. It is to succeed, and to survive, using any means open. This pragmatism permits no space for the building of an empire. The leaders of Russian have unofficially agreed among each other. There will be no more capacious ideological nonsense, no more self-sacrifice; and no more subsidies for others. The former Soviet Union acted internationally as a arge spender. Now, the Russian Federation is relentlessly on the lookout for ways to make money (March 354-356). For now, Russia is both pre-modern and, in some other ways, a postmodern nation. What seems to be missing is that modern element. Russia’s present modernization is largely motivated by the leadership’s concerns over its role internationally (March 312-313). But modernization, which necessitates prevalent liberalization and ultimately an actual democracy, challenges the Russian state and Russian society both with some serious confrontations.
The failure of Russia to modernize would almost surely lead to marginalization, deterioration, and decay. The model of success in the 2000s established on an ever-rising price of oil prices has exposed itself as unmaintainable (Aslund and Olcott 262). However by reforming things in earnest, Russia’s leaders are confronted with a difficult dilemma, for by doing this they risk losing property, control, and power. Russian leaders may wish to be Peter the Great, a great reformer of the eighteenth century, but are fearful of ending up like Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader who pursued modernization far to quickly and with disastrous results.
So instead they follow the path of Leonid Brezhnev, a leader who brought about major economic stagnation in Russia (March 182). The result of the present actions today will come sometime during the current decade when the critical failure of modernization as presently practiced and conceived will be clear to all. Russia will never be an empire again. To be regarded as a major power in the twenty-first century, it must become a great country first, most of all it must be for its own people. Work Cited March, Luke.
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