Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Intriguing and perceptive observations were made by Dan of tdaxp and CKR of Whirledview in response to my "Weimar Russia" post. Here is Dan on my worry of Russia breaking apart:

"The one thing I would change is that Russia's disintegration does not have to be against our interest. So far it has been very positive.Since at least the early 1980s Moscow has been trading geopolitical power for working capital. Every step of this journey has freed nations from Moscow's grip and increased liberalization and connectivity with the "global" econony.From Eastern European countries having to raise international capital, to the fall of the Soviet Outer Empire in 1989, to the fall of the Soviet Inner Empire in 1991, to Georgia's, Moldvoa's. and Ukraine's recent realignments, we are winning. Even now, a free Ukraine is better than a Moscow-dominated Ukraine. As Russia falls the concern should be to connect the succssor states to us, not to save their connection with Moscow. "

CKR, addressed Dan's point as follows ( more on CKR 's other point later):

"The problem is, Dan, that there is one gigantic lump of state that isn't going away. Let Chechnya and a few others of what the Soviet Union called autonomous republics go, and you'll still have an enormous state with enormous natural resources and strategic placement. And some of those will never be let go, because they're surrounded by...Russia.Whether Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will turn out "free" is still open. But I suspect that you don't care, as long as they are aligned with "the West." And geography is destiny there, too. That "West" is more likely to be Europe than the US. They can't pick up and move to Kansas."

My commentary:

Dan's connectivity observations regarding what we might call the first great centrifugal wave of nationalism that rocked the Soviet empire concerned true nation-states, all of which had previous experience with political independence, however briefly and long cultural histories. Georgian and Armenian historical memory stretch back to antiquity, the Ukranians to Kievan Rus, St. Cyril and Byzantine tutelage in Chritianity and civilization. A few of the original memnbers of the Commonwealth of Independent States like Belarus, Moldova and Tadjikstan have somewhat shakier national pedigrees but all of them outshine the potential aspirants of the second centrifugal wave battering Russia, of which the Chechens are but the cutting edge.

Currently Becker and Posner are debating the viability of small states, arguing in the main that the current world economic and political climate is more receptive to the survival of small polities. I agree provided the polities come with good governance - something I have grave doubts can be achieved by numerically tiny peoples like the Ossetians, Kalmyks, Mingrelians, Abkhazians who are little more than tribes yearning for flags, dominated politically by mafiya oligarchs and ex-Communist thugs.

Perhaps a free Tartarstan can make the grade, being larger and having oil but I don't forsee a Yakut, Daghestani or Ingush state anytime soon petitioning for admittance to the WTO. They simply aren't yet playing in the same civil society league that the Lithuanians were in in 1990 and at present the retreat of Russian power from these territories today is apt to spawn a constellation of failed states - a subsaharan Africa on the Caspian.

It isn't that these peoples are not entitled to democracy and connectivity, it's that the prospects of connecting them to the West are likely to be higher in reasonably-sized economic and political units that are not awash in complete anarchy.

I will deal with CKR's identification of the failure to implement a Russian Marshall Plan in the 1990's as one cause of today's problems in another post.
I agree that microstates would be a disaster. But Russia could devolve into reasonable sized countries. While the oblasts and even the republics may not be viable (expect for Tartarstan, Kaliningrad, etc), the federal districts are.
Mark makes an excellent point that the states that seceded from the Soviet Union and are now succeeding (sorry for the pun, I couldn't resist) had some experience of self-government before the Soviet Union.

While the federal districts look large on the map, the eastern ones in particular have extremely low population and very little military capability.

One of the things that Stalin did to keep the Soviet Union together was to spread strategic facilities (weapons factories, minerals processing) across the republics, sometimes even when it didn't make sense for other reasons. (Uranium ore from Hungary processed in Uzbekistan? You bet!) Some of those facilities are falling apart, but there are others, like Mayak/Ozersk, that Moscow would not readily let go. It will take quite some time and economic improvement before this changes.

If Russia let the two eastern federal districts go, the Chinese would easily take them over. No Russian ruler would let that happen.

hey dan,

The key to state viability - and I am just throwing this out there for your consideration - may be the degree to which the territory in question represents a coherent economic subsystem.

You would need access points, preferably several, to the global market and you need to have something that will draw the outside world to you. If you have that then size may be negotiable as with Singapore.

The problem with some of the smaller, more obscure, minority groups in Russia is that many of them combine geographic isolation with scarcity of resources and nightmarish pre-modern/post-Soviet hybrid social systems.

Georgia's micro-minorities would not be able to raise the ruckus they have without Russian and other foreign help. Ditto for Russia's Muslim minorities in Daghestan and South Russia.

The key to state viability - and I am just throwing this out there for your consideration - may be the degree to which the territory in question represents a coherent economic subsystem.

I'm assuming that generally the territories are no coherent economically. Far Eastern may be, but I'd imagine the rest are tied together through internal markets and state influence.

At the same time, Russia's potential is much more than its economic data would indicate. Regions needs a new global economy, and building off its rust-and-ag-belts are not the ways forward.

For an example, in 1989 the richest parts of the Soviet Union were Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Kaliningrad. Since then the liberated Baltic states have taken off, while Kaliningrad is now on the poorest regions of Russia. The economic boost from Communism is gone, but nothing has replaced it.

The ability to survive as a state -- contiguousness, natural external lines of communication, etc -- are important if the federal disticts would become successor states. But the current size of their economies are not. Russia's economic system is so warped that it will be easier to rebuild it from scratch than build of the current foundation. Fortunately, the Russia has a highly education population, a West-oriented population, and plenty of natural resources. The successor states can strive.

But not on their current economic foundations.
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