From the Putinist triumph to the war of all against all. Five scenarios for Russia’s future

28 March, 03:11 PM
Kremlin (Photo:REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)

Kremlin (Photo:REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)

The emphasis on the future of Russia is made solely because of the relevance of this topic and the dialogue around it for Ukrainian allies, in particular because of the nuclear status of the Russian Federation

A realistic analysis of the events and course of the Russian-Ukrainian war since 2014, and especially after the full-scale Russian invasion of 2022, forces us to admit that the Russian leadership, with the almost total support and non-resistance of the Russians, went all-in and challenged the entire civilized world — first of all it regarding Ukraine and the global West. Obviously, this war makes the status quo impossible and gives rise to a whole series of, specifically, the most improbable future scenarios.

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An attempt at any political forecasting of events regarding the security of the entire European region will inevitably lead to at least two pragmatic questions: How can this war end? and what will happen after that to Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the rest of the world?

From a retrospective review of similar conflicts in the 20th century, the first of these questions has at least five possible answers that do not require much explanation. So, the war can have one of the following endings: 1) military victory of Ukraine and its allies over the Russian Federation; 2) protracted multi-year confrontation without a clear winner; 3) military victory of the Russian Federation over Ukraine and its allies; 4) Putin's involuntary loss of power while partially retaining control of the country (palace coup or sudden death); 5) mass revolt or revolution in Russia without preserving the leadership of the country.

It is not necessary that one of the options for the end of the war (the ending) will lead to one or another variation of the future of Russia (the scenario), but obviously the probability of a positive scenario for the future increases under the conditions of the positive realization of the ending of the war. The same correlation is true for negative scenarios. At the same time, I call scenarios and endings as "positive" here, which are such from the point of view of compliance with international law and ethics, where the understanding of the term "justice" stems not only from political or subjectively pragmatic attitudes, but from a certain universalist paradigm of understanding good and evil, a recognition of the higher value of human rights and dignity, which is largely based on the experience and culture of societies dominated by Abrahamic religions.

Belarus will be finally absorbed by Russia

Separately, I’ll note that the emphasis on the future of Russia is made solely because of the relevance of this topic and the dialogue around it for Ukrainian allies, particularly because of the nuclear status of the Russian Federation. It does not mean that the future of Muscovy is more important compared to the future of other countries in the region, primarily Ukraine.

What future awaits Russia (scenarios)?

1.  Rooting or triumph of Putinism and "Russian peace".

This scenario will mean either the preservation of the regime in Russia and the imitation of invincibility and impunity of Russian imperialism in the context of a prolonged war (end 2) or a military victory for the Russian Federation and the destruction of independent Ukraine (end 3). The latter will lead to a complete fiasco in the system of international law, the final compromise for the UN and other international institutions. It will inevitably lead not only to the avoidance of just punishment for the Russians who committed war crimes in Ukraine, but also to the continuation of their genocide against Ukrainians, which they have launched on a large scale since February 2022.

Putin will triumph (the acme of Putinism) and, together with his allies, will switch to the formation of a new global order. Most likely, immediately after the fall of Ukraine, Russian troops will invade a number of neighboring countries before halting the offensive to build up their forces. Then they will try to temporarily normalize relations with the world (exclusively for the purpose of preparing for further expansion). Under such a configuration, the Baltic states, Poland, Moldova, Finland, Georgia and a number of other Central Asian countries will be in critical danger. Belarus will be finally absorbed by Russia.

In the Russian domestic political dimension, this will lead to the ideological homogenization of society, the final destruction of any opposition and triumphant authoritarianism. Even with the next change of the head of the Russian Federation, it will continue to develop according to the imperial chauvinistic scenario of the expansion of the "Russian peace". Regardless of the name of the next lord of the Kremlin, Putinism version 2.0 will remain in Russia, because there will simply be no social forces that can change the internal political order. The European Union and the United States will have an outspoken and even more powerful enemy that will not be afraid to use military force against EU and NATO countries under the guise of nuclear blackmail and a feeling of impunity for past crimes.

2.  A true federation with the deputization of the Russian Federation.

This scenario is possible, to the greatest extent, under the conditions of Ukraine's military victory and the collapse of Putin's system. It can be implemented both as a result of a change of power in Russia by its own forces (endings 4, 5), and with the help of the introduction of an international contingent into the Russian Federation to arrest war criminals and guarantee the restoration of the rights and freedoms of Russians, the release of political prisoners with the aim holding a further referendum on the fate of the federation and free elections (development of ending  1).

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As a result, Russia will abandon excessive centralization of power, limit the power of the president and federal-level bodies, guarantee the full political, economic and cultural rights of the regions, ensure a balanced and fair distribution of profits from the export of natural resources, and eventually turn into a consensus state with powerful bodies of representative democracy.

Underthis scenario, a program to overcome the consequences of Putinism in Russia itself should be implemented with compensation for the damage caused to Ukrainians and other victims of Putin's imperial policy (both in economic and cultural and political dimensions), as well as appropriate public apologies and recognition of personal and collective guilt of Russians. Thanks to democratization, a balanced distribution of power, the establishment of a parity dialogue with other countries of the world, and increased control of government by society, the armed forces will be minimized and parliamentary and public control over nuclear, chemical, and other types of weapons will be strengthened (under the conditions of their preservation by Russia). International treaties aimed at reducing the number of offensive nuclear weapons and increasing control over the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will also be restored.

3.  Parade of sovereignties.

As a result of war exhaustion (ending 2) and/or the military defeat or removal of Putin from power, and/or his ideological successor, (endings 1, 4, 5), a situation may arise in which for a certain time there will be no strong central government in Russia, but at the same time, there will be a lack of political authority in the opposition and/or the level of development of political culture among Russians to restart a fair project of the federation.

Under these conditions, the nominal and real regional leaders of the subjects of the federation, under the pressure of economic problems, the shame of the war crimes of Putinism and the catastrophic minimization of the rights of communities in Russia, will begin a decisive and radical struggle for the independence of their republics and other subjects of the federation, while maintaining their controlled part of the resources and military infrastructure of the Russian Federation. With the mediation of the UN and global players, an international platform will be created for the civilized disintegration of the Russian Federation and the adoption of relevant legal acts that guarantee the preservation of peace and partnership between the former subjects of the federation.

A separate issue will be the reformatting of economic clusters, the control of weapons of mass destruction, as well as joint responsibility for overcoming the consequences of Putinism and paying compensation for the damage caused to Ukrainians and other victims of Putin's imperial policy (both in the economic and cultural and political dimensions) with appropriate public apologies and the recognition of the personal and collective guilt of former Russians.

4.  Russian war of all against all.

The scenario can appear as a result of a power struggle due to the flight of the Russian leadership, Putin’s death, his successor and/or a rebellion or a palace coup (endings 1, 4, 5) and the refusal of Ukraine and the international coalition to stabilize the situation in Russia, as well as a failure of the two previously described scenarios (federation restart and/or its civilized disintegration). It involves a confrontation between the power structures and political groups of the Russian Federation among themselves and/or between representatives of regional groups who will either want full control over the federation, or will fight for/against the independence of individual subjects of the federation.

As a result of this confrontation, there will be protracted conflicts and uncontrolled circulation and use of weapons. There will be a Somaliazation of Russia, with the emergence of warring gangs, enclaves and groups with different interests and no common agenda, but on the scale of a country of 140 million. The situation will be exacerbated by the fact that some groups may gain access and control over weapons of mass destruction, if responsible control over them is not previously established by the UN or representatives of other countries, with subsequent transfer to effective international control.

In such a situation, not only will the general Russian political entity be lost, but stable smaller-scale political entities will also not emerge, and Russia itself will turn into a zone of instability, smuggling and international crime the size of 1/6 of the globe, creating problems for everyone  and its neighbors — from China to Ukraine and the EU. In addition, this situation may lead to an attempt by one of the strong global or regional players to occupy part of the territory of the Russian Federation and/or seize or appropriate its valuable resources, technologies or weapons.

5.  Totalitarian "federation".

In almost any ending, except for the military victory of Ukraine and the international coalition (ending 1), there remains a fairly high probability of a gradual or rapid transformation of the Russian Federation into a completely totalitarian state. Now there is every reason to believe that Russia is an authoritarian country that is trying to implement an imperial project of the fascist type ("Russian peace", rascism) and will eventually establish complete control over its citizens, their personal lives, economic relations and worldview, and will eliminate any effective democratic institutions or tools for the protection of human rights.

Success in the war with Ukraine and its international allies will certainly speed up this process and give it social legitimacy in the Russian Federation, however, defeat without an active intervention of the international community may lead to decadent conservation and isolation of Russia too, lead to increased reactionary nature of the Russian political leadership, and fostering revanchism.

Considering the nature of the allied relations of the modern Russian Federation with such countries as Iran, Syria, North Korea and China, the probability of its choosing an undemocratic scenario of existence (an extensive, militaristic totalitarian state headed by a leader for life) remains quite high, therefore, it will not turn into a danger zone due to instability , as in the previous scenario, but a systematic and organized source of danger to the civilized world, democracy and human rights. In addition, the probability of the formation of a new "axis of evil" is quite high, where militarily powerful countries that possess nuclear weapons, but who have completely thrown out human rights and democracy, will try to impose their model of life and system on the world through blackmail and threats.

The proposed options for the development of events are not exhaustive and fully substantiated, but rather a sketchy consideration and an invitation for further discussion about the future of the region, in particular, based on the analysis of historical precedents of the 20th century. I am convinced that in order to predict and program the political future of Eastern Europe, taking into account Ukrainian national interests, as many Ukrainian authors as possible should participate in this process and actively promote a critical review of various options of the post-war system in universities, think tanks and relevant mass media of allied countries.

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