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Could Russia collapse? Why defeat in Ukraine could make the Kremlin’s edifice crumble & More Trending News


Matthew Sussex is a fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

ANALYSIS: Among the many questions requested about Russia’s disastrous conflict in opposition to Ukraine, one among them is posed solely very not often: can Russia survive what appears more and more more likely to be a humiliating defeat at the palms of its smaller neighbour?

On the face of it, the prospect appears nearly absurd. Vladimir Putin might have been weakened by a trio of essential miscalculations – about Russian army energy, Ukrainian resolve, and Western unity – however there’s no proof but that he’s on the verge of shedding his grip on energy, a lot much less the Russian state imploding.

There have been few important demonstrations on the streets to protest in opposition to the conflict, in opposition to Putin’s management, and even in opposition to the mobilisation of conscripts.

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Those with the wherewithal to go away Russia for worry of getting drafted have already fled. And whereas there are more likely to be important financial shocks as Western sanctions start to chunk, some artistic fiscal administration by Moscow has dampened their affect up to now.

Indeed, by rattling the nuclear sabre ever louder amid blatant false flags about Ukrainian “dirty bombs”, the picture Putin seeks to venture is one among energy, not fragility.

Cognitive biases amongst Western commentators may play a job when making judgements about authoritarian states like Russia, main us to see weak spot when in truth it’s absent. After all, no person significantly thought the United States would disintegrate after its ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter.

Can Russia survive what seems increasingly likely to be a humiliating defeat at the hands of its smaller neighbour?

Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Can Russia survive what appears more and more more likely to be a humiliating defeat at the palms of its smaller neighbour?

But there are three good explanation why we should always not low cost the risk that defeat in Ukraine may make the Kremlin’s edifice crumble, leaving Russia troublesome to manipulate in its entirety, or no less than its current kind.

1. It has occurred earlier than

First and most blatant – it has occurred earlier than. And in an historic sense, it has occurred comparatively just lately, with the collapse of the USSR in 1991 rightly thought of a seismic occasion in world politics.

The rub is that no person predicted the finish of the USSR both.

In truth, it was confidently assumed in the West that Mikhail Gorbachev would go on ruling the Soviet Union, till the hardline coup that didn’t topple him (however left him mortally wounded in a political sense) made that view clearly redundant.

It was confidently assumed in the West that Mikhail Gorbachev would go on ruling the Soviet Union.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

It was confidently assumed in the West that Mikhail Gorbachev would go on ruling the Soviet Union.

2. Lack of viable alternate options to Putin

Second, the distribution of political energy in Russia means there are not any viable different solutions past Putin.

Part of that is deliberate: Putin has constructed the state in his personal picture, making himself inseparable from any main query about Russian society and statehood.

Eschewing an imperial title, however appearing in accordance with its precepts, Putin is Russia’s tsar in nearly every thing however title. But that additionally means there isn’t any patrilineal succession plan, nor anybody in his more and more shrinking orbit of semi-trusted courtiers who readily stands out as a substitute.


It’s troublesome to think about a successor who could command respect and wield authority to unite the competing Kremlin cliques – teams that Putin himself inspired to kind in order to make sure their weak spot and continued fealty.

Names like Sergei Kiriyenko, Nikolai Patrushev and Sergei Sobyanin are sometimes bandied round when analysts play speculative “who succeeds Putin?” video games.

But every of them have both irritated Putin, given him trigger to distrust them, or would battle to convey the completely different clans collectively.

Putin is Russia’s tsar in virtually everything but name.


Putin is Russia’s tsar in nearly every thing however title.

3. Ethnic tensions

A 3rd purpose Russia’s ongoing viability in the wake of defeat in Ukraine isn’t completely assured is that the conflict has exacerbated cracks between the privileged Russian political core and its ethnically concentrated periphery.

Part of the mythos beloved by Russia’s far proper is that Russia is the “Third Rome”, a essential nice energy that unites folks from completely different ethnic and non secular backgrounds and prevents them from combating each other.

Given the relative poverty of Russia’s minorities, it’s unsurprising they are usually over-represented in the army. We know, for example, that Russia’s army casualties have come disproportionately from Russia’s poorest ethnic teams: Dagestanis, Chechens, Ingush, Buryats and Tuvans.

We additionally know the Kremlin’s marketing campaign to draft an extra 300,000 personnel for service in Ukraine was equally focused alongside ethnic traces. That shields the residents of Moscow and St Petersburg, conserving the conflict an summary phenomenon that solely touches their lives in peripheral methods.

Russia’s military casualties have come disproportionately from Russia’s poorest ethnic groups.


Russia’s army casualties have come disproportionately from Russia’s poorest ethnic teams.

But it additionally means these on Russia’s periphery are successfully getting used as cannon fodder.

If Russia have been to fracture, the place and the way may this come about?

The North Caucuses can be the probably centre of gravity. Of the few demonstrations in opposition to the Kremlin’s army mobilisation marketing campaign, these in Dagestan have been the most seen, together with violent clashes with riot police.

But consideration is now additionally turning to Chechnya, the place makes an attempt to secede from Russia led to 2 wars: from 1994 to 1996; and from 1999 to 2009.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the outspoken Chechen chief, has been stored on a reasonably tight leash by Putin since being put in in 2007, and has been one among his most vigorous supporters. But this once more underscores the fragility of Putin as the key to conserving others in test.

Kadyrov has few associates in Moscow past the Russian president, and he has emerged as a number one critic of Russia’s army management – notably Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

On October 6 he adopted the suggestion by Kiril Stremousov, the Moscow-backed chief of occupied Kherson, that Shoigu ought to take into account suicide with the declare that General Oleksandr Lapin, a Shoigu ally, needs to be despatched to the frontlines to “wash away his shame with blood”.

Vladimir Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Vladimir Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The concern right here is that ought to Putin exit the political stage, Kadyrov can be very troublesome to manage. He has what quantities to his personal personal military (the Kadyrovtsy, who’re loyal to him and have been implicated in quite a few human rights abuses). More than that, he could be incentivised to use an influence vacuum by looking for better independence.

This is necessary as a result of Russia’s multi-ethnic make-up has not erased ethnic identities and concepts about nationhood.

History is instructive right here on two counts. One is that the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was not led to by Gorbachev, its final common secretary.

Rather, the Soviet collapse was engendered by Boris Yeltsin, then-leader of the Russian Republic – as the largest a part of the USSR – and the first president of the new Russian Federation.

More broadly, the finish of the Soviet Union took place because of simultaneous nationwide revolutions, with Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and the Central Asian former republics of the USSR all selecting self-determination moderately than persevering with to be a part of the Soviet empire.

A second historic truth is that the finish of the USSR noticed the creation of 4 new nuclear-armed states: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.

But the lesson of Ukraine in 2022 – which in 1991 was the most reluctant of the three non-Russian international locations at hand management of the nuclear weapons on its territory again to Moscow – is that it’s important to retain each instrument of energy as potential insurance coverage.

Gradually, after which abruptly

This is why, other than the human rights emergency it could symbolize, a fragmented Russia (or one in the center of a civil conflict) would put regional and international safety in a precarious place.

Even a localised breakup would inevitably be alongside ethnic traces, and probably create quite a lot of nuclear-armed aspirant statelets.

And whereas the finish of the Soviet Union actually reshaped the map of Eurasia, any modern splintering of Russian energy would probably be much more harmful, with no assure a probably bloody domino impact could be averted.

So is it speculative to speak a few future Russian collapse? Yes. Is there proof it’s imminent? No. But in many ways in which’s the drawback: when authoritarian regimes implode, they have a tendency to take action in a short time, and with little warning.

Hence in the Russian case, it’s necessary to think about all attainable eventualities, even when they could seem implausible at the second.

And, if nothing else, it’s at all times higher to be pleasantly shocked than blindsided by occasions we inconveniently determined to not foresee.

This article was initially printed on The Conversation. Read the unique article.

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