Since the beginning of its formation, Russian statehood has had features that have more or less affected its stability throughout its history both in short and long term.
Such factors are:
-a national historical tradition of authoritarianism, centralized type of government that stretches back to the Mongol rule over Russia;
It was the very factor that stuck the country together, for it to be “united and undivided” throughout centuries, and instigated Russia’s continuous territorial expansion. At the same time, it impeded to a larger extent social development of Muscovia/ Russia, and periodically led it into profound social and political crises. It has caused and magnified a civilizational schism among the Russian society into two confronting groups (the elite and ordinary people – masters and muzhiks), making social and political crises in Russia extremely bloody.
Being faithful to this tradition, governing decisions in the present Russia mostly reflect the desire of a close circle of people to retain power in their hands, and therefore are brought to life without taking into account the interests of other social groups, indices of economic development etc. The dynamics of changes in federal expenditures for military purposes and social programmes over the recent years have been a striking confirmation of such tendency.
Tendency for comprehensive political centralization is, on the one hand, a result and an indicator of immature democracy, and is the factor that is significantly restricting democratic development of Russia on the other. Intentional negligence of democratic procedures by Russian leaders, not in form but in substance, creates a pseudo-democratic social environment. Imitation of democracy keeps current Russian government afloat, both with respect to internal and foreign policies, which, however, cannot last forever. Anyway, even this manifestation of pseudo-democracy lays the foundation for transformations and erosion of the authoritarian regime, especially while social and economic factors, both internal and external become more influential;
- considerable regional heterogeneity (economic, national, social and cultural, religious, etc) of the country, which alongside its vast area, contributed to disintegration centrifugal tendencies, especially at critical points in Russian history.
Besides, Russia is growing even more heterogenetic, carrying on eroding its statehood. That is natural, as multinational population and federalism hardly fit into Russian national historic tradition of authoritarianism and centralized governing. The relationship between the federal centre and subjects of the Russian Federation has been conventionally founded on a harsh authoritarian grip.
In the long term, this Russian centralized federalization model will not be capable of managing complex social and political challenges of globalization and rapid technological growth, causing emergence of a number of contradictions between the centre and the regions, as well as between the central and the local elite.
Disintegration processes are not new for the history of Muscovia/ Russia. In the 20th century, they had an ethnical colouring, and were built on roughly formulated and widely promoted national political “Imperial Outskirts” or “National Republics” projects. Therefore, taking into account mighty and mass character of the national projects they eventually gained more or less sovereign shapes: new independent states (the Baltic states, Poland, and Finland) and “national republics” (union republics and autonomies) emerged from 1917 to 1923 across the territory of the former Russian Empire, while the latter acquired/regained independence in 1990-1991.
With respect to potential disintegration tendencies that might take place among Russian republics, special attention should be paid to the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Dagestan, and the Republic of Ingushetia, then go the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, the Republic of Tatarstan, the Republic of Bashkortostan, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the Republic of Tyva, the Republic of Buryatia, the Republic of Karelia, the Kaliningrad Province. With regard to the rest of the subjects of the Russian Federation, the probability of disintegration moods is lower, though it cannot be excluded.
Economic crisis that generates serious social and political consequences is among the key factors that cause instability inside the Russian state.
It is often the case that economic problems lead to deterioration in the political stability inside a country. However, it has a different shading in Russia: the relationship between economic indices, public opinion and political processes in the country is extremely feeble. Economic challenges Russia is faced with appear to not impact on public opinion immediately, and deteriorating economic performance and standards of living hardly affect public treatment of the authorities. Accordingly, economic grievances and reducing consumption are unlikely to cause public to rise in protest in the short run. However, in the medium run, long-term stagnation, as the most likely conclusion to the ongoing economic processes in Russia, can in the end cause gradual growth and spread of protest sentiments, and subsequent increase in pressure on the government by the most politically-aware part of population.
The forecast of public moods in Russia should also take into account the mentality of the Russian people, since large-scale protests are mostly sourced by deteriorated social environment and, in particular, growing frustration caused by the gap between the reality and people’s expectations. Expectations for reviving imperial grandeur dominate the public consciousness, which has to do not with the economic might, but the sense of belonging to a great and vast empire. The current government of Russia has regularly fueled and taken advantage of these feelings, including for the purpose of cementing their popularity. Accordingly, public disappointment and frustration of expectations will boost protest sentiments, and will entail economically-motivated pressure of the Russians on the government.
In this context, it should be borne in mind that irrespective of Russia’s historical background, periods and circumstances, transformations of political culture, shifting political processes in the Russian society and geopolitical factor, decentralization attempts in Muscovia/ or Russian state or its derivatives have one more thing in common: all of them were preceded by failures on the international arena.
As of today, there are no grounds for claiming success of Russia in international politics. But propaganda which gives an illusion of success proves efficient only inside the country. At the same time, another failure in international politics, in particular with regard to Russian aggression against Ukraine, confrontation with the West on the whole, or with regard to Syria, could inflict a powerful psychological blow on popular imperial sentiments, accompanied by severe internal political consequences.
In addition to economic difficulties, social and political tensions, and foreign policy defeats, disintegration sentiments can be stirred up by decreased influence of the federal centre and its not so efficient functioning; sharpening contradictions between the interests of the federal and regional elite; raised awareness among certain national groups being part of the Russian Federation, of intentional suppression of their ethnic identity; as well as strengthened aggressiveness in the society, that is largely encouraged by the state etc.
It is rather difficult to predict which catalysts and under which circumstances will play a decisive role in enhancing disintegration tendencies. And it is not only because of a different logic prevailing in the Russian public consciousness, but because each subject of the Russian Federation responds to abovementioned and other factors differently. Therefore, given the abovementioned arguments, protest moods and sentiments can considerably differ from region to region, both in terms of format and duration.
While analyzing and assessing the probability of disintegration tendencies and protest moods in the Russian society, it is important to take into consideration measures undertaken by the government in an attempt to prevent and neutralize them. There are plenty of them. These are ideological, information, psychological, legal, financial, personnel, judicial, suppressive, repressive, terrorist and other tools. As of today, these means have proved efficient, but not for hundred percent. In general, the present system of restraint of centrifugal tendencies is stronger than the disintegration factors in Russia.
Among other factors influencing Russian statehood stability are its reforms. Political forces realize the necessity of reforms, and the struggle among groups with alternative views on the directions for reforming, as well as worsening social and economic situation inside the country boost chances for reformation.
At the same time, the effects of such reforms are likely to prove otherwise than expectations, and become destabilizing.
First, Russian imitation of democracy can result in nothing but imitation of reforms. Therefore, it will be a great loss of resources and time. Besides, the society will suffer further decline in standards of living, and, as a result, lose respect for the government etc.
Second, introduction of real, even decorative reforms in the country may lead to unexpected and unpredictable outcome, up to the breakup of the country (it is presumed to be a “soft” effect judging by the Perestroika period). But, looking back at the USSR experience, the government is would do their best not to let this lesson of history repeat whatever the situation might be.