Why Russia is not an empire even after annexation of Crimea and what will happen when Putin leaves. Retelling Deutsche Welle interview with German historian Martin Aust
Russia is no longer an empire. Martin Aust, a German historian, a professor of Eastern European history at the University of Bonn, and author of the book “The Shadow of the Empire – Russia since 1991” tells about it in an interview with the German edition of Deutsche Welle. The article “Putin’s Russia ‘is not an empire’ despite Crimea annexation” concerns Russia’s imperial heritage, as well as possible scenarios of events when Vladimir Putin will eventually retire.
Russia “lost” a number of territories in 1991, which were part of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, Martin Aust reminds. Therefore, in his opinion, it only preserves the imperial heritage, but it is no longer an empire.
The historian believes that Russia’s behavior in such territories as South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria differs from the situation with the Crimea, and these actions can hardly be called attempts of the Russian government to return the “lost” territories of the empire. According to him, the Russian political leadership acts instantly and improvises in each particular case.
However, speaking of Ukraine, the historian points to the strong desire of Russia since 1991 to keep it as close as possible. He recalled that most of the presidents of Ukraine pursued a policy that swing from Russia and European Union.
“But that period of Ukrainian policy definitely ended in 2014. The demarcation line that Ukraine has now drawn between itself and Russia is more pronounced than ever before. Putin has thus actually created exactly the situation that Russian government circles have always feared. He has lost Ukraine for good.”.
However, having lost Ukraine, Putin was unable to consolidate Russia’s domestic policy, Aust says. According to him, after the first anniversary of the annexation in 2015, in Russia not much patriotic enthusiasm was observed about the annexation of the Crimea.
What will happen “after Putin”?
Aust has three predictions on the matter.
According to the first, from time to time the Russian Federation will continue to annex other regions. In this context, the future of Belarus is discussed. Every time when countries hold joint exercises and there is Russian military presence in the country, the media say that Belarus is the next candidate for joining the Russian Federation.
The opposite scenario implies an increase in economic problems and a lack of resources for policymaking, as well as the strengthening of regionalism, which will question the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
Another scenario does not connect the future of Russia with territorial issues, but consists in attempts to correct the political system in Russia. In the period after Putin, Russia is expects, first of all, a competition for power, which is difficult to imagine.
“How the group of about 100 families in Putin’s circle of power is going to find a solution that sees another person replace Putin is a mystery to me,” – the historian concludes.