USSR Fell Apart Precisely Because Russians Are Tired Of Sacrificing For Imperial Goals – OpEd


“The main lesson of 1991,” a lesson that almost no one from the Kremlin to the radical left wants to learn or even acknowledge, is that “the Russian people are tired” of being called upon to make sacrifices for some larger project and want to life their own lives and create their own happiness without such sacrifices, Aleksandr Tsipko says.

There is no reason to think, the senior Soviet/Russian commentator says, that the Russian people now want to assume new burdens in the name of reassembling the Soviet Union or uniting a Russian world. Just the reverse, in fact, however much some leaders inside and out of the Russian government say otherwise (

“The Belovezhkaya accords,” Tsipko argues, “led to an unexpected discovery: it turned out that no one needed the USSR. Even the CPSU which aspired to the role of the patriotic Russian party voted for them and thus for the disintegration of the USSR.” Thus, the USSR died because it couldn’t solve the material problems of the population.

“But the most important thing that became clear was that over the course of 74 years of the communist experiment, we did not create a single economic or political institution which was needed by a democratic market-oriented Russia.” And it also became clear that there had never been any “voluntary union of peoples” despite what Moscow said. 

In recent years, it has become obvious that this “truth about 1991 isn’t useful for our present-day politicians,” not only because Russians don’t like to hear the truth about themselves but because of an essential laziness of thought and a belief that there is some heroic effort that can be made that will solve everything and that after that no one will have to work.

The government and the left want a return to that heroic leap, but they are hardly the only ones who don’t want to face up to the truth of 1991. The liberal opposition doesn’t either because it is committed to the idea that Russians are even today inherently imperialists, despite the fact that 1991 demonstrates the exact opposite.

“The Soviet man of 1991 did not have any imperial syndrome,” Tsipko says; “he did not need an empire that left him with shortages and forced him to live with empty store shelves. And therefore, the population of the RSFSR and above all the Muscovites followed those who said it was time to stop feeding Ukraine and the Caucasus.”

That makes a nonsense of claims that Russia lives as long as it can expand its territory. In fact, Tsipko argues, “an imperial consciousness in the precise sense of the word could not appear in Russia because our empire lacked many of the features which characterize a classic empire and because in our country, the Russians in the metropolis weren’t its masters but its slaves.”

Indeed, the commentator continues, “an imperial syndrome could not appear in our country because there was no core of the imperial syndrome, national consciousness in the strict sense of the word.” Anti-Bolshevik leader Anton Denikin was right when he said that “only a Russian peasant deprived of national consciousness could the Bolsheviks seduce.”

Today, “Putin says that in 1991, the Russian world was thrown up in various directions, but the truth is that it was the Russians themselves who threw off the Russian world.” And that raises the question: “if the Russian people didn’t have a consciousness of the Russian world in 1991, then where did it come from 30 years after the disintegration of the USSR?”

“I do not believe,” Tsipko says, “that the value of empire is so deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Russian that it forces him to forget about his main problems: Russian poverty, an underdeveloped healthcare system and how we can live without an image of the future.”

He continues: “the idea of an all-powerful empire is so abstract that it cannot replace the desire of the Russian to find out what will be tomorrow with his pay, the prices for the products he needs, and so on.” Indeed, talk about a new empire is a way of trying to get Russians not to think about these things.

“It seems to me,” Tsipko says, “that people forget about 1991 in order not to remember about those problems which led to the disintegration of the USSR and which have not been resolved up to now. Therefore, one should not raise the question about the rebirth of Russia in the borders of the USSR.”

“It is very important to remember that there never was a voluntary unification of the Great Russians, the Little Russians, and the Belarusians. The Russian Empire united them. The consciousness of the Russian world as something valuable with historical advantages never existed among” any of these three peoples.

Thirty-years ago, Tsipko says, “we were not able to preserve a country although for this there were all the necessary conditions except one: the West didn’t help Gorbachev solve the problem of empty shelves in 1991,” even though the West itself was divided on whether to do that and whether to back the disintegration of the USSR.

The Russian commentator says that despite all this and despite current tensions, he remains an optimist and “doesn’t think that the current conflict between the so-called Anglo-Saxons and the Russians is something that will last forever or that the current hostility between the Western world and the Russian Federation will be preserved for all time either.”

But for that day to come as soon as possible, Russians of all stripes need to learn and apply the lessons of 1991 and above all see that the Russian people, unlike some of their leaders, aren’t interested in bearing the burdens of any new imperial system. They want to live their own lives and have them improve as much as possible.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

2 thoughts on “USSR Fell Apart Precisely Because Russians Are Tired Of Sacrificing For Imperial Goals – OpEd

  • April 1, 2023 at 5:04 pm

    I agree with your assessment. In hind sight, had the world joined together in a form of the Marshal Plan to help the USSR transition into a capitalest system, we might have seen the birth of a productive society, which could have even enfluenced the development of current China toward a more benevolent country.

  • April 2, 2023 at 9:41 pm

    Russia itself should be torn apart, into many smaller states so that it can never again threaten it’s neighbors


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