ISSN 2330-717X

Russia’s Imperial Nature And Continued Partial Decay Are Country’s Real Problems – OpEd


Other empires have come to an end, but Russia’s has experienced a different and more tragic trajectory, Vadim Zaydman says. It has periodically fallen apart – twice in the 20th century alone — but then has partially reconstituted itself only to set the stage for its falling apart more completely in the next round.

“In 1991,” the Moscow commentator continues, Russians “mistakenly decided that the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the destruction of communism was the final and irreversible collapse of evil, an exit from darkness into the light and from slavery into freedom” (

But it turned out to be too soon to be happy with that outcome, Zaydman continues. Once again, “this was not the final disintegration but only a partial disintegration. [And] it turned out that the chief evil was not in communism but in the imperial essence of the Russian state” regardless of the livery in which it decked itself out.

As a result, after a brief interval and claiming to feel “phantom wounds,” the empire began to try to reassert itself; but it could do so only in part and by so doing could not fail to restart yet another semi-disintegration that would leave the country ever small, just as 1917 and 1991 did.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s ruler today, “is an outstanding 19th century politicians” who is trying to preserve the Russian Empire in the 21st, an effort doomed to failure however much bluff and bluster he brings to the attempt and one that has no more genuine vitality than “an exhibit in a museum.”

This cycle of partial disintegration followed by partial reconquest will continue, Zaydman says, until the Russian people and its rulers finally recognize that “the imperial essence” of the Russian state “is the chief centuries-long curse of Russia and its Achilles’ heel” and until they see that each new iteration of this process is ever less an empire and ever more a parody of one.

“The more parody-like this becomes, the commentator continues, the more people will experience these phantom pains until from the former greatness of the past will remain only the Muscovite principality, from which, in fact, all this began.”

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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] .

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