By Paul Goble
The disintegration of Russia is proceeding rapidly, US-based Russian commentator Aleksandr Nemets says, with China in effective control of much of the area beyond Lake Baikal, Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov much of the North Caucasus, and Moscow reliably in charge of the remainder (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5D3F4508C4C01).
In a provocative Kasparov commentary, he says that China is already in effective control of much of the eastern portion of Russia, “including Primorsky Kray, Khabarovsky Kray (to the south of the Uda Rivere) Amur Oblast, Chita Oblast (now Trans-Baikal Kray), Buryatia, the southern part of Irkutsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Kray.
And Nemets argues that what he calls “the Kadyrov empire” is in control not only of Chechnya but also of certain portions of Ingushetia and Daghestan. Because of the expansion of China given Russia’s growing infrastructure problems, Moscow has been forced to ally itself with Beijing; and it has farmed out control of the Caucasus to Kadyrov.
The US-based Russian commentator says that “the disintegration of the Russian Federation has advanced quite far and become irreversible. I repeat, this is the situation in July 2019. There is no doubt that the disintegration of Russia will develop further and possibly take quite ugly forms.”
That China has made inroads in the Russian Far East in part because of the decay of Russian infrastructure there is beyond question, although calling it an occupation or the already accomplished disintegration of Russia overstates things as they now are. And Kadyrov’s role in the North Caucasus while growing in many ways reflects Moscow’s own desires.
(In an equally provocative way, Israeli analyst Avraam Shmulyeivhc argues that Moscow views Kadyrov’s “Chechen totalitarianism” not as a rival but rather as a model for Russia (youtube.com/watch?v=LXYlnlpnQsw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2ssMIxqz4mzblsiFack-7O18Sb_fkmUTVDkAAlAwpfZR8HxYvhxRF_UE0).)
But Nemets is right to point to infrastructure decay as a clear threat to Moscow’s rule of much of the country. Its roads, rail lines, and air routes not only are inadequate to handle existing levels of interaction between the center and the periphery but open the way for outsiders to play a role that a country as hypercentralized as Russsia will view as threatening.
An example of the inability of Russian infrastructure to cope came this week: China has reached an agreement with Omsk Oblast, deep in the middle of Siberia, to ship grain produced there on Chinese ships via the Ob River and the Northern Sea Route to Asian markets (omskportal.ru/ru/government/News/2019/07/29/1564396003985.html and thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2019/07/ships-sail-down-great-siberian-river-deliver-shipments-grain-japan-arctic-route).
That doesn’t mean that Omsk Oblast should be added to the list of “China controlled” regions of Russia that Nemets offers. It does mean, however, that regions within the Russian Federation, including those far from the periphery, may develop new relations with the center because of the center’s failure to take care of infrastructure linking them together.
And that in turn will promote fissiparous tendencies in at least some of them even if it doesn’t mark the beginning of the end of the Russian Federation anytime soon.