By Paul Goble
Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s former chief ideologist, has published a new programmatic article in which he argues that the solution to Russia’s domestic malaise lies in imperial expansion. Indeed, he says, Russia must expand territorially or die (actualcomment.ru/kuda-delsya-khaos-raspakovka-stabilnosti-2111201336.html).
Many Russian commentators have suggested that his analysis of the domestic situation in Russia remains thoughtful and worthy of attention, but they have reacted with horror to his notion that a new round of imperial expansion will do anything to solve these problems. Indeed, they argue that the medicine he proposes to use will only make the disease more serious.
Among the most thoughtful of these critics is Mikhail Rostovsky, the political observer for Moskovsky komsomolets. He praises Surkov for his description of Russia’s current situation but recoils in horror from his prescription (mk.ru/politics/2021/11/21/imperskie-igry-surkova-byvshiy-soratnik-putina-propisal-rossii-opasnoe-lekarstvo.html).
According to Surkov, “the means of resolving the domestic political problems of Russia is imperial expansion beyond our borders: ‘Social entropy is very toxic,’” and therefore, “’for Russia, constant expansion is not simply one of the ideas but a genuine existential reality of our historical existence.”
The former Kremlin ideologist simply doesn’t understand that “the citizens of the Russian Federation today are in a poor position not because they aren’t animated by ‘imperial instincts’ but because the powers are not doing anything to satisfy their needs.” They suffer from covid, from low and declining incomes, and from demographic decline.
How on earth will the imperial prescription Surkov offers do anything to solve these problems? It may distract attention, but if anything, it will make the current domestic situation of Russia even worse, Rostovsky says. Surkov might recognize that fact if he were to visit one of the dying Russian villages. They won’t be saved by any imperial advance.
“One of the main causes of the collapse of the USSR was that Russia became tired of playing the role of donor,” the Moskovsky komsomolets observer says. “Russia doesn’t need ‘expansion;’ it needs to master its own territory.” Indeed, Putin was most successful in the first eight years of his rule when he did just that.
To those who think that the annexation of Crimea shows otherwise, Rostovsky argues that “Crimea is the exception that proves the rule.” It shows how rarely expansion can boost things at home, not how often. Crimea was and remains a special case; the Donbass is nothing like it at all, and seeking to absorb it won’t help Russia but harm it further.