A Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Destabilize Russia’s Political Order

The U.S. and U.K. officials and media have long been warning against the “imminent” Russian invasion of Ukraine. Whatever the likelihood of such an invasion, it raises important questions about the Russian political system and how it may be changed by the invasion.

Let’s imagine that as many have,Russia can defeat Ukraine’s army and occupy large areas of Ukraine (especially the central and southeastern regions). It is up to us to decide what to do about this part of Ukraine. The problem is not the unlikely mass Ukrainian guerrilla warfare against the Russian army. The problem is the fact that the Russian state, as it is, has little to offer Ukrainians and the rest of the world.

Whatever one thinks is lying behind the current escalation — resurgent Russian imperialism exploiting a window of opportunity, Ukraine’s alleged attempts to solve the Donbass question by force, the expansion of NATO, attempts to undermine the Nord Stream 2 (a gas pipeline connecting Germany and Russia), domestic politics in the U.S. and U.K., or any combination of the above — Russia is currently doing very little to convince us that the media campaign about the “imminent invasion” has no real grounds, aside from simply saying so.

Russia could solve some of these problems by installing a proRussian government in Ukraine. We should not assume that Russia is willing to pay the costs of a military invasion (some of which are discussed below) or that the ongoing escalation of events is part of such an effort. However, we can see that Russia seems keen to promote the belief it is capable of invading any country. This is regardless of the actual strategy of its coercive diplomatic diplomay.

Why Guerrilla War in Ukraine seems unlikely

A recent survey by a pollAccording to the survey, 33 percent of Ukrainians would be willing to fight for their city in the event of Russian intervention. Another 22 percent favor nonviolent resistance. Both figures should be considered with skepticism.

Secondly, other polls indicate that not many Ukrainians are willing to sacrifice their quality life in order to stop the Russian invasion. At the end of November, 33% of citizens were willing to sacrifice their lives for Russia. supported the imposition of martial law in response to a possible Russian military build-up along Ukraine’s borders, while 58 percent opposed it.

Second, the results of such polls only show citizens’ professed intentions, but do not predict their actual behavior. Many people tend to give answers that are socially expected from patriots and “real men” (“of course, I’ll fight, I’m not a sissy!”). According to a pollSurvey conducted April 2014. 21 percent of respondents in the southeastern regions, which are more pro-Russian than those in the western regions, indicated that they were ready to resist any invasion by Russian troops in southeastern Ukraine. Only a small fraction of these millions of people went into battle shortly after the war in Donbass began.

The Anglosphere media publications depict the Ukrainians (including womenAnd children) as prepared to fight the Russian army poorly represent the reality of most Ukrainians. Only a few people would actually fight. These would include the police and the army’s remnants, some veterans and volunteers who have fought in Donbass and right-wing radicals like the notorious Azov movement). Their resistance to Russian troops would be less strong than in Afghanistan, but not as weak like in separatist Donbass. The resistance would be strong enough to make the pro-Russian Ukraine political regime one of the most oppressive in the former USSR.

What Would Happen in Pro Russian Ukraine?

Add to that the low legitimacy of a pro-Russian government among Ukrainians. The government will be immediately under Western sanctions so it will need to be made from people who don’t have much property in West. There is little choice in the Ukrainian political class. The new government would therefore include some of the old officials who were dismissed during the Euromaidan revolution (some went to Russia, but many remained in Ukraine) as well as representatives from marginal political parties. The listRecent publication by the U.K. Foreign Office indicating a pro-Russian government hardly representsAny serious plan, but it shows what problems Russia would encounter in forming Ukraine’s loyal government.

The initially passive population would likely be subject to ever more repression and additional difficulties as a result of Western sanctions. Add to that the new government, which has very little legitimacy. The main opposition to the pro-Russian government will most likely not be armed but unarmed. Its base would be the middle classes in big cities, whose situation will likely deteriorate the most.

Moreover, Ukraine would now be in the same political space with Russia and Belarus. This would actually strengthen the opposition to these countries’ governments (instead of alienating as it did during the earlier). violentAnd nationalistProtests at Euromaidan Russia would increase the possibility of internal instability by occupying Ukraine weaken itself. The pollsRussians are unlikely to be interested in a large scale war with Ukraine.

It is unclear which social group would be benefited by the occupation or on whom the proRussian government could depend. Russia’s ability to offset the impact of sanctions and repression by improving the living standards of the tens of millions of Ukrainians is very limited. While wages and pensions have been increased in annexed Crimea, and Russia is investing heavily on the peninsula, its overall economic situation is still very poor. comparableto the most disadvantaged regions of Russia. The patronage capitalism of post Soviet Russia would not permit the mobilization and radical redistribution resources that would be required to ensure any form of social legitimacy in the hypothetical pro-Russian Ukraine.

Some U.S. officials are concernedPutin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union. They generally ignore that such a restoration would require far more than military expansion — it would require a radical transformation of contemporary Russia.

Passive Revolution?

Some left-wing authors have attempted to explainThe post-Soviet transformation was a case in passive revolution. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist made this term popular. Gramsci used it for various processes, but foremost for the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy in the 19th century from a patchwork of small states and territories under the foreign dynasties’ control. We know that it didn’t happen as a popular revolt under the hegemony and power of the progressive class, but rather through the military, diplomatic, and political actions of the Kingdom Sardinia–Piedmont. Could it be that Putin is now performing a “function of Piedmont” in the post-Soviet space, using military power to compensate for the political weakness of the patronage bourgeoisie and the left movement whose members dreamed of reuniting the Soviet Union?

There are fundamental differences. It was the passive revolution that created a modern, independent, and stronger Italy. It was a transition to bourgeois order, and then to a nation state. The revolutionary transformations were carried out “from above” to prevent the Jacobin revolutionary threat to the feudal aristocracy “from below” (as during the French Revolution).

The problem is that there is no post-Soviet passive revolution, in the sense of forced modernization under threat of a new “Jacobin” social revolution. The post-Soviet transformations continue crisisThese transformations actually started long before the collapse Soviet Union. These transformations signal stagnation and demodernization, rather than modernization. No post-Soviet maidan revolutionsThey threatened the post-Soviet ruling classes of patronage capitalists. They merely helped one group of that class to replace another.

“Civilizational” Identity Politics

The problem with Russia today is not that it is supposedly restoring the “Soviet Empire.” The problem is that Russia is trying to conduct a Great Power foreign policy but is no longer the Soviet Union.

Today’s Russia does not offer anything like the universal progressive project that once attracted Third World countries and mass movements to its side, even when fewer and fewer people believed in the Soviet Union itself, and whose modernization successes still evoke massive nostalgiaEven in countries where it had to be imposed by force (as was the case in Eastern Europe). Now Russia compensates for a lack of “soft power” appeal with the “hard power” of coercive diplomacy.

This is related to the notorious Russian “whataboutism.” When one has difficulty articulating advantages one has over their opponent, one tends to rely on the normalization of negative characteristics and actions to which one supposedly has the same “right” as everyone else in the club. This could be used to justify the annexation of Crimea because NATO had earlier bombed Yugoslavia. It also recognized Kosovo independence. This is both a symptom of the still unresolved. post-Soviet crisis of hegemony — incapacity of the ruling class for leadership in pursuing common interests with subaltern classes and other nations. For a truly hegemonic rule, it is not enough to say that “they are no better than us”. It is crucially important to convince that “we are indeed better than they are.”

After the Putin-Biden summit at Geneva, which was following the Russian-Ukrainian escalated in the spring 2021, Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, published an article criticizing the selective application of “international rules” by Western powers. According to Lavrov, the “rules” are arbitrary and established by a small circle of nations. They are not based upon international law and cannot be discussed in established platforms like the United Nations. Lavrov formulates this criticism in the language of “democracy.” He argued that the West is sensitive to violations of “internal” democracy but does not want an “external,” international democracy that would recognize the right of Russia and other non-Western powers to their own sovereignty and national ideology. He said that the West does not accept the reality of a multipolar global world. Recent joint statementSigned by Putin and Xi Jinping, it begins with essentially one argument.

What Lavrov claims here, however, is not democracy but a kind of “civilizational” identity politics. The demand for recognition of the multipolar world — in contrast to the world under Western hegemony — isn’t grounded in any positive project for the good of humankind, which Russia would represent better. Lavrov instead calls for the recognition of self-assigned representatives who appeal to civilisational identities to be recognized and treated equally on the international level, based solely on their unique identity claims.

What can Russia offer Ukraine and the world?

Putin published the famous article last summer. article on Ukrainian-Russian history and relations where he claimed that Ukrainians and Russians are “one and the same people.” In Russian and Ukrainian languages, the word “people” means both a culturally distinct ethnic group as well as a political nation. This article has been frequently cited. interpreted as Putin’s refusal to accept Ukraine’s sovereignty and justifying the invasion threat. This interpretation is misleading and simplistic. Putin suggests that Russia and Ukraine should have the same kind of relations as Germany and Austria. In Putin’s vision, Ukraine and Russia could be two states for “the same people,” allowing different versions of regional cultural identities to be expressed and to peacefully coexist, albeit separately due to complicated historical developments.

However, this is not the only possible model of two states for “one and the same people” and perhaps not even the most obvious one for Putin himself, considering how long he worked in East Germany. It is remarkable that he doesn’t see the relationship between Russia & Ukraine as something similar to the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG, and the German Democratic Republic, GDR. These offered two states for the German people who were divided but had fundamentally different models and an analog of Russia’s lost GDR. In Putin’s narrative, Ukrainians and Russians are “one and the same people” artificially divided by foreign powers. He says “A,” but he does not say “B”: “Our state is better than yours for the same people. We offer a better model and let the strongest survive.” Putin does not say this, not because he recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty, but because he cannot offer a fundamentally better model for Ukraine than Ukraine’s predatory oligarchic elite and nationalist civil society.

Many accuse Russia, however, of rewriting the international order. In reality, Russian revanchism has the opposite effect. not revisionistHowever, it is a conservative defense of status quo: an attempt at retaining Great Power status. This is where the limitations of the current Russian rhetoric’s international appeal lie. The world needs solutions to major global problems and not just the preservation of the status quo.

Putin delivered a much-discussed speech last year at the Valdai Club. articulated his vision as “healthy conservatism,” with his primary concern being to prevent “us from regressing and sinking into chaos.” However, when asked about universal values, not only for Russian “civilization” but for all humanity, he remained very brief and unspecific.

The Russian ruling class would have to choose between taking high-risk actions that could destabilize its rule or revising its foundations if they tried to take control of Ukraine. There are no indications that they are ready for the second scenario. Yet, however this crisis ends — short of escalating toward nuclear world war — it will increase the tensions between Russia’s Great Power claims and its backward political and social order.