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If Russia collapses, which states will separate?


Increasingly, analysts – both inside and outside Russia – are considering the possibility of the collapse and transformation of the Russian Federation into a series of independent states.

Russia’s disastrous war with Ukraine is straining an already weak economy, undermining the legitimacy and strength of the regime, exposing Russia’s armed forces like a paper tiger, and weakening Vladimir Putin’s position among the elites.

  • Chechen strongman Ramzan Yadyrov (right), with Vladimir Putin (Photo: Wikipedia)

At some point, it is conceivable that the whole system will collapse – a scenario that has become possible, although its probability is still undetermined.

Who are the most likely candidates for secession in southern, eastern and central Russia?

South

Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan have a combined population of 5.2 million.

Over the past decade, it has increased by more than 13%. All three regimes display strong national identities, practice Islam and have resorted to anti-Russian violence in the past.

Chechnya stands out, having waged a decades-long war against Russia in the 19th century and two wars of national liberation in the 1990s. Its current ruler, authoritarian strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, enjoys a large degree of autonomy and, with proper incentives, could easily turn its back on Moscow.

After major fighting in the Second Chechen War ended in April 2000, Chechen insurgent and terrorist activity continued into the 2010s. This began with the October 2002 and September 2004 hostage-takings in schools, which resulted in many deaths.

Subsequently, there were several bomb attacks: in March 2010 in the Moscow metro, in January 2011 at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport and in December 2013 at Volgograd station. The bombings were claimed by the Caucasus Emirate, a more radical affiliation of Chechen, Ingush and Dagestani militants.

East

The major political areas of Russia’s far east are Sakhalin Province, Primorskiy Region, Khabarovsk Region, Kamchatka Region, and the Republic of Sakha (also known as Yakutia), which cover 1, 6 million square miles. The first four territories are inhabited mainly by Russians; Sakha is home to the Yakuts.

The combined population of Russian regions is 3.6 million; that of Yakutia is 990,000. The former has decreased by 4.1% over the past decade, while the latter has increased by 3.3%. These five territories have considerable mineral wealth.

Funded and developed in the early 2000s by US- and Japanese-led consortia, Sakhalin has major world-class oil and natural gas production and export facilities. The Primorskiy region has several ports that are essential for Russia’s peaceful trade. The port of Kozmino is the terminus of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) crude oil pipeline (nominal capacity 1.6 million barrels per day). In 2021, the ESPO average daily transit was 720,000 barrels per day. Kozmino’s neighboring port, Vostochny, exports coal to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

The foundation of Yakutia’s economy is mining. Almost 100% of diamond mining and processing in Russia takes place in the territory. In addition, Yakutia is the main source of Russian coal exports which pass through Kozmino. The combined annual gold production in Yakutia and Khabarovsk is equal to 64 metric tons, more than 20% of Russia’s total.

Although the Yakuts are a minority in their own republic, they have experienced a national revival in recent decades, as indicated by their adoption of the native name Sakha. Khabarovsk, meanwhile, has been the center of regular mass protests between July 2020 and July 2021.

Triggered by the dismissal by Moscow of a popular governor, these demonstrations testify to a growing anti-Moscow feeling in the territory.

Center

Of Russia’s 85 political divisions, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are two of the few with a single constitutional arrangement granting them considerable autonomy. Together they have a population of nearly eight million which has grown by about 0.4% over the past decade.

The republics are home to Russia’s former crude oil production, producing about 1 million barrels per day, or about 10% of Russia’s total. Tatarstan alone has about 7.3 billion barrels of reserves, or 30 years of supply at current production rates.

Besides hydrocarbon production, both regions are, compared to the rest of Russia, economically diverse, with strong manufacturing and agricultural sectors. The regions have access to several river systems as well as railroads placing them at the crossroads of trade routes. Together they have a high net export trade balance with exports of $15 billion [€14.2bn] and imports of $1.6 billion

During the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Tatarstan took steps through referendums and agreements with the Kremlin to achieve full sovereignty.

When Russia recognized the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, Tatarstan declared itself independent and sought recognition from the United Nations and Russia.

Both ignored the request.

Whether Russia’s war on Ukraine leads to Ukrainian victory or a stalemate quagmire, the instability of Putin’s regime will increase exponentially. Under such conditions, some regions of the Russian Federation are in danger of fleeing, especially if the Kremlin remains preoccupied with the struggle for power over Putin’s crown.

Will the new states remain independent or will they be united by whoever replaces Putin? We do not know. All we can say with certainty is that their reintegration into Russia will be a violent and bloody process that could hasten Russia’s collapse as well as revive the federation.


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