Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Russian vision of a world order based on force, could backfire.

Ukraine’s resistance to Putin’s invasion has demolished the idea of Russian invincibility. Everyone knows Russia is not the unbeatable empire Moscow was at pains to portray itself as both outwardly and inwardly. And just as Russia is trying to claim Ukraine as its own, other countries are eyeing chunks of Russian land, spotting an opportunity as the war shows just how weak the Russian army is. Nations within Russia are waiting for the right time to oust the bully. The Kremlin should be wary of promoting a world where it is acceptable to seize territories through force; it only invites others to join in and claim parts of Russia for themselves.

Japan was the first country to break its silence after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Tokyo said of the Kuril Islands that it was “completely unacceptable that the Northern Territories have yet to be returned since the Soviet Union’s illegal occupation of them 77 years ago”. That annexation saw the expulsion of Japanese people from the southern islands, and since then, the countries have failed to reach a compromise. Talks broke down when Putin showed he was not willing to share lands but only to gain new ones. 

Then China started drawing maps marking part of Siberia and the Russian Far East region as originally Chinese. Great areas of Chinese land were annexed by Russia in the 19th century. Unable to claim this territory back in a peaceful way, Beijing has pursued economic expansion around Baikal and has been actively purchasing and leasing lands near the border. 

In Poland, there are narratives suggesting that Russia occupied the Kaliningrad region in 1945, and that Warsaw has the right to claim it. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and even Ukraine could also stake interests in vying for Russian lands. Russian fighters infiltrating the Belgorod region under the Ukrainian flag served as a reminder to Putin that others could also reclaim their “primordial territories”. Kyiv aims to restore its 1991 borders and end the war. Yet the prospect of exiled Russians on tanks turning Russian border regions into “national republics” is seen as a welcomed payback for Moscow’s deeds in the Donbas.

As Moscow pursues the expansion of its European borders, national autonomies in Russia and their exiled leaders envision the decolonization of Russia, dreaming of dividing it into 34 independent states. For now, national liberation movements are absent due to oppression and persecution within Russia. When the Soviet Union fell apart, several regions of Russia declared their state sovereignty but were silenced. These regions have constitutions stating their sovereignty as separate states, with power-sharing treaties governing their relationship with Moscow. These norms are “dormant”, but they can be activated as soon as the regime demonstrates its inability to keep the empire under control. 

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