Every now and then, someone pops up and says that, for Russia the end is nigh: the oil boom is unsustainable, the population is falling, the Chinese are coming, the vodka will run out that sort of thing.
But, if Russia actually did collapse, how would it happen? John OSullivan has put his thinking cap on, and come up with a fascinating future-history of the decline and fall of Russia.
At its most basic level, OSullivans future history of Russia goes something like this:
- Oil prices collapse, and Russia gets poorer
- China grows in influence, particularly in the Russian Far East
- China and Russia trade nuclear warning shots, but pull back from all out war
- Russia breaks up into lots of mini-states
Of course, its fantasy, and theres plenty of detail to argue about, but its entertaining fantasy (well, if youre not Russian !).
It also contains some truly intriguing scenarios for Russias future.
Nuclear Warning Shots
I was particularly fascinated by the concept that two nuclear powers, unwilling to engage in conventional conflict, might trade nuclear warning shots:
On Aug. 14, 2022, Russia fired “a tactical nuclear missile” into an uninhabited region of the Taklimakan Desert as a “warning to all who might harbour aggressive intentions towards Mother Russia.” The following day China fired five tactical nuclear missiles into uninhabited Russian regions of the Arctic. [ ]Both China and Russia, terrified by their own use of nuclear weapons, were happy to co-operate; neither wished to back down.
I can imagine this kind of strategy being applied quite effectively by and against countries with sizeable uninhabited, or perhaps sparsely inhabited areas. Not sure how the UK or France would fare in such a conflict, though
I looked briefly into the strategy (such as it is) of nuclear war back in my university days, but dont recall ever seeing this type of conflict discussed. Does anyone know if any work has been done in this area?
Subsidised Chinese migration
Some people are already speculating that China has a policy of encouraging migration to strategic Russian regions, but OSullivans future history takes this concept a step further:
By 2020 much of the [Far East] was Russian in name only. Ethnic Russian provincial governors, appointed by Moscow, ruled over a heterogeneous population of which Chinese migrants were the largest single component.
China now took a cautious but fateful step. It adopted a state policy of subsidizing Chinese migration into eastern Russia with grants.
OSullivan speculates that the Russian government would be so weakened that it wouldnt be able to do anything to oppose this policy. Im not sure that this is particularly realistic, but I wonder if Chinese policy wonks are taking note of this idea as an innovative future strategy?
The Far East Republic
Are Siberia and the Russian Far East a drain on Russias resources, or are they the engine room of the Russian economy. What would happen if the region were to break away from Mother Russia?
The Commander of Russia’s Far East Military District proclaimed the establishment of the Far East Republic (DVR) under a provisional military government in Vladivostock, with independent internal and foreign policies.
China welcomed the division of Russia, calculating that the creation of a weak buffer state that would surely accept its fate as an obedient suzerain of the Middle Kingdom.
Alas, Chinas ambitions were thwarted by a canny DVR government
After “restoring order” at home, the DVR pursued the independent foreign policy it had announced, starting with the return of the Kurile Islands to Japan. Japan responded with diplomatic relations and a treaty of economic co-operation, and her lead was soon followed by the U.S., India and the West. Investment followed. Within a decade of the war’s end, the DVR was closer to the West and far more prosperous than it had been as a region within Russia. It was also a haven for Chinese democrats as well as migrant workers. China disliked all this. But since the DVR enjoyed the benefits of both the U.S. nuclear umbrella and its own stock of nuclear weapons inherited from Russia, there was little Beijing could do about it.
Again, somewhat optimistic, I think, especially as the collapse in oil prices was given as the primary reason for Russias collapse in the first place. But the decision to surrender the Kurile Islands to Japan is a great idea guaranteed to win a powerful ally for this newly independent state.
Theres plenty more in O’Sullivan’s original article. Whether any of it will actually come to pass is very debateable, but it was certainly a fun read.