2023-08-28 Timothy Garton Ash - decline of the Russian empire

Timothy Garton Ash, "Putin, Pushkin and the decline of the Russian empire" https://www.ft.com/content/04cc3b42-6432-4020-8019-206a32a60e70

«With hindsight, we can see that the decline of the Russian empire has been one of the great drivers of European history over the past 40 years. And with foresight, we should expect it to remain one of Europe’s greatest challenges for at least the next 20 years, if not another 40. [...]

We in the west should not kid ourselves that we can “manage” the decline of this nuclear-armed empire, any more than European powers could “manage” the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Western democracies have a chronic tendency to overestimate their ability to influence the domestic politics of authoritarian regimes. Our possibilities of direct influence are especially minimal in today’s Russia, a personalist dictatorship in an advanced state of paranoia and repression. After Putin, and perhaps his immediate successors, there should come a moment when we have more possibilities of constructive engagement, and we should prepare for that. But it will be a long time before Russia finally accepts that it has lost an empire and begins to find a role.

What we can and must do in the meantime is to ensure that those countries who seek a better future outside a declining Russian empire are able to do so in peace, security and freedom. Geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. In the long run, bringing Ukraine and its smaller neighbours into both the EU and NATO, thus securing them against any future attempt at recolonisation, will be a service also to Russia. With the door to empire finally closed, it can start the long walk to nation-statehood. That walk will, however, be especially difficult because, unlike old European states such as France and Portugal, which acquired and then lost overseas empires, Russia has no historically, geographically or constitutionally well-defined state to return to.»

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