How the war in Ukraine turned Russia into a failed state
Uncontrolled borders, private military formations, population exodus
But Putin’s war turned Russia into a failed state, with uncontrolled borders, private military formations, a fleeing population, moral decay, and possible civil conflict. And while Western leaders’ confidence in Ukraine’s ability to withstand Vladimir Putin’s terror has grown steadily, doubts about Russia’s own ability to survive war are growing.
Let’s first take the question of borders. Russia’s absurd and illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories – Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhia – even before Russia could control the entire territory, leaving it a state of illegitimate territory and blurred borders. “The Russian Federation as we know it is in a process of self-destruction and entering a failed state phase,” said political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann.
Its administration, he said, was unable to carry out its essential functions. Annexation would not deter Ukrainian troops but would set a precedent for Russia’s own restive regions, such as the northern Caucasian republics, which are likely to withdraw if the central government’s grip weakens.
Private armies and mercenary groups
Another feature of a failed state is the loss of the monopoly on the use of physical force. Although officially banned in Russia, private armies and mercenary groups are booming.
Yevgueni Prigozhin, a former criminal nicknamed “Putin’s cook” and boss of the private mercenary group Wagner, openly recruits prisoners, promising them pardons if they join his ranks. He had no intention of being “legalized” or drafted into the armed forces. The same goes for troops led by Ramzan Kadyrov, a former warlord who became president of Chechnya. Even Russian government security agencies are increasingly serving their own interests.
The Russian state failed to fulfill even its most essential functions. Far from protecting the lives of its citizens, it poses the greatest threat to them by using them as cannon fodder. On September 21, facing a series of setbacks in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of 300,000 troops. Poorly trained and poorly equipped, their only function was to hinder Ukraine’s progress. Chances are many will be gone within a year.
Exile of educated and talented young people
The mobilization took Russia by surprise rather than the outbreak of war: recruitment centers were burned down, and at least 300,000 people fled abroad (in addition to the 300,000 remaining at the start of the war). Most of the exiles were young, educated and talented.
The impact of their departure on the country’s economy and demography is not yet fully felt, but social tensions are exacerbating. With an overabundance of “special military operations” on the home front, Vladimir Putin broke a fragile consensus: Russia has agreed not to protest Kremlin policies so long as they are left alone. But today, they are being told to fight and die in the name of the Putin regime.
Vladimir Putin cannot win, but he cannot end the conflict either. Perhaps he hoped that by involving so many Russians in his war, and subjecting them to his propaganda, he could attract them all. In fact, whether he wins the bet or whether the influx of body bags, coupled with elite discontent, ultimately brings him down, will only determine the number of people killed and the extent of Russia’s fall.
Also readThe war in Ukraine: the nomenklatura is already a post-Putin dream
As Alexei Navalny, the still-imprisoned leader of the Russian opposition, said during one of his court hearings: “We could not prevent a catastrophe, and today we are not getting closer to it, we are flying there at full speed. The only question is how quickly Russia will hit rock bottom, and if it does it will collapse.” Worrying questions remain unanswered.
By Arkady Ostrovsky, journalist for The Economist