The Breakup: Will Russia Splinter Over War in Ukraine?
Russia is entering a period of political turmoil that is likely to include renewed demands for independence by its constituent republics in a replay of the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Siberia, a Tsarist conquest in the seventeenth century, could revive its own identity, from a base in the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk, and lay claim to its rich energy resources which it could sell to China. In 1919, the Provisional Government in Omsk adopted a Declaration of Independence for Siberia.
There could also be a republic in the Ural region—there was an attempt in 1993—around Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, that could form a union with Siberia.
The geopolitical consequences of a Russian breakup are a mixed bag.
It would be good news for the United States and the Free World, especially Europe, because a diminished Russia busy with domestic matters would be a lesser threat to world peace than it is today.
But it would create a grave concern about Russia’s nuclear weapons. Securing weapons in newly independent countries with uncertain allegiances would be a serious challenge, just as it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
China may benefit from the breakup by pulling into its economic orbit the newly independent countries in Asia.
A key question is whether the Russian government emerging from this national drama will still be revisionist, a quasi-ally with China, and a threat to its neighbors, or a government accepting international law.
Dan Negrea is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. Between 2018 and 2021, he served at the Department of State in the Secretary’s Policy Planning Office and as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.