Staunton, March 17 – Russia today is in an undeclared but all too real war with Ukraine, a situation that many fear is the prelude to a long period of black hundreds-style reaction, Vladimir Pastukhov Says. But history suggests that this war may have another outcome, a Russian defeat in Ukraine and an ensuing revolution at home.
“Russian forces are on the territory of another state, and” Moscow is calmly discussing “the annexation of part of the territory of this state” without much reflection on the kind of conflict it will face if Russia moves further into Ukraine or what will happen to Russia itself if it does, Pastukhov continues.
In its current situation, the St. Antony’s College expert says, “Russia can fight effectively only against a weak opponent and not for long. The Georgian military campaign was quite successful precisely because both these conditions were met: Georgia was many times weaker than Russia, and the war ended in a few days since the West did not interfere.”
“In the case of Ukraine,” however, “the chances to end a war just as quickly as was the case six years ago in South Osetia are not so great.” Instead, it is very probable that the West “will find a way of supporting Ukraine” and it is a near certainty that Ukraine will resist and survive “even if it should lose a third of its territory and population.”
If that is so and if the military campaign continues for very long, then certain “’Russian trends’” so much in evidence a century ago will re-emerge: widespread theft and corruption at the front and in the rear, weak commanders, and “treason.” These things led to the February 1917 revolution. And if they return, “the ‘Chechen campaign’ will look like a tourist stroll in the mountains.”
This possibility is something that both the Russian people and the Russian leadership need to keep in mind. All too many of the latter assume Moscow can win, and all too many of the former fear that and fear that as a result Russia will soon enter another “long black hundreds night,” one just as long and just as gloomy as the communist one.
That variant is, of course, possible, Pastukhov concedes, but an examination of the last decade of tsarist Russia suggests that so too is a revolutionary outcome. The current Russian leadership is not offered anything new over the last decade and instead has promoted what can only be described as “restorationist.”
In that regard, the Oxford scholar points out, the relevant base line for assessing what is likely to happen is 1905 rather than 1917 “because ‘the quality of statehood’ under Putin is comparable with the dissolution of power during the reign of the last Russian emperor of the time of Rasputin.”
Between 1905 and 1917, “Russia passed through a complete political cycle, including an unsuccessful liberal revolution, a black hundreds reaction, a war, and finally, a revolution,” Pastukhov says. In order to save itself, the tsarist regime promoted a restorationist patriotism which meant that when Sarajevo happened, it “turned out to be a prisoner of its own illusions.”
In recent years, he says, history has been repeating itself but at a far more rapid pace. In December 2011, there was a move toward liberalism. That promoted the articulation of a new reaction. And “already by the middle of 2013 it became clear that this ‘black energy’ could not remain for long remain” inside Russia but had to find “release in the form of foreign aggression.”
It is difficult if not impossible to say how long these processes will take or even which direction they will go, given how many unknowns there are in this algebra, Pastukhov suggests. But there is nothing to suggest that Russia has escaped from this earlier pattern. Consequently, both reaction and revolution are real possibilities.
“If support for Ukraine from the United States and the European Union is limited to words alone, and Russia is thus able to carry out a blitzkrieg, then the more probable outcome” is a longer period of reaction, he says. If the West provides more support, then the alternative, revolutionary outcome inside Russia becomes more likely.