Let’s talk about the coming potential collapse of Russia, as I mentioned in a previous post.
When the war began, Kremlin propaganda began showing maps of Europe divided into various schizophrenic pre-twentieth century borders. There is actually a bit to say about that alone. Russia is, more than perhaps any other country on the planet, stuck in the past. It’s a recurring theme with Russia. The present in Russia is always shitty and depressing, so they like to look back to previous eras of their history, which they paint as better times in their mind, but which in fact were also shitty and depressing. Right now they miss 1970’s-80’s Russia, and in a few decades they will miss Putin’s Russia, and so on. When examining Russian propaganda, literature, and just Russian society in general, you will notice a longing for the past is always present. Just as a side effect of living in a shitty country, I think, you build a heaven in your mind to escape reality.
Anyway, in return our side started making carved-up maps of Russia, and talking about Russian collapse. Throughout this war I have never stated Russia is on the verge of collapse, and it still isn’t. However, as time has gone on I have observed various state-destabilizing trends get aggravated to the point that I have to discuss it. Here’s my central thesis, and then I’ll get into it.
The Russian state is not on the verge of collapse. However, various individual trends that each alone destabilize states like Russia are continuing to get worse and worse. They are not being addressed, and in large part they cannot even be addressed. As time goes on without change, a Russian state collapse becomes more and more likely. Even if the chance of that happening has only increased from 1% to 2%, tthe fact is the trend is going in a bad direction for the Kremlin.
The cause for alarm for the Kremlin is not that the chances of state collapse are only a few percentage points higher, it’s that the trend is against them.
The first trend I want to discuss is the demographics issue. Russia has had a terrible demographics problem for decades, honestly since 1941. During the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has lost over one million people, overwhelmingly young men and families. What do I mean by this exactly?
Putting aside the casualties suffered in the war, according to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili over 700,000 Russians have entered Georgia since the mobilization order, with 600,000 leaving for various other countries and 100,000 staying in Georgia. That’s just one country, and does not include other countries or the actual military-aged males who have died or lost their reproductive organs in injuries suffered during the war.
As time goes on, Russia will lose more fertile young men in battle and in emigration, more families will flee, and most will not return. Of the hundreds of thousands of young men who have left Russia, I’m sure many plan to return one day. But then they meet a girl, or they get a good job, or they like the local scenery as a nice change of pace from the apocalyptic and depressing scenery known as the entirety of Russia outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow. That is an insane aggravation to the already deeply-troubled Russian demographic crises.
The big picture is this: In the midst of a terrible Russian demographic crisis, Russia has lost over one million citizens, primarily young men and families, in a matter of months, and will continue to lose young fertile men at a higher rate than it has since the Second World War.
The second trend is the loss of the reputation that Putin and the Kremlin has tried so hard to instill domestically and internationally.
Most Westerners would wave this away, because in the Western world our politicians are open whores and their reputations mean nothing. However, this is a Western perspective, not a Russian or an authoritarian one. Russia is a state built on a premise of strength. Putin is supposed to be perceived as a strong leader who brought dignity and respect to Russia after the humiliation of the 1990s. Most Russians accepted Putin’s rule becoming more and more authoritarian as it also brought on a higher standard of living (compared to the ’90s) and returned Russia to the world stage in a leading role. Now, however, Russia is being humiliated by the Western world on a level not really seen since the First World War. The allegedly second-most powerful military in the world is incapable of taking a city that is 30 minutes from their border (Kharkiv), is getting humiliated by NATO resources and logistics and being expelled from international events, and to top it off, Russian families are continuously losing their sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, and so on in exchange for . . . a sliver of eastern Ukraine.
This puts Putin in an extremely difficult situation, as he needs major gains to make the losses the Russian nations has suffered worth it, but in order to have a chance of making those major gains, he needs to keep taking losses by continuing a war whose initial goals clearly failed. He can’t afford to stop, but he also can’t afford to keep going.
The big picture is this: The Kremlin is stuck in a vicious feedback loop where the more losses they suffer, the more gains they need to justify it, which will result in more losses suffered, both of which undermine the very justification of Putin’s authoritarian regime.
The third trend is the looting of the Russian internal state security services for the war in Ukraine.
This goes far beyond the one example I sourced here; it’s something that has been happening for months to various segments of the internal security services establishment. Just when Russian society is becoming more rebellious than it has in decades (think Molotov cocktail attacks against recruitment centers, draft-dodging, and soldiers refusing to return to the front lines), at the same time the Kremlin is looting its security services for military-aged men to send to Ukraine. This has a snowball effect. The worse the war goes, the more discontented Russian society becomes, and the need for looting the security services to send to the frontlines increases. Russia is an authoritarian society that keeps the patchwork coalition of ethnic, cultural, and religious groups known as the Russian Federation together via a strong centralized police state and authority. Looting that police state of its experienced and trained professionals to send to the frontline is a desperate and dangerous gambit for obvious reasons. Right now the anti-war protests and sabotage are minor enough that the Kremlin can afford this, but if segments of Russian society become more rebellious and volatile, the Kremlin may rue this decision.
The big picture is this: Just as Russian society is becoming more rebellious than it has been in years, the Kremlin is looting its experienced and professional state security agents to go die in a foreign war.
The fourth trend is as old as war itself: Military defeat and the resulting economic fallout. From Roman wars to the twenty-first century, a state losing a war, badly, always destabilizes the nation. The prestige fallout is an addition to trend #2, so I will just touch on the economic fallout here.
War is expensive, and when you lose, you just pour the state treasury down the drain. According to Forbes, Russia has spent over $82 billion on the war in Ukraine — over a quarter of its annual budget, and as time goes on they will have to spend even more annually. In spring 2022, Russia made a billion euros a day from energy revenue, but they will never make that again. I won’t go into the minutiae of Russian gas and energy revenues, but after December, when the G7 price limit kicks in, Russian state revenues will take another kick from the West. Western sanctions have a ripple effect across Russian energy revenues. China and India, for example, are paying less for Russian energy products than ever before, and there’s nothing Russia can do to stop that. European sanctions equal Asian discounts, and Russia loses in both scenarios.
The big picture is this: Just as the Russian state is spending more money than ever, they are also making less money than ever.
I could list other trends, but these four major trends illustrate my point quite well. While the Kremlin is not on the verge of collapse, there are various destabilizing trends which are only getting more and more aggravated as time goes on.
Russia is not going to collapse tomorrow. It isn’t going to collapse in the next six months. But the trend of the Russian state is one of destabilization, and that should worry the Kremlin. When you want to predict the future, you never assume the future is going to be like the present. You examine the trends of the present and ask what they will look like in the future. The longer the disastrous Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the worse things will get for the Kremlin, and at this point they have already spent too many resources to radically alter the paradigm. All they can hope to do now is grind down Ukraine before Ukraine grinds down Russia.
Russia is now in a war of attrition with the entire Western world, and they better hope their superior manpower reserves can prove victorious before even more Russian men and families flee, because a larger population that can be sent to the front is literally the only resource Russia has more of than Ukraine and the West in a long-term war of attrition. The fact that Russia has more tanks and armored vehicles at this point is no longer a factor. Ukraine can get just as many anti-armor weapons as Russia has armor.
Dark days for the Kremlin right now.
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