The Soviet Union came apart because it overstretched itself and ran out of money and ideas. Local elites saw no benefit in remaining part of a bankrupt country. It fragmented along the administrative borders of the 15 republics that made up the giant country.
Yet there was no reason why the process had to stop there. Indeed, many of Russia’s regions—including Siberia, Ural, Karelia and Tatarstan—declared their “sovereignty” at the time. To prevent further disintegration Russia’s then president, Boris Yeltsin, came up with the idea of a federation, promising each region as much “sovereignty as it could swallow”. Yeltsin made this promise in Kazan, the ancient capital of Tatarstan, which acquired many attributes of a separate state: a president, a constitution, a flag and, most important, its own budget. In exchange, Tatarstan promised to stay part of Russia.
This is an analysis by the Economist magazine with some more specific historical information from the NY Times and Aljazeera.
Putin is keeping Russia together through force and payoffs to regions and regional leaders. Putin will turn 63 this year (born Oct 1952). An average life expectancy for a wealthy Russian man who takes care of his health would be about 75-80 years. So a post Putin situation would likely become a reality by 2027-2032 based on his death from aging or earlier if he lost power for other reasons.
President Boris Yeltsin made statements to Russia’s regions in August 1990 to “take as much sovereignty as you can swallow”. It was taken earnestly by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who engineered a Tatarstan declaration of sovereignty later that same month.
A majority of Tatarstan’s citizens then voted for state sovereignty in the referendum.
Mr Putin has reversed federalism, and turned Russia into a centralised state. He cancelled regional elections, imposed a “presidential” representative over the heads of governors and redistributed tax revenues in Moscow’s favour. But he did not build common institutions. The Russian state is seen not as an upholder of law but as a source of injustice and corruption.
In the words of Mikhail Iampolski, a historian, Russia at present resembles a khanate in which local princes receive a licence to rule from the chief khan in the Kremlin. For the past decade the main job of the Moscow-appointed governors has been to provide votes for Mr Putin. In exchange they received a share of oil revenues and the right to rule as they see fit. Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov, a former warlord installed by Mr Putin, is a grotesque illustration of this. In the most recent presidential election, Chechnya provided 99.7% of its votes for Mr Putin with a turnout of 99.6%. In return, Mr Kadyrov receives subsidies and freedom to subject his people to his own “informal” taxes and Islamic rules. Moscow pays a dictatorial and corrupt Chechnya a vast due in return for Mr Kadyrov pretending to be part of Russia and pledging loyalty to Mr Putin.
If Mr Putin goes and the money runs out, Chechnya could be the first to break off.
Tatarstan, home to 2m Muslim ethnic Tatars and 1.5m ethnic Russians, could declare itself the separate khanate it was in the 15th century. It has a strong identity, a diverse economy, which includes its own oil firm, and a well-educated ruling class. It would form a special relationship with Crimea, which Crimean Tartars (at last able to claim their historic land) would declare an independent state.
The Ural region could form a republic—as it tried to do in 1993—around Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, or else it could form a union with Siberia.
Siberia itself could revive its own identity, from a base in the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk, and lay claim to its oil-and-gas riches, which it would sell to China. Unlike Russia, China might not have much interest in territorial expansion into the sparsely populated Far East and Siberia, but it could (and already does) colonise these regions economically. Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, two of the largest cities in the Far East, are more economically integrated with China and South Korea than they are with the European part of Russia.
SOURCES- Economist, NY Times, Aljazeera, Wikipedia