Martin Aust: “Russia is not an Empire!”


The historian Martin Aust speaks in an Interview with DW about Russia’s Imperial heritage and the national mobilization of the last few years. He designed several scenarios for the aftermath of President Vladimir Putin.

Deutsche Welle: Professor Aust, in her new book, “The shadow of the Empire – Russia since 1991,” stress, if you want to understand Russia, is not allowed to demonize Russia as an Empire of Evil demon. But Russia is an Empire, is it?

Martin Aust: no, Russia is not an Empire. The results from the difference between the Russia since 1991 and the older historical formations – the tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union. Russia has, if one wants to take this perspective, in 1991, many of the territories “lost” that were formerly part of the tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union. Therefore, Russia is, in my eyes, in a post-Imperial Situation. Russia has an Imperial heritage, but it is not an Empire.

But the Russian leadership is trying this “lost” territories collect, the Crimea, for example. And there’s South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria.

These regions have a very different Status. Russia has included the Crimea in structure of the Russian Federation. In the West, we say: Russia has annexed the Crimea. But that is very different from the Status, such as Transnistria or South Ossetia. These regions can be hard to compare to each other. You can read out of it not a program of the government in Moscow, the lost Empire back,. The Crimea has for Russia, an emotional value, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have not. If it were to be discussed, Transnistria should be part of the Russian Federation, which would not arouse such Patriotic enthusiasm as the Crimea has done so in 2014 in Russia. I think that the Russian political leadership is acting very situational and improvised case-by-case. This does not exclude that perhaps in the future, situations will arise, in which other regions more closely to Russia are connected.

The Ukrainian Peninsula of Crimea was annexed in the spring of 2014, Russia

You write in the book, Putin may have miscalculated in 2014. The Kremlin did not expect such a sharp and closed-end reaction of the West to the annexation of the Crimea and the Expansion in Eastern Ukraine.

If Putin’s project of Eurasian economic Union, then it was a very great desire that the Ukraine is part of this Union. The strong desire of Russia is reflected since 1991, to keep the connection between the Ukraine and Russia as closely as possible. Most of the Ukrainian President have also taken into account in a swing policy between Russia and the European Union. However, the time this Ukrainian swing policy in 2014 is definitely over. The demarcation of the Ukraine now Russia is strong as never before. Thus, Putin has created exactly the Situation that you fear in Russian government circles always. Putin has lost the Ukraine to actually final.

For this, he has consolidated but Russia politically at home.

Even I wouldn’t say that. 2014 it has given a great national mobilization, perhaps for the first anniversary in March 2015. But since then, I can see no greater Patriotic enthusiasm in Russia about the Crimea is part of Russia. When it comes to the state budget of Russia, also critical questions: how much of the construction of the infrastructure costs, which is necessary to bind the Crimea to Russia, how much the cost of social benefits for the people of the Crimea and what is the cost of the unacknowledged but recognizable commitment to Russia in the covert war in Eastern Ukraine are.

At the end of your book, you show the future scenarios. What could happen after Putin?

I described three scenarios. One would be the continuation of the Crimean scenario. Therefore, to be added to the case-by-case basis, other regions of Russia. A topic that is always discussed, is Belarus, which is connected with Russia already in a Union. Always, if joint maneuvers to be held, and the Russian military in Belarus is very present, is provided by the media the question whether Belarus could be the next candidate to be part of the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Putin’s term of office expires in the year 2024

The opposite scenario would be that the economic problems are on the increase, the resources for the policy to reduce and possibly to new forms of disintegration. In a time, according to Putin, the Power would be unsafe, Regionalisms would be articulated in Russia is much stronger, which would possibly make the territorial structure of the Russian Federation in question.

Another scenario, which is, so to speak, between these two, would be to link the future of the Russian Federation with territorial issues, but to try a re-adjustment of the political system in Russia. I think, in time, according to Putin, Russia is expected to be especially difcult to estimate competition for Power. It will be difficult for a figure to present Putin gives perfect protection and immunity. As the circle of about 100 families, who are in the circle of Power to Putin, a solution should be found, with the help of a figure to the place of Putin occurs, is a mystery to me.

The conversation Efim Schuhmann led

Martin Aust is a German historian and high school teacher. He is Professor for Eastern European history at the University of Bonn.