Following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the calamitous, early missteps of the Russian army, many Western experts fairly crowed over the possibility of Russia disintegrating. ‘It’s high time to prepare for Russia’s collapse,’ ran a typical headline on the Foreign Policy website, while a survey of 167 foreign-policy experts by the Atlantic Council think tank last January found that 40 per cent of them expected Russia to break up internally within ten years due to ‘revolution, civil war, political disintegration’ and so on. Meanwhile, an article from the Hudson Institute was more prescriptive, issuing a list of points to consider when ‘Preparing for the Final Collapse of the Soviet Union and the Dissolution of the Russian Federation’ – among them, ‘Contain any spillover from internal Russian fighting’ and ‘Maintain superior strength in Europe.’
Yet two years on, Russia looks in alarmingly robust condition, having mobilised its own military complex as well as receiving weapon-stocks from allies like Iran and North Korea. Nor do sanctions seem to be working: Russia’s industrial base – perhaps due to the war itself – is growing at the rate of 3.6 per cent and its manufacturing output at 7.5 per cent. If you aren’t mobilised, don’t live in the border regions of Russia – now regularly shelled by the Ukrainian forces – and are unused to travelling abroad (70 per cent of Russians, according to RIA Novosti) your life probably hasn’t changed much. Except for a few censorship laws threatening imprisonment for ‘discrediting the Russian army’, the country’s notably free of the usual restrictions of wartime – full-scale martial law, curfew, military patrols or rationed food. And despite a host of triumphalist articles in 2022 speaking about the ‘revival’ of the West and deriding Putin’s catastrophic ‘underestimation’ of his opponents, it increasingly seems it’s not the Russian Federation suffering disunity and fracture, but the West itself, whose countries have radically differing policies towards Ukraine.
These countries split roughly into four categories.