Historian Andrei Cușco: Soviet empire collapsed from the center

The Soviet empire collapsed from the center in an episode of a perpetual tidal pattern where Russia keeps coming closer before distancing itself from the West. And now Russia is trying to turn back the clock and build a new historical vision, despite not having enough means to do so. Historian Andrei Cușco (PhD) spoke about these and other things during an IPN debate about the fate of empires, old and new.

Permanent oscillation

According to the historian, in its tsarist period, Russia played an ambiguous role for the Romanian Principalities. Besides the fact that this space was constantly involved in the Russian-Ottoman wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, Russia was also a factor of modernization in the Romanian Principalities: “Here I think of Kiseleff, the Organic Regulations and the fact that, practically, Russia played the role of the West for the Principalities during this period”.

Russia, says Andrei Cușco, was chronologically the first state outside the Western area to try to modernize itself three hundred years ago, beginning with the reign of Peter I, turning from Muscovy – a “deeply isolationist state antagonistic to the West” – into an “imitator of the West”. “This constant oscillation between imitating and studying the West, learning from it, on the one hand, and looking at the West as an antagonist, on the other, is what has dominated Russian history for the past three hundred years”.

“I don’t mean to say that there are cycles in Russian history, it would be an oversimplification, but there are obvious tendencies: tendencies of rapprochement, as it was under Peter I, Catherine II, or Alexander II, and tendencies of antagonism towards the West”, observes the historian.

According to him, the USSR was a successor to the tsarist state in a geopolitical sense, and this started to stand out under Stalin, who “resumed the logic of the Tsarist Empire as a great power and applied it to the World War II context”. “There is a very clear continuity here that we can trace to the Putin regime in a way. On the other hand, the Soviet Union, especially in its initial phase, positioned itself as a deeply ideological state, deeply hostile to tsarism”.

After the Second World War, according to the historian, there is a transformation of these aspects. “On the one hand, the USSR is expanding its sphere of influence and has an informal empire in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the USSR is positioning itself as an anti-imperialist power. By the 1980s, if anyone had called the USSR an empire, it would have been ridiculed. It is only after Ronald Reagan delivers his Evil Empire speech that a re-evaluation begins of the USSR as an imperial state in the negative sense. Because this anti-imperialist, anti-colonial position had been accepted as true by many”.

Turning back the hands of time

The collapse of the Soviet Union was very specific, says Andrei Cușco. “Despite the intensity of the national movements on the periphery, which played an absolutely fundamental role, in fact the Soviet Empire collapsed from the center. Without Yeltsin and the proclamation of RSFSR sovereignty, the collapse of the Soviet Union would not have been possible. This is the cause of the virulence of Russia’s current leadership and its policies under Putin. Because they are actually trying to get back to the time before 1991. They actually want to erase the geopolitical consequences of the collapse of the USSR. Hence this obsession with NATO’s return to the borders of 1997. They want to turn the clock back somehow”.

“For the current Russian elite, and Putin has made it very clear in all his policy articles, including his speech on the eve of the (February 24) invasion, that the collapse of the Soviet Union is unacceptable - whether we are talking about a ‘geopolitical catastrophe’, as he called it earlier, or a ‘Western plot’, as is now often interpreted in Russia. At any rate, it is an attempt to erase the consequences of the Cold War”.

“But the problem is that now, even if the Russian Federation claims to be the successor to these imperial formations, its resources are much smaller and it is a declining power from an objective point of view. It has neither the motivation of the Tsarist Empire nor the ideological backbone of the Soviet Union. It only has a kind of ideological potpourri, taking different elements from where they like. Russia has a hybrid ideology under Putin, trying to build a new vision of recent history”, concluded historian Andrei Cușco.

The debate was the 246th installment of the “Political Culture” Series, run by IPN with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

Вы используете модуль ADS Blocker .
IPN поддерживается от рекламы.
Поддержи свободную прессу!
Некоторые функции могут быть заблокированы, отключите модуль ADS Blocker .
Спасибо за понимание!
Команда IPN.