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Future History – The decline and fall of Russia

Grim ReaperEvery now and then, someone pops up and says that, for Russia the end is nigh: the oil boom is unsustainable, the population is falling, the Chinese are coming, the vodka will run out – that sort of thing.

But, if Russia actually did collapse, how would it happen? John O’Sullivan has put his thinking cap on, and come up with a fascinating ‘future-history’ of the decline and fall of Russia.

At its most basic level, O’Sullivan’s future history of Russia goes something like this:

  • Oil prices collapse, and Russia gets poorer
  • China grows in influence, particularly in the Russian Far East
  • China and Russia trade nuclear warning shots, but pull back from all out war
  • Russia breaks up into lots of mini-states

Of course, it’s fantasy, and there’s plenty of detail to argue about, but it’s entertaining fantasy (well, if you’re not Russian…!).

It also contains some truly intriguing scenarios for Russia’s future.

Nuclear Warning Shots

I was particularly fascinated by the concept that two nuclear powers, unwilling to engage in conventional conflict, might trade ‘nuclear warning shots’:

MissileOn Aug. 14, 2022, Russia fired “a tactical nuclear missile” into an uninhabited region of the Taklimakan Desert as a “warning to all who might harbour aggressive intentions towards Mother Russia.” The following day China fired five tactical nuclear missiles into uninhabited Russian regions of the Arctic. […]Both China and Russia, terrified by their own use of nuclear weapons, were happy to co-operate; neither wished to back down.

I can imagine this kind of strategy being applied quite effectively by and against countries with sizeable uninhabited, or perhaps sparsely inhabited areas. Not sure how the UK or France would fare in such a conflict, though…

I looked briefly into the strategy (such as it is) of nuclear war back in my university days, but don’t recall ever seeing this type of conflict discussed. Does anyone know if any work has been done in this area?

Subsidised Chinese migration

Some people are already speculating that China has a policy of encouraging migration to strategic Russian regions, but O’Sullivan’s future history takes this concept a step further:

Chinese flagBy 2020 much of the [Far East] was Russian in name only. Ethnic Russian provincial governors, appointed by Moscow, ruled over a heterogeneous population of which Chinese migrants were the largest single component.

China now took a cautious but fateful step. It adopted a state policy of subsidizing Chinese migration into eastern Russia with grants.

O’Sullivan speculates that the Russian government would be so weakened that it wouldn’t be able to do anything to oppose this policy. I’m not sure that this is particularly realistic, but I wonder if Chinese policy wonks are taking note of this idea as an innovative future strategy?

The Far East Republic

Are Siberia and the Russian Far East a drain on Russia’s resources, or are they the engine room of the Russian economy. What would happen if the region were to break away from Mother Russia?

Far Eastern Republic FlagThe Commander of Russia’s Far East Military District… proclaimed the establishment of the Far East Republic (DVR) under a provisional military government in Vladivostock, with independent internal and foreign policies.

China welcomed the division of Russia, calculating that the creation of a weak buffer state that would surely accept its fate as an obedient suzerain of the Middle Kingdom.

Alas, China’s ambitions were thwarted by a canny DVR government…

After “restoring order” at home, the DVR pursued the independent foreign policy it had announced, starting with the return of the Kurile Islands to Japan. Japan responded with diplomatic relations and a treaty of economic co-operation, and her lead was soon followed by the U.S., India and the West. Investment followed. Within a decade of the war’s end, the DVR was closer to the West and far more prosperous than it had been as a region within Russia. It was also a haven for Chinese democrats as well as migrant workers. China disliked all this. But since the DVR enjoyed the benefits of both the U.S. nuclear umbrella and its own stock of nuclear weapons inherited from Russia, there was little Beijing could do about it.

Again, somewhat optimistic, I think, especially as the collapse in oil prices was given as the primary reason for Russia’s collapse in the first place. But the decision to surrender the Kurile Islands to Japan is a great idea – guaranteed to win a powerful ally for this newly independent state.

There’s plenty more in O’Sullivan’s original article. Whether any of it will actually come to pass is very debateable, but it was certainly a fun read.


  • The effectiveness of the article’s future scenario is undermined by the way O’Sullivan exaggerates various trends. For instance, a total population of 100 million Russians by 2020, and only ten million ethnic Russians east of the Urals versus 25-30M now? Those figures are far lower than even the worst-case scenarios I’ve come across.

  • Indeed. O’Sullivan has Russia losing over 40 million people in the next 13 years! That’s absurd.

  • This looks like it was written by Berezovski, Kasparov or the woman from La Russophobe, all non-Russians but tribal brothers and sisters. I would say that there is more chance of the United States becoming Mexican (as Texas, New Mexico and California already are) than Russia becoming Chinese. Equally more likely scenarios are that the Pakistanis will blow London up or will get Arabic Sharia law or that the North African immigrants in France will not just burn French cars but will start an Intifada war of stones and suicidal bombings. The “Chinese” are already in, in multitudes in the United States, Britain and France and they have legal access to airports, water resevoirs, underground, motorways, cities, immigration control etc.

  • Russia was already a multitude of small kingdoms. In fact in case u didn’t knew, the russians are supposed to be adding to their population by 2009 latest. And have u forgotten cloning?

  • “Russia has a habit of rallying when it’s down. It also never seems to reach its full potential when it appears in a position to do so.”

    Or as Talleyrand put it, rather more pithily: “Russia is never as strong as it looks. Russia is never as weak as it looks.”

  • Mr. Potato Head:

    “Indeed. O’Sullivan has Russia losing over 40 million people in the next 13 years! That’s absurd.”

    That might be the case if Russia bravely accepts tens of millions of dead as the price to be paid for leading the successful defense of Earth against the Centauran-Cetian alliance. I daresay the effects of that would swamp O’Sullivan’s war.

    “For all its history basically, Russia has been underestimated, but always wins in the end. So, yeah, think what you think.”

    It’s worth noting that the relative gap in power that once worked to Russia’s advantage has largely disappeared. Early in the 20th century, Brazil was an insignificant tropical republic and China an impotent empire, while the only thing preventing the destruction of Turkey and Persia were the interests of other great powers in preventing further Russian expansion. Now, Brazil bears comparison in most dimensions to Russia, Turkey has half of Russia’s population and a comparable GDP per capita, and Iran’s becoming a formidable industrial and military power. Empty spaces are filling up.

  • That might be the case if Russia bravely accepts tens of millions of dead as the price to be paid for leading the successful defense of Earth against the Centauran-Cetian alliance.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has been worrying about how we will defend mother Earth (not to mention mother Russia) from the evil Centauran-Cetian alliance. In my opinion, they’re a menace – someone should stop them, before they get uppity.

    It’s worth noting that the relative gap in power that once worked to Russia’s advantage has largely disappeared.

    Yes, I think this is one of the key factors that many in Russia (not to mention many Russia watchers) have failed to recognise.

    Russia isn’t really scrambling any more to keep its place in middle of the first division – its scrambling to stay somewhere near the top of the second division, whilst still remaining able to pull off the odd shock result against a top division one country in a one-off cup tie.

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