Is there anything the West can do to save Russia from itself?

Paul Fiolkowski
5 min readAug 5, 2023

No.

The collapse of a superpower is still a new concept. The collapse of the USSR ended Russia’s status as a viable superpower but its still an imperial entity. One with vestigial superpower organs like a space program, a nuclear arsenal and a revanchist outlook.

After the Soviet collapse the rest of the world let Russia fall relatively easily. It kept its seat on the United Nations Security Council. “New” Russia was not stuck with loans that the Soviets defaulted on. A similar advantage that the Soviets enjoyed by not paying off Imperial Russia’s significant debts. The newly minted Russian Federation got huge infusions of Foreign Direct Investment. It was adopted as a major European trading partner.

Germany even got them into the G7(8). The big wigs got to hob Nob in high society. They got to diversify their investment portfolios like good capitalists. Everyone absorbed some of the Russian diaspora. Russia was invited to join major multilateral institutions and efforts. Hell the U.S. even cleared Russia to mine uranium in North America.

Yet despite all of this, Russia was still stuck in 19th century thinking at the dawn of the 21st Century. Viewing neighbors as subjects. Extorting would be allies and just generally mucking about. Russia has no interest in joining the West. It is married to the idea of exporting some vague idea of “the East” that is rooted in nothing more than not being the United States. All without actually being in the Utter East, with a demonstrably different cultural genesis.

Yet the Russian Government completely misread the room. They cooed over Donald Trump, relishing that he was the last man to be referred to as “Leader of the Free World” but what the Kremlin missed is that the world was ready to retire that job fully. They weren’t looking for a replacement hegemon.

Russia saw the world in a Bipolar lens. Yet it often railed against the unipolarity of the U.S. It mistook the fatigue of the U.S. Electorate as an opportunity for a new “multipolarity” where competing empires fought over neo-colonial satrapies. Somehow Russia missed that multipolarity had been a thing from the turn of the century. It fully under estimated Brussels. It failed to understand Tokyo and somehow it missed that New Delhi had in some ways already eclipsed it’s old partner.

No what Russia needs is a period of serious introspection. Much like someone who recently got out of a toxic relationship. Else they simply end up in another. The Russian Federation could have survived as a democracy. But that exit had been missed long ago. As a tyranny of enforcers, the Russian Federation cannot survive — the USSR tried and failed.

Russia still wants to conquer the world, only the world isn’t actually conquerable anymore. There is too much information, too many ideologies and stronger regional identifications that simply won’t be subsumed into some homogenous “over culture” that is frankly lacking in foundational values. Russia has wasted time, money, resources and people for thirty years now. Instead of developing itself, the oligarchs squeezed every penny it could out of the economy and their subordinates skimmed off the top at every level. Ultimately bankrupting their own society.

I’ve met a lot of Russians over the years and I’ve honestly liked most all of them but one thing always stands out to me. They love the idea of Russia but they never seem to want to go back to the reality of Russia. Most Americans never leave the country and most who do come back and never really leave again. Europeans are well traveled, inside of Europe but again, they don’t really immigrate away. The Japanese stick to home more or less. When Indians and Pakistanis come to America, it’s to get rich and then they tend to go back and visit pretty often.

Russians leave and then only carry Russia in their hearts because what they carry isn’t a country or an ideology but a half faded memory that actually sent them out to remake themselves in a new world.

Russia needs to work on itself. It can’t be what it imagines itself to be until it does that. Self deception is a dangerous drug and it forestalls solving real problems. I think most Russians that have left did that introspection and realized they couldn’t wait on everyone else to get their act together.

Russia should be one of the wealthiest and most advanced countries in the world, it isn’t because the sense of self entitlement means that as a nation, the country can never be wrong and thus never learns from mistakes. Once it does that it can rid itself of the excess baggage but that baggage is internal and built into the national psyche to some degree.

I’ve listened to smart guys, political scientists, demographers, geopolitical analysts and economists try to explain what Russia is like it is but most kind of miss the obvious truth. Russians are an odd combination of stubborn and fatalistic and too many just got see the good in other people not like themselves. They are afraid to change.

Sure Russia’s geography sucks but so is trying to invade a space that big. All of this nonsense about “security gaps” is just slapping makeup on a pig. The Kremlin is greedy and more than a little casually cruel. Not just to outsiders but to their own people and the people too often accept that as the natural state of being. For some reason this thuggish ideal of might makes right just pervades the society yet that society is shrinking every year. It can’t even be convinced to self perpetuate because of its own fatalism.

That has to stop before anything else can start. Russia needs more optimists, free thinkers and kind souls. It doesn’t need these vengeful, revanchist, greedy blood suckers that predate on their own society as if it’s a virtue. The types of people it needs have to be brought up from the inside as fully formed and self actualized citizens who just say enough is enough to the elite classes that are crushing Russian society in archaic dreams of world domination.

So let's go back to the original question: Again, no. Trying to save Russia is like trying to save a guy who cut his own throat.

Saving Russians is a different story: the people living on the territory of the Russian Federation can survive if Russia breaks into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Why does the world need the Russian Federation? What for? Let there be Muscovy, the Siberian Federation, the Far Eastern Republic, Tatarstan, and so on. It will be better for everyone.

And let this monstrosity of a country stay in the past.

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Paul Fiolkowski

I am just another American expat, who found that yes indeed, the grass can be greener elsewhere.