Russia fears partition. After the division of Poland in 1772, 1793, 1795 and Germany in 1945, it starts to suspect it might be next, due to the hatred the West allegedly nourishes towards Russia. The West is out to damage, destroy and divide the Russian Federation, possibly according to the principle of self-determination proposed by President Wilson in the discussions at the end of world war I. Russophobia is a Russian government keyword.
Putin is claiming lands which were allegedly historically Russia but are outside its borders. He is disrespecting the notion of international borders. Accordingly, there is a project in the Duma to scrap the recognition of Lithuania, meaning it is still legally part of Russia.
Russophobia is a smoke screen. The liberal party (right wing) has proposed yet again that the Russian term ‘president’ is a foreign loan word and should be replaced by ‘pravitel’ something like ‘legislator’. In fact they are proposing the name of ‘supreme leader of Russia’ (Верховный правитель России). The title was used by the white Russians who fought against the Bolshevik revolution and established a counter-revolutionary government of southern Russia (1918-1920) a month after Nicholas II was executed.
This government represented the first partition of Russia. The cities of Petrograd (Leningrad) and Moscow were under the Bolsheviks and the South of Russia (essentially today’s Ukraine) formed an alternative government. The White Russian State was dissolved in 1920 and somehow continued in the far East (Priamurie) until 1923. The revolutionary and counter revolutionary capitals, Moscow, on the one hand, and a succession of capitals for the White Russians, reveal how Russia risks being partitioned today: Ufa (1918); Omsk (1918-1920); Vladivostok (1921-1923), which served as capitals for the counter-revolutionary forces during the Civil War. The regions would centre round Urals, Siberia, the Far East. The Southern Russian Government had a seat in Sebastopol (Crimea).
No one should want such a partition, but Putin has put it on the drawing board because of the invasion of Ukraine. Without the ‘special operation’, such a division would have been a far-flung fantasy. In a war one cannot only imagine a victorious scenario but also what one may lose in case of defeat. Putin has effectively offered the partition of Russia, if he loses this war.
The flashback to the early twentieth century points to a fundamental issue of today’s Russia. The reforms begun by Nicholas II, were interrupted by the October revolution. Some of them are being discussed today, as if 1917-1991 never occurred. Putin claimed it was the fault of the soviets if different republics were established in former Russian territory. His collaboration with the Orthodox Church, and specifically with the Patriarch of Moscow is possible because of the reestablishment of the patriarchate in 1917 (it had been abolished by Peter the Great). The orthodox sect of ‘name worshiping’ (Имяславие) popular in the early twentieth century (and then condemned as a heresy) find support of the former head of foreign relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Hilarion of Volokolamsk (2009-2022). The Duma itself was established in 1905 and abolished during Soviet times, to be recreated in 1993. The proposed land reforms of 1907-1911 still await implementation.
Behind the appearance of nostalgic references to the period 1905-1917 towers the figure whose reforms lead to remarkable economic growth and widespread social discontent: Pyotr Stolypin (interior minister 1906-1911). Stolypin was born in Dresden (where Putin was stationed) and was killed by a Ukrainian in Kiev. Members of the government who worked together with Stolypin were part of the different partitioned governments of Russia after the assassination of Nicholas II and fought against the Bolsheviks.
The language of pravitel / leader is intimately connected with reforms which brought wealth to some and social discontent to many at the end of the tsarist period. The term pravitel implies the partition of Russia. Putin is trapped in the language of Stolypin’s reforms and their failed attempt to stop revolution. The titles adopted by the white Russian governments were established after Petrograd and Moscow were already centres of Soviet power. Using such titles and honours reminds Russians of exiled governments and short lived political solutions. If Putin wants to assume the title of supreme leader, he is implicitly admitting defeat and offering his enemies at the peace table a plan to partition Russia.