Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a costly and disastrous failure for President Vladimir Putin and his regime. After months of fierce resistance from the Ukrainian armed forces supported by its Western allies, Kyiv launched a successful counteroffensive that reclaimed most of the occupied territory and inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian forces.
The war has exposed Russia’s military weaknesses, economic vulnerabilities, political corruption, and social divisions. It has also undermined Russia’s international reputation and influence, as well as its key sources of income: energy and arms exports.
However, NATO and the West should not be complacent or naive about the consequences of Russia’s defeat. The collapse of the Russian Federation is a real possibility in the near future, as Putin faces growing internal challenges from ethnic minorities, regional elites, opposition groups, and discontented citizens. The disintegration of Russia would have profound implications for regional stability, security, and cooperation in Eurasia and beyond.
NATO should prepare for this scenario by developing a comprehensive strategy for the whole Black Sea region, both economically and militarily. NATO should support Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community, as well as its reconstruction and reform efforts after the war. NATO should also engage with other countries in the region, such as Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, to enhance their resilience against potential threats from a collapsing Russia or other actors.
NATO should also be ready to respond to any humanitarian crises or conflicts that may arise from Russia’s collapse. NATO should coordinate with other international organizations, such as the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and others to provide assistance to vulnerable populations inside or outside Russia. NATO should also deter any attempts by external powers, such as China or Iran, to exploit Russia’s weakness or instability for their own interests.
The collapse of Russia today would have some similarities but also some differences with that of the Soviet Union. Some possible scenarios are:
- A gradual erosion: Russia could continue to lose influence and relevance as it fails to cope with its internal problems such as corruption, poverty, demographic decline, and environmental degradation. It could also face growing challenges from external actors such as China, which could exploit its weakness to expand its interests in Central Asia, the Far East, and beyond.
- A sudden implosion: Russia could face a major crisis that triggers a rapid breakdown of its political system, such as a coup d’etat, a popular uprising, or an assassination attempt on Putin. This could lead to chaos, violence, and fragmentation as different factions vie for power or seek autonomy. It could also create a humanitarian disaster as millions of people flee or suffer from shortages of food, water, and medicine.
- A controlled transformation: Russia could undergo a peaceful transition to a more democratic and pluralistic system that respects human rights and rule of law. This could happen if Putin decides to step down voluntarily or if he is pressured by domestic or international forces to initiate reforms. This could open up new possibilities for dialogue,
cooperation, and integration with its neighbors and with the West.
The collapse of Russia would have significant implications for global security
and stability. Some possible outcomes are:
- A new opportunity: The collapse of Russia could create a chance for building a more cooperative and peaceful world order based on mutual respect and common interests. It could also foster greater regional cooperation among former Soviet states on issues such as trade, energy, transportation, and security. It could also reduce tensions between Russia and other countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, or NATO members.
- A new threat: The collapse of Russia could pose serious risks for regional and global security by creating power vacuums or flashpoints that could spark conflicts or crises.
It could also unleash dangerous forces such as nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, or cyberweapons that could fall into the wrong hands or be used irresponsibly. It could also increase instability in other regions such as Europe, the Middle East, or Asia by affecting their economic interests or strategic alliances.
The collapse of Russia would be a historic event that would reshape the geopolitical landscape of Eurasia and beyond. NATO should not be caught off guard by this possibility but rather anticipate it and prepare for it accordingly.