Daniel Nexon in the Washington Post:
Russia’s political organization is fundamentally imperial in character, composed of a hodgepodge of political units that range from the fully integrated to the semi-sovereign and autonomous. As my colleague, Charles King, wrote in 2003:
“Central power, where it exists, is exercised through subalterns who function as effective tax- and ballot-farmers; they surrender up a portion of local revenue and deliver the votes for the center’s designated candidates in national elections in exchange for the center’s letting them keep their own fiefdoms.”
Nowhere is this kind of arrangement more vividly illustrated than in Chechnya, where Moscow ‘solved’ its separatist problem by devolving power to a local viceroy, Akhmed Kadyrov and, after his assassination, his son, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Second, Moscow’s strategy for managing its internal relations — relying on subalterns, exploiting ethnic divisions, deploying military forces and using the toolkit of electoral authoritarianism — extends, if often in attenuated form, to those states it considers as falling within its “privileged sphere of influence.” It has long backed and leveraged secessionist movements in, among other places, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan in the pursuit of political control. Although not always successful, this pattern dates back to the Soviet era and, before that, the Russian Empire. Indeed, the Kremlin’s power-political practices are as perennial as they are limited. In a theoretically sophisticated Security Studies article, Iver B. Neumann and Vincent Pouliot show that Moscow’s quest for great-power status and recognition, combined with its inability to achieve “insider status” in the international order, invariably drives it back to the same repertoire of asserting great-power perquisites in ways that shock and alarm the international community. Did German Chancellor Angela Merkel describe Putin as living in “another world” after her March 2 phone conversation with him? If not, then sometimes truth does indeed reside in fiction.
More here. For more on the Ukraine, also see Anatol Lieven, and Alexander Motyl.