Russia didn’t manage to put into place a successful nation-building project and decided to skip the nation stage and go straight to whatever is next.
The reason for Russia’s failure to engage in successful nation-building is that its entire narrative of the nation revolves around the pride in the country’s large size. “My country is big,” goes a famous Russian song. “It has many forests, fields, and rivers.” The only response that comes to mind is, “So what?” You can’t integrate a multitude of racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious groups into a coherent whole by repeating that “we are big!” Diversity isn’t really a strength. It’s a weakness unless you put in a lot of work to create a set of ideas that all these different people can perceive as important to them.
The US is also big. Not as big as Russia but pretty gigantic, too. But have you ever seen references to size in the American nation-building narrative? It’s “America, the beautiful” not “America, the large.” It’s “land of the free and home of the brave.” These are internal values that are the result of human striving to become better. We are proud of our freedoms, our constitution, our standard of living. But not of our size because the size alone does nothing for you. Switzerland is tiny but what a standard of living! Who doesn’t want to be Switzerland?
In Russia, they never went beyond size. And if size is all that matters, it stands to reason that you should be always increasing that size. These efforts bring no joy. Nobody improves their standard of living. There’s no internal coherence, no clear goals. People hate you because you have to keep invading. But instead of changing tack and working on a more productive narrative of the nation. . . Well, we’ve all seen it.
I was at a kid’s birthday party recently. There were many kids, ranging in age from 4 to 16. Girls, boys, different races, cultures, interests. It never occurred to any adult to create a set of activities to bring the kids together. You know what happened? The kids didn’t play. Each parent ended up entertaining their own kid. It was exhausting and very boring. Imagine all the same but multiplied by 10 million. It doesn’t work without a lot of effort.