In August 1991, then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush was in Kyiv to counsel Ukrainians against statehood. Only weeks before Ukraine declared independence and only months before the Soviet Union was dissolved, Bush worried about the collapse of Soviet authority. These worries were echoed at the time by other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Without Moscow’s continued control over its empire, they feared, the country’s future would be marked by nationalism, ethnic conflicts, and nuclear weapons getting into irresponsible hands. These leaders, for all their achievements managing the end of the Cold War, were on the wrong side of history on this fundamental question of self-determination for Moscow’s captive peoples. Luckily, Ukraine and the other former Soviet republics that are now independent did not listen.
Today, we are witnessing similar fears in Western capitals. With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime in a downward spiral due to the Kremlin’s disastrous war against Ukraine, the Russian regime’s collapse and even Russia’s possible disintegration have become a major cause of concern. Support for the war among Russian citizens has decreased, domestic criticism has grown despite harsh repression, and hundreds of thousands of men have fled the country since Putin announced a partial mobilization in late September.