Eduard Limonov is a counterculture Russian author who knows the value of controversy. He founded the party of National-Bolsheviks that fused the Stalinist nostalgia with elements of Nazi symbols and rituals. First, that made him fall out with Putin’s state oligarchy. Now he made the full transformation arc and became a firebrand prophet of Russian radical nationalism—a Putinist who dares to speak up his mind where Putin himself must keep mum for the reasons of expediency.
For no apparent reason, he recently tweeted a “testament” to the nation, “just in case I won’t live long enough”. He suggests that Russia and China share Kazakhstan between themselves, so that we get the northern and western part, and the Chinese the rest. The deal that he calls “new Molotov-Ribbentrop”, should happen once the ex-Communist ruler of Kazakhstan dies of old age. The way to go, according to him, is to run Crimea-like “referendums” in each of the disputed areas.
Some ten years ago, Putin’s men allegedly vented with NATO sharing Ukraine along the same lines. The east and the south would go us, and the north and west, the area of the old “Mardeburg Law” would stay neutral, or get absorbed by Poland.
Sharing the adjoining lands’ territories has long been a favorite pastime among our radical nationalists. What is new after Crimea ’14 is this kind of statements becoming a national mainstream outside the “moderate” circle of Putin’s closest allies and aides.
The map below shows the regions in Kazakhstan with prevalence of ethnic Russians (blue). In other words, Limonov’s testament means taking several regions with the ethnic Kazakh prevalence. This is an easy recipe for war with Kazakhstan and a major confrontation with China. Which is why I believe the chance of it happening is close to zero as long as Putin is sitting firm in the Kremlin.
You should go by the way of elimination. If you want to understand the modern-day Russia, select your reading like this:
Eliminate all pre-1917 classics, as well as the Russian emigré writers, like Nabokov. They carry the aristocratic, liberal legacy of Russian imperial gentry that was obliterated by Bolsheviks
Eliminate all Soviet writers, including Sholokhov and Pasternak. Many of them are good, but their themes are centered around the epic trauma caused to the nation by the Communist revolution and WWII.
Eliminate the Soviet emigre writers, like Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky. They are great reading, but either carry too much of the Soviet counter-culture, or are too avant-garde to reflect the popular state of mind, even for people who like me were born and brought up in the USSR.
Eliminate modern Russian bestsellers. They are typically near-copies of Western bestsellers and may make you think that we are much more European than we really are.
Set aside the modern Russian quality fiction, like Pelevin, Sorokin, Yerofeyev, Bykov et al. They are too saturated with obscure cultural references and cross-references that you won’t catch without taking a brave protracted dive into the depths of Russian culture.
Now you only have to pick whatever you like out of a not-too-long list of non-fiction, starting with the Nobel-prize winner Alexievich and going all the way to the exceptionally informative Collapse of the Empire, by Egor Gaidar.
My short list of books I consider most relevant to predicting what is going to happen in Russia includes:
White on Black, by Ruben Gallego (Spanish-Russian, spent his childhood in Soviet orphanages)
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev
The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB, by Irina Borogan, Andrei Soldatov
All the Kremlin’s Men, by Mikhail Zygar
One Soldier’s War, by Arkady Babchenko
Mafia State, by Luke Harding (not Russian author)
Fragile Empire, by Ben Judah (not Russian author)
(Don’t waste your time on Gorbachev and other memoirs. They confuse you more often than explain things.)