As it happens in history, the historical cataclysms are results of combination of objective laws and subjective factors. How would the world look like if the collapse of the Soviet Union, "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of XXI century", did not happen? And whether it was possible to avoid it?
The collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago came as a surprise to almost everyone. Today it is a common view that nothing could happen otherwise. In the meantime, according to MGIMO Professor Georgy Toloraya, Head of the East Asia Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the RAS Institute of Economics, then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev could avoid the collapse of the country, if he decided to choose the Chinese way of development: economy first, then politics. "Even when the putsch happened, it was still possible to work together with the republics leaders for the establishment of a confederative union, with a common currency and a coordinated economic policy, common defense and foreign policy. Yeltsin was not up to it", Toloraya said in an interview to www.valdaiclub.com.
According to the Valdai Club expert, while maintaining a "hypothetical new USSR" (the Eurasian Confederation) there could be no sole US dominance. The world would have an alternative center of power and would be more stable, even when the Soviet Union would have to go away from the Eastern Europe. "It would depend on the orientation of the Eurasian confederation", the expert said.
Answering to the question whether it was possible to avoid the current tough confrontation between Russia and the West, if the Soviet Union survived and the parties continued to follow the treaties on global security, signed in the 20th century, George Toloraya stressed, that "the confrontation between Russia and the West, in particular, with the Anglo-Saxons, is a historical reality but forms of it can be peaceful or non-peaceful ". While maintaining a strong Eurasian entity on the territory of the former USSR there would be less violent conflicts, and the rules could be observed more strictly. This applies particularly to the Balkans, regional wars in Africa and the Middle East, ISIS, color revolutions, the Arab Spring, conflicts in the former Soviet Union.
Sheng Shiliang, Research Fellow, Xinhua Center for World Affairs Studies, Chief of Russia Division, Eurasia Social Development Research Institute, said in interview to www.valdaiclub.com that previously between the two "poles", the USSR and the USA, there was an entire structure of agreements and arrangements governing their relationship. And the world was more stable, uniform and predictable.
At the same time, according to him, if the USSR was not disintegrated, the conflicts in the "Soviet space" would be still inevitable, given different national and religious contradictions. And there could be no less wars in the world. Unfortunately there are always reasons and arguments to unleash them in great abundance.
"The current confrontation between Russia and the West takes a more assertive and unpredictable form, but it does not have a systematic and ideological basis, as during the Cold War. I hope that the negative cycle is to be completed, and again there would be a field for cooperation between Russia and the West," Sheng Shiliang said.
The beginning and the end of Soviet history are assessed in a totally different way
The last question is about whether it was possible to save the Soviet Union as it reached a historical bifurcation in 1990-91.
Referring to the economic crisis in the Soviet Union, which became one of the main reasons for the collapse of the state, Georgy Toloraya challenged the thesis of some experts that without 1987-1991 reforms the GDP level in Russia would have been 1.8 times more than now. "The planned economy could not provide it. During the transition to a regulated market economy the consumption growth of top levels would not be as fast, but more uniform, without terrifying differentiation, which generally does not make it possible to speak of a single standard of living, the same as the average temperature in the hospital."
According to Sheng Shiliang, if the Soviet Union launched real economic reforms not at the end of the 80s of the last century, but much earlier, in the 70s, if it would get rid of the "Soviet-style socialism," it is quite possible, "that the Soviet people now had better living standards than in Poland." "Unfortunately, the USSR did not have such leader as an "iron" but flexible Deng Xiaoping, such hopeless, disastrous situation like in China after the death of Mao Zedong, with hundreds of millions of poor peasants," Sheng Shiliang said.
Georgy Toloraya concluded that communist ideology has exhausted itself in Russia. A modified Soviet Union could have a chance to develop with an effective market economy, social-democratic ideology and authoritarian political system.