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The greatest question facing today’s huge Russian Federation is whether its eighty-nine components-republics, oblasts, and krais-will find enough common ground to remain one country, or will follow the Soviet Union’s course and fracture into several smaller countries. If the Federation does hold together, will it be because Moscow reasserts authoritarian, centralized control? Or because Moscow continues to make bilateral arrangements with the various components of the Federation as necessary? At present, the most likely prospect is that Russia will remain intact, progressing-often sporadically and unevenly, but generally peacefully–toward a stable federation or confederation.
But the odds on these three alternative futures have fluctuated greatly over the past four years, underscoring how quickly prospects can change. As long ago as 1991, much evidence pointed to a splintering within the Russian Federation. Some segments of the country (such as Tatarstan, Chechnya, and Bashkortostan) were seeking autonomy; some (most notably, important parts of resource-rich Siberia and the Far East) believed that their interests were not well-represented in Moscow; others (for example, Nizhny Novgorod) saw brighter economic prospects in closer, direct contacts with the international community.