Before the First World War, there was a belief that although the Astro-Hungarian empire was rickety, old, and strewn together from disparate parts, it would hold together out of economic necessity — the Austrian, Hungarian, Carpathian, Bohemian, and South Slav territories made a cohesive, interdependent, and necessary economic whole. Today, I think 12 countries exist in former Habsburg lands — and that’s only if you count Bosnia as a single political entity, which it isn’t quite.
The Soviet Union was just as economically intertwined, and very much on purpose. Moscow would build industries and farms in the hinterlands (what is now Russia’s “near abroad”) to bind those lands to Moscow economically — and also to introduce Russian settlers to bind those lands to Moscow ethno-culturally. The USSR of course turned out in the end to be just as fracture-able as Austria-Hungary.
Vladimir Putin has used the presence of ethnic Russians in the near abroad as a justification for things like the annexation of Crimea, and his hijinks in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere. But it turns out, the Soviet Union’s economic imperialism has given Ukraine an unexpected weapon of their own. StrategyPage has that story:
One of the generally unmentioned side effects of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is the damage done to Russian weapons production because of their dependence on Ukraine. Although only 4.4 percent of Russian imports are from Ukraine many of those imports are crucial for the Russian armaments industry and the current modernization program for the Russian armed forces.
These industrial links date back to Soviet times and many remained active after the USRR collapsed in 1991. In many areas Russian arms producers, and users, are highly dependent on Ukrainian industry and most of these items cannot be quickly or cheaply replaced by Russian made substitutes. This is mainly due to insufficient production capacity of Russian industries. The most severe shortages occur in key areas. Prominent examples include IBCMs, air-to-air missiles, aviation and engines for warships.