On October 30, just a week before the U.S. midterm elections, RIA Novosti and several other Russian news outlets published stories predicting a civil conflict in the U.S. The spate of stories, more than 30 according to Foreign Policy Magazine, come “ahead of a hotly contested congressional election in the United States next week.” According to RIA Novosti, American political scientists were making this prediction, not Russians. However, upon closer examination, the authors of the articles cited by Russian media were far more nuanced, and cannot be said to have made serious predictions of a coming U.S. civil war.
One of the first opinions cited by the RIA Novosti piece is from the historian Niall Ferguson, who wrote an op-ed on the topic for the Boston Globe. The excerpts of the op-ed published by Foreign Policy show that Ferguson was writing more about the topic of political polarization. Instead of a shooting civil war, Ferguson is quoted as saying that a “cultural civil war” is already being waged in the U.S. across social media. The Foreign Policy piece points out that Ferguson ultimately concludes an armed conflict in the U.S. is not imminent.
Another article cited in the RIA Novosti piece comes from Task & Purpose, a military veterans news site, and was authored by Emily Whalen, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin. Whalen compares the situation in America today to that of Lebanon, which suffered a devastating civil war in 1975. While she notes some similarities between 2018 America and 1975 Lebanon, she also points out key differences, and ultimately makes no prediction that a new American civil war will take place in the near future.
Russian predictions about a new American civil war have been commonplace since the fall of the Soviet Union. One of the most popular theories was devised by Igor Panarin, a former Soviet KGB colonel, Russian intelligence officer and political science professor who declared in 1998 that the United States would split into six nations around 2010. Panarin has been flexible about that timetable, however. For example, in one of several appearances on the state-owned channel RT, Panarin predicted civil war in America by 2009.
After both 2009 and 2010 passed without any civil war or breakup of the United States, Panarin saw the Occupy Wall Street movement in the fall of 2011 as the potential harbinger of the imminent American collapse.