Friday, June 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian National Security Undermined by Alienation between Russians and Ukrainians Living in Russia, Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – Russia has a sufficiently strong army to “put any country in its place,” Bogdan Bezpalko, the head of the Federation of National Cultural Autonomies of Ukrainians of Russia, says, but “domestic contradictions” between Russians and other groups, including ethnic Ukrainians, “represent a danger.”

            In a commentary posted online yesterday, Bezpalko says that “absolutely all republics which were part of the USSR and are now independent states have adopted an ethno-national course of development” and “are building ethno-centric states,” something that has negative consequences for Russians and Ukrainians there (

            Because of its 1992 federal treaty, he continues, the Russian Federation has largely been able to “avoid large-scale inter-ethnic conflicts,” but this has come at a high price, one involving “a definite disbalance within the country” between ethnic republics and the predominantly Russian oblasts and krays.

            This lack of balance is creating conditions involving national languages and national histories which could lead to conflicts 20 to 30 years from now, the Russian Ukrainian leader says.

            As far as Ukraine is concerned, Bezpalko says, the conflict that is going on is “not between ethnoses and not between Ukrainians and Russians.  This war is a purely ideological one,” he continues, between those “who have been educated in one set of values, according to one set of textbooks and in one culture” and those who were raised on others.

             As far as ethnic Ukrainians living inside the Russian Federation are concerned, he argues, there are “symptoms” of this that give rise to “concern” even among those who haven’t been formally educated according to an alternative set of textbooks.  “To a definite degree, they do not see themselves as part of Russia.”

            Instead, “they conceive a city, settlement or family as their small motherland, and they view their big motherland as a republic but not the Russian Federation.  They do not feel themselves at home in Russia.”

            That is worrisome, Bezpalko says, given that ethnic Ukrainians form significant portions of the population in many parts of the country, and he suggests that it reflects the failure of the Russian authorities to address the issues involving the integration of ethnic Ukrainians into Russian life until recently.

            Indeed, the Russian Ukrainian leader says, Moscow’s nationality policy “for a long time did not devote attention to certain ideological moments which from time to time came to us from Ukraine.” Ukrainian nationalist groups like UNA-UNSO were “not recognized as extremist,” and that mean they could “peacefully conduct propaganda here.

“To a certain degree,” he says, they were “successful” because “a number of Russian citizens who identified as Ukrainians accepted this ideology.”  Some of them moved to Ukraine, and “it is complicated to say how many people remain in [Russia’s] regions while being in fact anti-Russian.”  But this “requires careful monitoring and study.”

Bezpalko says that in his view, “our basic task” is to promote among ethnic Ukrainians in the Russian Federation a sense of membership in “an all-Russian civic nation.” If that doesn’t happen, there will always be “external forces” which will use internal divisions to weaken the country.

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