Annexing Donbas Would Fully Compensate Russia for Ethnic Russian Losses in 1990s, Ishchenko Says
September 14 – The continuing de-Russification of Russia, caused by the influx
of migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus and the higher birthrates of
non-Russian peoples within Russia, could be slowed or even reversed if Moscow
annexed the Donbas, according to Rostislav Ishchenko.
doing so now, the Ukrainian commentator who lives in Moscow says, is absolutely
critical because current demographic trends inside Russia mean that “about 20
years from now,” the ethnic Russians may become “a national minority in their
own state” and the non-Russians will begin to ask why they, having become the
majority, should live inside a Russian state.
argument may not determine the Kremlin’s decision, but it is important because
it reflects something few either in Moscow or the West are willing to talk
about: what Russia is doing in Ukraine and elsewhere reflects real fears about
the demographic situation in Russia now and in the future.
it has informed Russian nationalist and imperialist arguments since at least
1991 when many but far from all of them viewed the decline in the relative size
of the ethnic Russian nation as one of the major reasons for the disintegration
of the Soviet Union.
It is also
significant because it shows the ways in which the imperialism of those like
Ishchenko is informed by a belief that the empire can only survive in peace if
the ethnic Russians form an overwhelming share of the population and set the agenda
for the rest as “the state-forming nationality.”
But it has an
obverse which Ishchenko and others of his camp are seldom willing to
acknowledge: any territorial expansion of the Russian Federation beyond
portions of Ukraine and Belarus – and even significant parts of these two
countries – would push down the ethnic Russian share of the population under
to Ishchenko, Moscow needs to construct its policy on the basis of two
realities. On the one hand, he argues, “a significant number of Belarusians and
Malorossians do not want to become Litvins and Ukrainians” but want to continue
to maintain “their own all-Russian identity.”
on the other, “the percent of the ethnic Russian population in Russia itself is
steadily declining” and that for as far into the future as one can see, that is
likely to be the case because non-Russians have higher birthrates than do
Russians and so the balance is shifting toward the former and against the
argues that “only Russia could establish an imperial state based not on the
suppression of small peoples and not on their assimilation but on convergence
and integration in a common space where all can live comfortably.” But that is
possible only if ethnic Russians remain a super-majority of the population.
they decline in share, that opens the way to disaster as shown in many of the
now-independent former Soviet republics and in the non-Russian republics of the
North Caucasus where ethnic Russians form but a tiny fraction of the population
now compared to the much larger share they formed 25 years ago.
that decline in Russia is all too real. Last year, Moscow celebrated the fact
that the population of the Russian Federation had grown by 20,000, while
ignoring that the number of ethnic Russians had fallen by 88,000 while the
non-Russians had increased by 108,000, a total shift against the Russians of
196,000. More of the same is coming, Ishchenko says.
concludes: “the reduction of the numbers of the Russian people below a critical
level will lead to the destabilization and destruction of the Russian
Federation despite the objective interests of all the peoples living in it.”
Indeed, he says, “as a result of this process, many peoples will disappear as
he continues, “the size of a population changes not only on the basis of
natural growth but also as a result of migration flows and the addition of new
territories to the state.” Although he is among those who doesn’t welcome
migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, he is quite pleased by the
refugees from Ukraine and wants to make it as easy for them to acquire Russian
citizenship as it is for those in Crimea.
brings Ishchenko to a discussion of the situation in the Donbas. At the start
of 2014, he says, there were approximately 7.5 million people in the Donetsk
and Luhansk oblasts. Unlike Crimea, there wasn’t a large population of Crimean
Tatars, and “the number of ethnic Russians of the Donbas exceeded the number of
ethnic Russians of Crimea not only in absolute but also in percentage terms.”
the territories under DNR/LNR control,” he says, “there remain about 4.5
million people.” Some of those have become refugees, but there are still about
3-3.5 million people there – and they should be viewed as potential additions
to the ethnic Russian nation in the Russian Federation.