Staunton, November 1 – Not just the opponents of Russia but its allies among the former Soviet republics seek to build support for their independent existence by attacking everything Russian, knowing that Moscow will respond to attacks on Soviet things but not on attacks of the actions of the Russian Empire, according to Moscow historian Sergey Volkov.
The Russian leadership today, he argues is a continuation not of the Russian Empire but of its antithesis, the USSR, in which any struggle against the empire and ‘tsarism’ social or national was welcomed and celebrated, an assessment” which the historian incorrectly says, ‘was never officially changed (lenta.ru/articles/2017/10/31/mutiny_1916/).
As a result, Volkov says, when the former Soviet republics attack anything Soviet, Moscow goes into hysterics; but when they attack something from the tsarist past, the Russian reaction is much calmer or even non-existent. The leaders of the republics have learned that lesson.
Those who want to remain friendly with Moscow focus on the latter and avoid doing too much of the former, while those whose existence is based on hostility to Moscow, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, and Ukraine, do both but do not refrain from doing the former.
As Volkov pointedly notes, “the authorities in these countries are not fools: they are practical and know very well that no one in the Russian Federation will say to them: we are the heirs of the Russian Empire, and if you show in some way your hostility to it, we will consider this and review our relations with you.”
That is very clearly shown, the historian suggests, in Moscow’s reaction to attacks on tsarist policies in 1916 in Central Asia. “If the Russian leadership wanted to associate itself with old Russia, it would have to respond. But those celebrating the uprising know very well that Russia will be silent.”
In Moscow, Volkov continues, “the authorities look at all this not from the point of view of the interests of traditional Russian statehood but as heirs of the Soviet-communist regime … and more than anything else fear being accused of ‘great power’ attitudes and ‘imperialism.’ They thus prefer to remain quiet.”
In this way, however, Moscow opens the way for these countries and their officials to separate themselves from Russia and even to come to hate the former metropolitan center and its people. And the Russian government needs to recognize that the same thing will happen in regions within Russia should they become independent.
“If Arkhengelsk oblast should secede, then books would appear saying that the Pomors are not ethnic Russians and that Moscow has oppressed them.” The same thing would be true even in “purely ethnic Russian regions” that might break off. They too would go back to the imperial past and find a basis for their identity in opposition to Moscow.
Efforts to present the Russian Federation as the heir of both the Russian Empire and the USSR are “laughable,” Volkov says. Those two countries were “absolute ideological antheses” of each other: “the USSR not only completely denied succession from the empire but based its existence on opposing and hating it.”
As a result, and as the non-Russians appear to understand better than the Russians, Russia today descends “only from the USSR.” Unless than changes, the non-Russian regimes will continue to promote anti-Russian ideas even as they generally avoid the anti-Soviet ones that Moscow is certain to get upset about.