Staunton, November 5 – Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that died-in-the-wool Russophobes, aggressive non-Russian nationalists, and certain unfriendly foreign governments are engaged in a broadscale attack on the Russian language has attracted enormous attention because it suggests a certain paranoia and echoes Stalin’s concern with linguistics near the end of his life.
But one part of the Kremlin leader’s outburst has attracted less attention although it provides a window into his way of thinking. He calls on those concerned about the fate of Russian “not to call the Russian language a powerful weapon” because if they do, then they are providing justification for attacks (ria.ru/20191105/1560599598.html).
The Russian language, Putin continues, is “to a well-known degree a soft force” and it is “completely sufficient to call it that.” But it is wrong to call it a weapon, even though he calls for the Russian language to be kept in fighting trim by means of imposing rules to ensure that it isn’t corrupted.
The explanation for Putin’s concerns about calling Russian a weapon almost certainly arise because the issue of Russia overlaps foreign and domestic issues. On the one hand, when he talks about defending and promoting Russian, he seems to have the world beyond the borders of the Russian Federation in mind.
But on the other, when he talks somewhat defensively about not calling it a weapon, the Kremlin leader seems to have the domestic situation in mind. If Russian began to be called a weapon on a regular basis, non-Russians would feel even more justified in fighting back against what many of them see as a direct threat – the expansion of Russian at their expense.