Saturday, October 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Russians Said to Form Fewer than Half of Country’s Wealthiest

Paul Goble

            Staunton,  October 26 – Only 92 of Russia’s wealthiest 200 people are ethnic Russians, a far smaller share (46  percent) than their percentage in the population of that country (77 percent), according to an  analysis of new figures offered by carried out by a Kazakh for, a Belarusian business website. 

            The Forbes listing ( shows, the Belarusian site says, that Slavs form 59 percent of the total (92 ethnic Russians, 25 Ukrainians, and one Belarusian), the Jews 23 percent, Caucasians 9.5 percent, the Tatars and Uzbeks 5.5 percent, and others, 3 percent (

            The author, who earlier published an analysis of the ethnic breakdown of the Russian foreign ministry, says that it is not hard to make these calculations on the basis of public information and that many are interested in such studies but fear to publish them lest they run afoul of the Russian Federation’s anti-extremist legislation.

            He acknowledges that many of these ethnic identifications are only nominal: many who are listed as members of one or another ethnic or religious group, are in fact Russian in all but name. Nonetheless, he suggests, the numbers tell something important about where Russia is and where it may be headed.

            According to the writer, what is most striking about his findings is that most Turkic and Finno-Ugric nations, despite their size, are not represented on the list of Russia’s wealthiest.  He says that is a matter of concern because of what it may say about the prospects for his fellow Kazakhs in a common economic space with the Russian Federation.

            And he says it may also be a matter of concern for ethnic Russians who might conclude that their government is more inclined to help not their national but rather “a Lezgin or Avar.”  He adds that Russians may also view the share of Jews in this list as “an extremely interesting theme” for thinking about the future.

            Given the ever more ethnically charged atmosphere in the Russian Federation, reports like this one on almost certainly fall into the category of “dangerous knowledge,” information that at least some more extreme nationalists may be inclined to use to mobilize their community against others. 

            Even if such efforts do not lead to violence, they could cause the Russian government to be even more sensitive than it has been to the ethnicity of those with whom it does business and thus provoke new divisions within the Russian elite with all the economic and ultimately political consequences that could have.

            And, especially given that this breakdown was put forward by a Kazakh and published on a Belarusian site, such information and any Russian efforts to exploit it could easily become yet another argument in Astana and Minsk against closer integration  with the Russian Federation.

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