Thursday, April 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Why Did Ethnic Russians Not Become Volksrussen Before This? Moscow Commentator Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – Many analysts expected in the early 1990s would become a major problem for the region, much as the Volksdeutsch did in Central Europe in the 1930s, a Moscow commentator says, but they failed to recognize that up to now, the Russian Federation did not become a nation state and did not appeal to ethnic Russians as such.

            Instead, Aleksandr Khramov writes in “Svobodnaya pressa” today, Moscow pursued a course intended to make friends with the newly independent states and to avoid defending the ethnic Russian communities there lest it provoke the non-Russian governments into opposing the Russian Federation (

            But now, having concluded that Russians and non-Russians “will never be brothers,” Moscow under Vladimir Putin is taking steps to defend ethnic Russians beyond its borders, confident that “Russia no longer has any allies on the post-Soviet space except the [ethnic] Russian people.”

            Indeed, he argues, it is now possible to update the tsarist observation and say that “Russia has no other allies except the army, fleet and ethnic Russian communities abroad.” And if Moscow is prepared to recognize that – and some will find that a bitter lesson – then the Russian government will have to pursue a fundamentally different foreign policy.

            “Why” despite the expectations of many analysts in Moscow and the West “were Russian speakers” in the former Soviet republics “not transformed into Volksrussen” Khramov begins by asking. And then he suggests the reason lies in unwillingness and inability of Russia to become a nation state out of the misplaced hope that it could  reassemble something like the Soviet Union.

            For 20 years, he continues, “the Kremlin consciously ignored the [ethnic] Russians in the post-Soviet space in the name of its own imperial ambitious. But now everything has changed, and the genie has been let out of the bottle.”

            Although not everyone is prepared to admit it, “the Crimea and the Donbass have buried the neo-Soviet integration project finally and irretrievably.” Ukraine will never join the Customs Union now, and Kazakhstan is unlikely to be willing to stay in it given Vladimir Putin’s comments about “the divided Russian people” and the four million ethnic Russians in the north of Kazakhstan.

            Already now, Khramov says, “Russia will never be able to convince its former allies about its fraternal intentions given that their territories could become the goal of the net Anschluss.”  That concerns in the first instance Belarus and Kazakhstan, Khramov says, but not just them.

            The Kremlin isn’t going to acknowledge “this bitter truth” soon. Instead, it will continue to feed its own imperial ambitions.  But “whether Putin wants to or not” – and Khramov says he suspects that the Kremlin leader doesn’t – he will be viewed on the territory of the former Soviet space in the first instance as the defender of the ethnic Russian Volksdeutsch.”

However Putin feels, however, “the mirage” of the restoration of the Soviet Union has now dispersed.  What must happen, Khramov argues, is the creation of a new country like the one Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described in 1990, a country that would include only that which could be called Rus.

Such a country would include what is now the Russian Federation, Belarus and most of Ukraine and also the islands of ethnic Russian communities elsewhere.  Indeed, Khramov says that Moscow should copy the approach of Greece, which sought to control Greek communities off the mainland but not the territories which had other ethnic groups on them.

That policy was called “enosis,” and Khramov says it can show Russia the way forward. Promoting its unity, he says, doesn’t require tanks. It requires soft power and support. Moscow must come forward and help organize these communities so that they will look to Russia and not to anyone else in the future.

At present, he continues, Moscow isn’t doing this, citing the comments of one Russian activist in Mariupol that “the weakness of [ethnic] Russians is that [the Americans and the West] have financed pro-Western NGOs but no one has financed pro-Russian ones” (

Moscow still has time “to correct the situation,” but changing its foreign policy alone won’t be enough.  It needs to transform the Russian Federation into a Russian nation state.  Unless it does so, “Russian speakers [abroad] instead of being transformed into Russian Volksdeutsch, will become good Kazakhs ( with somewhat larger eyes), Latvians or Ukrainians, as has already happened with many of them.”

In short, Khramov concludes, “in order to return Russian lands to Russia, one must first of all return Russia to the Russians,” a tall order given that the non-Russian nations within the borders of the Russian Federation form an increasing share of the population of that country and will not meekly accept the diminution of their status such a change would require.

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