Staunton, June 29 – Some years ago, before he became Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves observed that “if the Russians come back again, they won’t be constrained by communism.” Instead, he suggested, they will build a genuinely Russian empire in which Russians will rule over non-Russians without even “the constraints” communism offered.
Those constraints, of course, were never absolute and did not mean that non-Russians were protected from the Russian majority or from the imperial pretensions of Moscow. But they did mean that Soviet Russians had to operate in ways that at least appeared to suggest a respect for the rights of other nations within the USSR.
Now, those from Vladimir Putin on down who regret the end of the USSR and who would restore Moscow’s power over much or even all of the former Soviet space are not so limited. Instead, they want not a “Russia for the Russians” but a “Russian empire for the Russians,” an entity that would inevitably threaten all non-Russians and the West as well.
It means that the empire such people would restore would treat non-Russians within its borders as second class citizens or worse and that they would only be able to maintain this ethnicized empire by engaging in constant wars against outsiders, something that the latter should reflect upon before dismissing what is happening in the post-Soviet space as unimportant.
Those reflections are prompted by the remarks yesterday of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia who often serves as a bellwether of the direction that those above him in Putin’s chekist state, are currently moving even if they are unwilling to be as blunt and politically incorrect as he is.
Speaking to a congress of the LDPR, Zhirinovsky said that his party would take part in the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections with the following slogans: “Arise, Great Russia,” “Stop Denigrating Russians” and, most instructively of all, “Restore the borders of the USSR” (interfax.ru/russia/515731).
As RFE/RL summarizes the LDPR leader’s speech, Zhirinovsky said that such slogans captured the needs of “millions of Russians” who have been “’driven out’” of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine and the Baltic states” and also those who are oppressed by ethnocratic republics inside the Russian Federation (svoboda.org/content/article/27825392.html).
The first, he suggested, must be returned to Russian rule, and the second must be disbanded and replaced by entities defined entirely by territory and not ethnicity – or at least not by many ethnicity other than Russian.
Of course, it is easy to dismiss Zhirinovsky’s words. He has achieved what success he has by being outrageous. But all too often, his outrageousness has been reflected in subsequent Kremlin decisions and actions. Thus, the danger Ilves pointed to is real: the Russians may come back or at least try to – and they won’t be “constrained by communism.”