Staunton, January 26 – Russians and others are accustomed to speaking of “Russian oil,” Moscow State University philosopher Maksim Goryunov says; but it is no more Russian than English tea from India and Sri Lanka is English. Instead, it is “a colonial good,” extracted far “from those places where Great Russia was born.”
In a comment for “Novaya gazeta,” he points out that “Russian” oil in fact comes from “territories historically belonging to the tribes of the Khanty and Mansi,” with a smaller part from Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Krasnoyarsk Kray and Sakhalin, all places the empire added to its core (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/01/23/71258-hantskaya-neft).
And were the peoples from whose territories the oil is taken fully compensated for their oil, Goryunov says, they would be living as well as any of the Gulf petro-states; and the money from the oil would not be going to pay for Moscow’s imperial projects and in support of Russians’ imperial perspectives.
Like English tea, he begins, “which in fact was Indian, Sri Lankan and Chinese,” the philosopher observes, “Russian” oil is in fact “Khanty, Nentsy, Mansi, Tatar, Bashkir and Aleut.” The Russians reached the upper Ob at the same time English ships came to the shores of India, but the British left India in 1947 while Moscow began extracting oil there in the 1960s.
Goryunov writes that “the British East India Company, which brought tea to England, was well-known for its inhuman attitude toward Indians. But how humane are Russian oil companies toward the indigenous peoples? What do the Khanty and Mansi get for the fact that giant oil fields were found on their lands?”
What they get, he continues, is not wealth but the destruction of the environment and their way of life, all from company officials who won’t even hire them to do work because they view them as “incompetent” or worse.
Not surprisingly, given this attitude and the fact that they have lost the basis for their survival, “the Khanty and Mansi protest on a regular basis,” Goryunov says. They have even “frequently threatened to take up arms” to defend themselves and their way of life. Local officials have tried to calm the situation.
They’ve secured promises from the oil companies to pay the local people compensation, but the Moscow philosopher says, the companies have not met their obligations to do so either in time or amount. As a result, he continues, “the conflict smolders but hasn’t gone out” and can break out at any time.
And meanwhile, “Khanty oil fills up the budget of the Russian Federation, feeds its imperial dreams, and pays for wars, Olympiads, ‘rising from one’s knees,’ and greatness.” Muscovites today “prefer to rent their apartments to ‘persons of Slavic nationality’ and ignore the fact that their city and the entire country exists on account of the Khanty and Mansi.”
He continues: “the oil companies and the Kremlin behind them maintain their right to sell Khanty oil bypassing the Khanty pockets,” a clear manifestation of “the roots of the present-day Kremlin style in foreign and domestic policy,” one that is based on an economic model from the 19th century rather than even the 20th.
That model, Goryunov says, is based on “the export of colonial goods for which only miserly compensation is given in the form of gas and snowmobiles, which are the contemporary analogue to the beads” colonial rulers offered those they seized in the past. And it rests on a fundamental lie that few are prepared to challenge.
That lie holds that “’Russian oil’ is in fact Russian, while the Khanty and Mansi are simply people in national costumes who don’t have any relationship to the billions of oil dollars” – in exactly the same way that the British of the 19th century talked about English tea and evidence of just how deeply embedded in Russian culture imperialism remains.