Thursday, March 16, 2017

Russians Genetically a Lot Less Russian Than They Like to Think

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 16 – Even though many Russians often say that “if you scratch a Russian, you’ll find a Tatar,” most consider themselves an independent and self-standing nation genetically as well as culturally.  But a new study of the DNA of the Russian people shows that only 16.2 percent of the genes they carry are uniquely Russian.

            Drawing on the results of DNA tests of more than 2000 people from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Krasnodar, Rostov-na-Donu, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk,, Simferopol and Kyiv who sought such testing, Russia’s Genotek company has offered its analysis of the genetic backgrounds of ethnic Russians (

                The company’s director, Valery Ilinsky, tells Komsomolskaya Pravda that only 16.2 percent of the genes carried by present-day Russians are typical of indigenous Russians. A larger share of the genes they carry – 19.2 percent --- come from Ukrainians and Belarusians. Other sources of the genetic makeup of Russians are Finns (13.1 percent) and Hungarians (6.3 percent).

            Nationality, of course, is something individuals decide on for themselves, he continues. But “we can speak about the origins of particular fragments of our DNA from various ethnic groups.” And approaching the issue in that way, he says, shows that more than 80 percent of the genes Russians now carry come from other than the indigenous population of Central Russia.

            Ilinsky notes that at the current level of knowledge, an indigenous people is one which has constantly lived on a particular territory for three or four generations.  There simply isn’t yet enough data to go further back in time.

            Asked why Belarusian and Ukrainian genes form a larger part of the Russian genetic makeup than that from those living in Central Russia, Ilinsky says that there are several explanations. First of all, “the territory of contemporary Central Russia was historically part of a single formation which was called Kyivan Rus.

            But more important, he suggests, is the fact that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians form a single “very large population” and that the three have more in common than many think.  “There are practically no pure ethnic Russians and pure ethnic Ukrainians. All of us from the point of view of genetics are an enormous mix from completely different fragments.”

            Such a pattern is typical of the United States as well where people identify as coming from this or that European country in many cases but who are in fact a mixture at least genetically of the most varied nations.  As a result, such people identify as Americans of this or that origin.

            As far as the impact of the “Tatar-Mongol yoke” is concerned, Ilinsky continues, scholars as yet have a difficult time in identifying distinctly Tatar genetic patterns because “the Tatars as an ethnic group are very poorly studied by geneticists, and we do not know what parts of DNA are characteristic for representatives of indigenous Tatar-Mongols.”

            That is why Russians are overwhelmingly European genetically as far as current knowledge allows for conclusions, the Genotek official says.  And he stresses that Russia like the US is “really a large melting pot of nations. In both countries, we observe a mixture of various fragments of DNA from various sources.”

            Many people around the world are now interested in learning about their genetic backgrounds. What is interesting about Ilinsky’s findings is that they are certain to be used first of all by those with an imperial agenda who will suggest that they prove that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are one common people and thus should be in one state, something anti-imperialists will oppose.

            And equally certainly they will be employed by those who suggest that Russians and non-Russians in the Russian Federation are moving via “a melting pot” into a common national identity, something many Russian nationalists and many non-Russians as well will view as a threat to their identities and even existences.

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