Monday, June 25, 2018

Russians Abroad Truly are a Divided People but Not in the Way Putin Imagines

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – It has long been a staple of Vladimir Putin’s remarks about his “Russian world” that the Russians are, as a result of the disintegration of the USSR, the largest divided people in the world.  It is certainly true that Russians outside of Russia as “divided” but hardly in the way that the Kremlin leader thinks.

            Instead, they are divided among themselves, with some still looking to Moscow as the focus of their loyalty while others identify with their countries of residence, even to the point of being willing to fight for it against Russia, and still others, while continuing to focus on Russia, taking what actions they can to promote a Russia free from Putin and Putinism.

            Some Russians in the Donbass are part of the first, many more Russians in Ukraine are part of the second, and the Free Russia Forum is just one of the groups that wants to promote a free and democratic Russia. Except for the first – which is a tiny minority of all ethnic Russians abroad – none fit into Putin’s ideas about “a Russian world” or “a divided nation.”

            Two news stories, one about ethnic Russians in Estonia and the other about ethnic Russians in the United States, only underscore that point. The first, which takes the form of a video about the Kaitseliit defense forces in the Baltic republic, features testimony by ethnic Russians who are now Estonian citizens.

            They make clear, as the Newsland portal put its, that “they are ready to fight with the Russian world to the last drop of blood” in defense of their country, Estonia, and NATO (

`           The second, involving Russians in New York city, has attracted some attention in Russia because of the title Novyye izvestiya gave to its report about it: “Russophobia or Simply Rats” (

            The story involves a dispute between an ethnic Russian restaurant owner whose outlets have been closed down by the New York health department for violations.  In an effort to win sympathy, he declared that this action had nothing to do with violations of the health and safety code but was a manifestation of “everyday Russophobia.”

            But his argument was overwhelmingly rejected by ethnic Russians in New York, who took the lead in reporting the story in the first place and who argued that anyone who lives in a country should obey its laws, especially when they are designed to protect the life and well-being of patrons. 

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