Sunday, April 28, 2019

776 Different Nationalities Now Live within Russia’s Borders, Officials Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Vladimir Putin has declared 2019 the Year of Numerically Small Peoples, and Moscow now says there are 776 different nationalities in the Russian Federation, peoples who can survive, Lyudmila Obukhovskaya says, only if they receive state support (

            This number, four times the figure given in the 2010 census, and the declaration of a special year of numerically small peoples are clearly intended to suggest that the Russian government is supportive of such groups.  In fact, these claims are intended to obscure the fact that Moscow is currently conducting the most intense Russianization campaign in decades.

            In the past, the relationship between the number of nationalities the Russian government says exist and government support for them have generally tracked together.  When Moscow has wanted to appear solicitous to the non-Russians as in the 1920s and now, the number goes up; but when it doesn’t as under Stalin the number drops often precipitously.

            But now the Putin regime has boosted the number of such groups it says exists precisely to obscure its withdrawal of support for and even attacks on the larger non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation because the Kremlin is prepared to provide some support for non-Russian peoples as long as they speak Russian and even more give up their native languages.

            This drive takes two forms. On the one hand, for larger nations like the Tatars or the Chuvash, the Putin regime has stripped their republics of the right to require all those who live within the borders of those federal subjects to study these languages, supposedly to prevent discrimination against Russians but in fact to drive down the number of non-Russian speakers. 

            And on the other, Moscow has talked up the existence of extremely small nationalities – and one can’t get to 776 unless one includes groups with only a handful of people in them – because it can reasonably claim that members of such groups will have to learn Russian because there are so few speakers.

            Such a claim, of course, will make it easier for Moscow to suggest that all non-Russians should speak Russian and even give up their languages – and thus become ethnic groups like in the United States or Canada rather than self-standing nations with long and proud traditions prior to the Russian conquest. 

            Unfortunately, the idea that such a development is appropriate is widely accepted by many Russians who describe themselves as liberals and even more by many in the West who engage in the worst form of mirror imaging and assume that ethnic relations in Russia are or at least should be like ethnic relations in their own country.

            But in fact, as Eduard Nadtochiy, a scholar at the University of Lausanne, notes, Russia isn’t that at all. Rather, it remains what it has been for centuries, “a prison house of peoples” whose government continues to engage in “real colonial wars” as in Ukraine and Georgia now and to suppress anyone who speaks out in favor of the rights of the nations within its walls (

                Indeed, he argues, Moscow’s aggression abroad and its repression at home are deeply interrelated, with those two unfortunate policies drawing on each other and reinforcing one another as can be seen in the Kremlin’s policies to this day.  No one should be misled by its talk of solicitousness for the numerically small peoples.

            And thus it is no accident that Obukhovskaya’s celebration of 776 different nations within Russia is about two numerically small peoples in Russian-occupied Crimea, the Krymchaks and the Karaim.  Both of those peoples should survive and even be supported but not as Moscow would have it by the destruction of the Crimean Tatar nation.

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