Friday, November 8, 2019

Russians ‘Largest Divided People on Earth,’ Poklonskaya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – On this National Unity Day, most Russians are focusing on the situation within the Russian Federation; but Duma deputy Natalya Poklonkaya is calling them to pay attention to another aspect of this problem, one that Vladimir Putin has made a centerpiece of his thinking: the division between Russia and ethnic Russians beyond its borders.

            Poklonskaya, a former Crimean prosecutor who has gained notoriety for her admiration of the last tsar, notes that “today, more than 30 million ethnic Russians live abroad,” making them “the largest divided people on the planet,” something all Russians should be thinking about how to change especially on this holiday (

            As German historian Wilfried Jilge noted more than a year ago, this definition of Russians as “a divided people” is a core element of Putin’s worldview ( boden-fuer-weitere-eroberungen-an-russlands-grenze_id_8810077.html; in Russian at

            “In projecting a certain ‘Russian Orthodox world’ onto territories on the other side of the Russian border, [Putin] neutralizes the independence of neighboring countries and of Ukraine in particular.” He does so because the stabilization of that country would be “dangerous for himself,” Jilge wrote.

            “Today’s Russia is not a democratic country. Elections there serve to legitimize the autocratic regime which has arisen under Putin.” And both the selection of the date of the elections – the fourth anniversary of the Crimean Anschluss – and Putin’s rhetoric during the campaign show that he relies on the divided people argument.

            Right up to the present, Jilge continued, Putin “justifies the annexation of Crimea by his conception of a certain ‘Russian world,’ according to which ‘the fraternal Ukrainian people’ is part of Russia’s sphere of influence,” the historian says.  He bases that notion on both tsarist and Soviet approaches.

            On the one hand, he argued, Putin accepts the tsarist approach of dividing the subjects of the country not be ethnicity but by religion and posits that since most Ukrainians are Orthodox, they cannot be separate.  And on the other, he views the Soviet Union as another name for Russia and thus a place where Russia must be dominant or even in complete control.

            “Putin’s thesis about a single people is an authoritarian-imperialist assertion of identity which does not have anything in common with the real attitudes one can observe today in Ukrainian society. That Putin continues to assert this thesis may be evidence that the Kremlin intends to involve itself with the destabilization of Ukraine,” the German historian said.

            Clearly, Jilge concluded in words that remain just as true now as when they were uttered, “a stable, flourishing and democratic Ukraine could be in the eyes of some Russians an attractive alternative to the Putin autocratic regime and thus threaten the property of the corrupt oligarchs who support the Kremlin.”

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