Sunday, February 23, 2020

Russian Approach to Empire Very Different than British or French, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 17 – When analysts compare the Russian empire to the British or French, they usually focus on the fact that the former advanced in a contiguous fashion while the latter two were formed from lands beyond the oceans. But that is far from the most important distinction, historian Boris Sokolov says.

            The British and the French chose which lands to transform into colonies on the basis of whether these areas would bring a profit to the metropolitan center and its population, he says. The Russians in contrast sought to expand territorially without much regard to the profitability for either the elite or the population of doing so (

            In this, Russian rulers acted more like medieval kings and ended up by creating an empire which cost the center’s elites and masses more than it benefitted either except in the psychologically significant way of making rulers and ruled alike proud of the extent of their possessions.

            Despite the fact that the empire has almost always operated at a loss for the center, Sokolov continues, “the overwhelming majority of residents of Russia, including even those who are critically inclined toward Putin, have retained their imperial consciousness.” And that in turn helps explain the unique “cult of victory in the Great Fatherland War.”

            “People say: yes, Putin suppressed freedom, destroyed business, and raised the pension age. All this is bad. But look he rejoined Crimea to Russia, intends to do the same with the Donbass, and fights with terrorists in Syria, all of which is correct since we must have as much territory as possible in order that we be taken seriously by others.”

            The same explains Russian attitudes toward Stalin: “In their majority, Russians curse Stalin for everything except his conquests. For those, many are prepared to forgive the victims of his policies. And until among the population this imperial consciousness is overcome, democracy in Russia will not win out.”

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