Staunton, Feb. 19 – Kyiv’s arguments that the Kuban is properly part of Ukraine (jamestown.org/program/the-kuban-a-real-wedge-between-russia-and-ukraine/) have brought a Russian rejoinder that it is not (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=42444). But they have also forced Russians to address two other issues that Moscow generally prefers to ignore.
On the one hand, because the Kuban is the traditional home of one of the three most prominent Cossack groups, the others being the Don and Terek Cossacks, Russians wading into this political thicket have had to revisit the issue of whether the Cossacks are a nation or only a sub-ethnos of the Russian nation.
And on the other, because the Russian state used a variety of strategies including ethnic engineering to extend its rule into the Kuban as well as other parts of the North Caucasus, Russian commentators have also been forced to be explicit in their view that Russian expansion was not an act of colonialism.
But in making these arguments, Russian writers frequently offer evidence that undercuts their own arguments and unwittingly provides support for both Ukrainian and Cossack claims on the Kuban as well as for the contention that what the Russian state did there can only be described as an act of colonialism that should be subject to decolonization at some point.
A classic example of this is provided by Igor Vasiliyev, a regular commentator for the Russian nationalist APN portal (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=43158). He insists that “the conquest of the North Caucasus does not have anything in common with colonialism” but was all about the defense of Russian against attacks.
But he then provides evidence that shows that the Russian state used military force, population transfers and forced re-identification of peoples in order to solidify its position in the Kuban, all of which demonstrates that what Russia has been about there is entirely about extending its territory in a colonial manner.
And Vasiliyev insists that the Cossacks were never a separate people or part of the Ukrainian nation, although he concedes that they had “Little Russian” roots, spoke a language that included many Ukrainian elements, and that their own identity took shape under the influence of clerics who were trained in Ukrainian schools.
The details he provides are thus grist for the mills of both Ukrainians and Cossacks who see the Kuban as properly theirs as well as for other North Caucasians who have been victims of Russian imperialism and now want to see the de-colonization of that country and the emergence of their own nation states.
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