Friday, May 26, 2023

Russian Liberals have Failed to Offer Alternative to Kremlin’s Imperialist Narrative, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – The current Russian state is imperialist in relation not only to the peoples within the Russian Federation but also to the former Soviet republics that are now independent states, Kharun Sidorov says; and “Russian liberals have not presented any alternatives” to this vision.

            Instead, the Prague-based analyst says, Russian liberals have acted as if Russia were a typical European country with some “abstract” and hence homogeneous “population” that must be held together in one state lest disaster occur, an idea that makes them allies rather than opponents of Putin and his regime (

            Such people, Sidorov continues, “typically ignore the substantive basis of the state is not some abstract population (‘the majority of people’) but a political community with a collective vision of history, which defines the parameters of this state, including territorially,” and that the understanding of this community pushed Russia to war against Ukraine.

            “When Vladimir Putin at a minimum in 2012 and in fact even earlier began to speak about Russia not as a state in the internationally recognized borders of the Russian Federation but as ‘historical’ or ‘big Russia,’ with borders corresponding to those of the Soviet Union, none of the Russian liberals or their allies criticized him ideologically for that,” he points out.

            Indeed, they did not say anything when “the doctrine of the restoration of spheres of neo-imperial domination of Russia in the post-Soviet space became official already in 1995 and in fact was begun to be realized still earlier, in the Russian hybrid operations in Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Tajikistan, and in 1994 in the full-scale war in Chechnya.”

Thus, they did not counter the fact that “Vladimir Putin came to power not from below at the head of a revanchist movement like the one Adolf Hitler led but as a result of the actions of and as a result of the actions Yeltsin [his predecessor] took in his ‘special military operation’ in Chechnya.”

This failure of the liberals to speak out, Sidorov says, means that “all their current anti-war position regarding the war of the Kremlin against Ukraine looks purely tactical, as a disagreement about methods and expediency and no about the goal itself … even today Leonid Gozman in the text where he calls for the complete victory of Ukraine over Russia continues” to support the idea that “’Russia is essentially a European power.’”

What is needed and what the Russian liberals have failed to provide is an alternative historical narrative which rejects the imperial narrative of the Kremlin rather than reinforces it by insisting the Russia is an integral country and has the right to sphere of influence over its neighbors.

But as of now, nothing of the kind is on offer, and “therefore if Ukrainian or Belarusian national democrats know why Ukrainians and Belarusians are not Russians, then Russians still do not understand why Russians are not Ukrainians or Belarusians.” Until that changes, the Kremlin narrative will remain dominant.

According to Sidorov, “analogous to this is the situation within Russia itself where Russian liberals do not see other nations with their own historical narratives” and instead conceive them all as part of “’historical Russia’” who can have no other fate than to be part of Russia.

As a result, the non-Russians just outside Russia’s current borders and the non-Russians within them have come up with their own national non-imperial narratives but Russians have not. They do not and cannot find a dignified place for themselves within the Russian historical narrative, the liberals have not offered one, and so they are compelled to think about exit.

Indeed, tis liberal failure, Sidorov concludes, means that the only logical choice non-Russians have is to “seek the disintegration of Russia” and thus “acquire the substantive foundations on which post-imperial political communities and states can be created” and maintained.


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