Monday, December 11, 2023

Putin’s Use of the Term ‘Russians’ a Revival of Tsarist Approach to Identity, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 7 – In the Russian Empire, the authorities recognized only the existence of Russian subjects but did not acknowledge the existence of “’the Russian people’ as an ethno-nation with a separate status,” Vadim Sidorov says. “As ‘a nationality,’ the Russians emerged officially only in the Soviet period or more precisely under Stalin.”

            The Soviet innovation, the Prague-based analyst says, “hypothetically gave the opportunity to ‘Russians by nationality’ after the collapse of the USSR to form a Russian ethno-nation.” But “instead, the political class of Russia … decided to restore the previous, pre-Soviet and Russian-imperial understanding” (

            That has allowed Putin to extend the concept of Russianness not only to the Ukrainians and the Belarusians but “in political terms, to all the subjects of Russia who formally are the citizens of the Russian Federation.” That revives the imperial understanding but it limits the ability of the Russians to form even a civic nation.

            According to Sidorov, because of this definition of Russianness by Putin and the post-Soviet elite, “the Great Russians will turn out to be more of an ethno-political concept than an ethno-cultural one, a product of Muscovite polito-genesis and involving the levelling out of ethnic differences among the essential components within it.

            In short, Sidorov says, this is not a platform on which “an identity can be built that focuses on the future and on the Russianness that many, including himself, feel.  Instead, it is a threat to both and must be opposed however small the chances for success such opposition has at the present time.

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