Thursday, March 21, 2024

In ‘War for the Consciousness of Russia’s Regions,’ Ukraine is Using the Siberia Myth Moscow had Employed So Successfully Until Now, Chernyshov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 18 – One of the most remarkable and potentially most fateful ironies of Putin’s war in Ukraine is that Kyiv is now deploying the Siberian myth of the outsider who defines and saves Russia against a Russian state that until now had repeatedly used the myth to save itself but isn’t doing so today, Sergey Chernyshov says.

            And that shift, reflected in Ukrainian support for the Siberian Battalion now fighting inside Russia, gives Ukraine the upper hand in “the war for the consciousness of Russia’s regions” and thus could threaten Russia more than any invasion, the Russian historian says (

            One of the staples of Russian propaganda has been the image of Siberians as outsiders who in critical moments come to the aid of the Muscovite state, Chernyshov continues. That “archetype” was first employed in Napoleonic times and worked so well that tsarist and then Soviet officials used it in subsequent wars as well.

            But strangely and surprisingly, he says, Russia has not done so in its war in Ukraine despite having had numerous opportunities. And as a result, Ukraine has turned the tables on Moscow, presenting Siberians in the shape of the pro-Ukrainian Siberian Battalion as those who will save Russia not from outside invaders but from itself.

            Instead of calling units complected of men from national minorities by their ethnic names as they well could have, the Ukrainian authorities decided to speak about a Siberian battalion, something that taps into this long Russian tradition that Moscow has now abandoned, according to Chernyshov.

            In addition, Kyiv has talked about a Urals Battalion and an Ingria Battalion both of which have more a regional than an ethnic dimension; and here is why this matters, the Rusisan historian says. It will help save not only Ukraine but assist ethnic Russians in “freeing themselves from the occupation regime” they now live under.

            Chernyshov concludes: “Perhaps it will turn out that this is a strong symbolic move and another Ukrainian bid for victory in the war of meanings, including the war for the consciousness of the residents of Russia’s regions. After all, no amount of ‘demilitarization’ or ‘aid to the Donbass’ will ever defeat meaning-forming archetypes of human consciousness.”

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