Saturday, March 2, 2024

Putin has Long Believed Ethnic Russians Must Assimilate Others or Put Their Own Nation at Risk of Decline or Death, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 27 – Drawing on the ideas of Yury Andropov, Lev Gumilyev and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Vladimir Putin has long believed that ethnic Russians can and must assimilate other peoples living in Russia or face the prospect that the Russian nation will itself enter a period of decline and perhaps even disappear, Vadim Sidorov says.

            The Kremlin leader now has the power to try to put his beliefs into practice, the Prague-based specialist on ethnic relations in the Russian Federation says; and in a new article, he offers a comprehensive discussion of how Putin is pressing forward with a radical assimilationist agenda (

            As such, what Putin believes and what he is trying to do represent a radical departure from the views that dominated Russian thinking in the 1990s. “The creator of post-Soviet Russia, Boris Yeltsin [invariably] spoke about ‘dear Rossiyane’” using the Russian term for a civic not an ethnic Russian and talked about “Russian language” communities abroad.

            “For the president of a multi-national country, this was in its way logical,” Sidorov continues; and Yeltsin enshrined that position in the 1993 Russian constitution. “The problem was that this took place under conditions of a sharp growth in national self-consciousness of almost all peoples of the former Soviet Union and Russia itself.”

            And it worked well for non-Russians who could of course view themselves simultaneously as titular nationalities in the republics. But it created resentment among ethnic Russians who had no specifically ethnic Russian republic of their own. Tatars could thus be Tatars and Rossiyane, but Russians in this system were left being only Rossiyane.

            One of the few figures at that time who spoke to this resentment was Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, both of which emerged out of the KGB. But while many dismissed Zhirinovsky as simply someone playing to Russian ethno-nationalism, his position actually was very different, Sidorov argues.

            “The doctrinal position of the LDPR and Zhirinovsky on the nationality question always was directed against multi-culturalism,” the expert says. He wanted to do away with the republics and the nationality line of the passport “and make of Russians something like the Americans, a single civic nation on the basis of Russian culture and language.”

            That was hardly enough for real Russian nationalists, some of whom were in the 1990s pressing for the creation of a Russian national republic alongside the non-Russian republics, while others were calling for a single Russian nation that would absorb all the others. Neither of these approaches could be adopted in that troubled decade.

            But over the last 15 years, Putin and others within the Russian leadership have sought to address ethnic Russian resentment about the asymmetry of their system by promoting the idea of a Russian world and insisting as Putin himself has since 1991 that Russians have always assimilated others and that as “a young nation” in Gumilyev’s terms must continue to do so (,, and

            Most observers have focused on Putin’s hostility to the continued existence of non-Russian republics, something he views as a Leninist delayed action mine under the country. But Sidorov points out that Putin has always had a more far-reaching goal of eliminating not just the non-Russian republics but assimilating the non-Russian nations into the Russian.

            Putin’s ideas, Sidorov suggests, can be traced back to those of Soviet leader and KGB chief Yury Andropov, Zhirionvsky who came out of the KGB and Lev Gumilyev, whose writings on the rise and fall of nations depending on their age and “passionate” status and who appealed to many Russian nationalists.

            In the past, these were only ideas; but Putin now has the power to try to put them into effect. He clearly feels this is an urgent matter: a year ago, he suggested that unless Russians absorb non-Russian under the banner of a common Russian people, the Russian nation and Russia itself will be at risk (

            To no one’s surprise, others in Moscow are picking up and even extending Putin’s ideas. Dmitry Kuznetsov, a member of the Duma’s nationality affairs committee, for example, says that the term “rossiyane” was in fact “invented” by Ukrainians to destroy Russia and the Russian nation (

            To the extent that Putin pushes such a radical assimilationist line further, that policy is likely to please some Russians. But it will almost certainly provoke a backlash among non-Russians within Russia who will see it as an attack on their identities and on the former Soviet republics who will see this approach as a threat to them as well. 

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