Putin Should Wonder Why A Russian Citizen Of Kalmyk Origin Likens Contemporary Russia To Nazi Germany – OpEd


In his last article, this author has already talked about the Russian leadership increasingly starting to see the main danger to Russia in the possibility of an interethnic and interfaith explosion. This week, new evidence came up as to the validity of such a vision of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to presidential elections in Russia early next year. From there arises the need to readdress that topic.

Let’s talk first about what happened this week. Speaking to the World Russian People’s Council on November 28, led by the head of Russia’s Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir Putin repeated his warning about the challenges concerning inter-ethnic relations the Russian Federation faces due to Western attempts ‘to sow [ethnic] strife’. It should be remembered that he had said much the same thing on May 19, 2023, while holding, via videoconference, a meeting of the Council for Interethnic Relations. What’s perhaps most remarkable is that the Kremlin master said this time that the West was gripped by racist Russophobia, which casts Russians as a people of backward ‘slaves’. This leads to the conclusion that his accusations of racism against the West are becoming more frequent and more aggressive. On Tuesday he claimed that “our diversity and unity of cultures, traditions, languages, and ethnic groups simply don’t fit into the logic of Western racists and colonialists, into their cruel scheme of total depersonalization, disunity, suppression, and exploitation”.

Thus, Putin is talking about Western [neo]colonialist, racist attitudes towards Russia. He would have better wondered why Erzhen Erdeni, a Russian citizen of Kalmyk origin, likens contemporary Russia to Nazi Germany.

In that story, as in a drop of water, the true attitude of the Russian authorities and society to all people of [East] Asian origin is reflected. The Russian power appears to be committed to keeping high levels of the Russian-Slavic population’s alienatedness from people of [East] Asian origin in Astrakhan province sandwiched between Kazakhstan and Kalmykia, as well as to maintaining the local Russian Europeans’ belief that they are bound to get its support in case of any disputes or conflicts with those outsiders, regardless of who they are – the Kalmyks and Kazakhs, which the Russians call‘Kitayezy’(Chinks), or ‘Korsaki’   (Steppe Foxes), or the Chinese proper.

Kalmyks, as the only Mongolic ethnic group living mainly in European part of Russia, seem to be particularly exposed to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance in the Russian Federation. So, it is hardly surprising that Erzhen Erdeni, a Kalmyk female author, while reminiscing about Asia-phobic abuse like a‘Kitayeza’(a Chink), or‘Slant-eyed one’ she had heard, and referring to racism that Hannah Arendt, a German-born American historian and political philosopher, had faced as a child in Hitlerite Germany, said the following:“While living, almost a hundred years later, in a country that defeated Hitler’s Nazism, I have gotten an absolutely identical experience of going through life”.

And this is a situation where there is a lot of talk about the so-called Russian pivot to [East] Asia.

Here’s what Prof. Dr. Ilyas Kemaloglu, in his article for Anadolu Ajansi, said about that while answering the question, “Why has Russia shifted towards Asia again?”: “Russia’s war against Ukraine has turned into a war between Russia and Western countries. While the West has provided military and material support for Ukraine, it has also imposed multiple sanctions on Russia. As a result, Russia has refocused its foreign policy on Asia, where it has been investing in recent years. The struggle with Western countries has brought Russia closer to China. Relations with Beijing are of great importance for Moscow in terms of eliminating political isolation and acting together in the international arena… Throughout its history, Russia has attached importance to both Central Asia and Middle East regions as well as the Asia-Pacific region. The importance of Asia for Russia increased even more during the periods when Moscow had problems with the West. Tensions between Russia and the West have once again led Moscow to direct its diplomatic activities and investments to Asia”.

The very act of questioning ‘why has Russia shifted toward Asia again’ gives an idea of what these repeated political demarches mean. It never ends with anything concrete. No such task has ever been set. As far as can be judged, such a move is generally used by Moscow as an instrument of pressure on the West to negotiate the best terms for Russia’s return to the “common European home” from the USA and their allies. And it seems like Western political scientists such as John J Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, are very much aware of this. The latter says:“Indeed, the US has a deep interest in pivoting out of Europe to East Asia, and enlisting Russia in the balancing coalition against China, not getting bogged down in a war in eastern Europe and driving the Russians into the arms of the Chinese”. One can assume what is in the Kremlin’s mind, that is in Mearsheimer’s language.

The Russian elite, as far as can be judged, still dreams of being admitted to the Western elite club, but only as an equal member. But it doesn’t seem to be working. Against such a background, Moscow appears to have changed their tactics and started accusing the liberal elites of the West of quitting its historic commitment to the representation of the white population’s interests throughout the world, of becoming soft on African Americans in the USA and on migrants and their descendants in the EU countries. 

And this is clearly making an impact on the mind of the right-wing forces. Here’s the evidence from a piece by Casey Michel entitled “How Russia surpassed Germany to become the racist ideal for Trump-loving white supremacists”: “For America’s white nationalists, there is only one nation – and one leader – worth emulating. Richard Spencer, the current face (and haircut) of US’s alt-right, believes Russia is the “sole white power in the world”. David Duke, meanwhile, believes Russia holds the “key to white survival.” And as Matthew Heimbach, head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party, recently said, Russian president Vladimir Putin is the “leader of the free world” – one who has helped morph Russia into an “axis for nationalists”.

Meanwhile, Moscow has been busily cultivating relationships with far-right groups in Europe, from radical right-wingers in Hungary to Marine LePen. But links between Moscow and America’s white supremacy movement are far deeper than approving rhetoric. Spencer, for instance, who has said that he “admire[s]” Putin”.

The flip side of the coin is the widespread escalation of anti-Asian racism in nowadays Russia. Here is a clear example of just how common ethnic Russians feel about even those [East] Asians who came from Russia’s Siberia to Donetsk as part of the Russian army to protect it from Ukrainian armed forces that, according to Russia’s UN Envoy, shelled this city over 25,000 times since February 2022: “Natalya Apukhtina, а resident of Donetsk, racially insulted Russian army servicemen from Buryatia in one of the local restaurants. Addressing the men at the next table, she called them “stinking, narrow-eyed beasts” and “round-nose animals” who “had come to fight for money”.

When our guys return from the war, I will help them kill you all”, she added. Natalya Apukhtina, according to her own words, owns two stores and six homes in Donetsk. Those Buryats as part of the Russian Army came, according to official propaganda, to protect, among other things, her properties from the Ukrainian artillery attacks. Not even that couldn’t restrain Natalya Apukhtina from this egregious display of racial hatred toward Buryats and [East] Asian people in general. This incident received wide publicity thanks to social networks. Nevertheless, no significant action by the Russian authorities was taken against Natalya Apukhtina.

This is a very ordinary instance of the widespread escalation of anti-Asian racism in nowadays Russia. Such a country applies for turning its back to the West and its face to the East?! Something seems wrong here.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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