Ethnic Russians Don’t Declare Their Nationality On Military Documents


Unlike passports from which the nationality line has been eliminated, the military documents Russian soldiers and officers carry still has such a line, although commanders, as a provision of the 1993 Constitution specifies, are not in a position to demand that anyone declare his nationality.

According to one officer, Lt. Col. Roman Ilyushchenko, the documents of one unit he examined showed that “not more than five to seven percent of the soldiers” expressed “a desire to declare themselves “ethnic Russians,” even though almost all of the non-Russian personnel declared their nationalities (

In an article entitled “The [Ethnic] Russian Question in the [Non-Ethnic] Russian Army,” Ilyushchenko says that this pattern raises many questions, not least of which “why don’t these boys want to freely declare that they are [ethnic] Russians?” The answer to that, he suggests, is that “they do not know their roots.”

According to Ilyushchenko, “such a passive life position corresponds to the forcibly introduced into our society criteria of tolerance and the plans of the globalists to raise in Russia citizens of the world, ‘Ivanovs who do not remember their kinship’” with the Russians who won the countries earlier wars.

Such attitudes, the officer continues, “destroy all the traditions and principle of the [ethnic] Russian and [non-ethnic] Russian army, which never was a non-national armed formation.” Even in Soviet times, he writes, “soldiers maintained the elements of national self-identification,” an identity that “always played an important role” in strengthening the unit.

Ilyushchenko refers to a comment by an unnamed senior commander others have cited as well. According to that officer, “it isn’t politically correct to be interested in the nationality of soldiers. That is now defined only when a soldier commits a crime.” From that, Ilyushchenko says, one could conclude that “only a criminal has a nationality.”

“The further minimalization of the nationality question in the army,” he continues, “is fraught with the most serious consequences for its fighting ability,” something that the current Russian government does not appear to recognize but that some groups, including the Russian Orthodox Church very much do.

Ilyushchenko cites a January 2010 comment by Patriarch Kirill, who said with obvious bitterness that “unfortunately, not only the younger but even the older generation frequently forgets that we will never be able to move forward until we understand how we turned out to be where we are.”

“Sociological research shows,” the Orthodox leader said, “that the majority of our citizens have an extremely uncertain knowledge not only of the history of the fatherland but even about their own genealogy. This knowledge frequently does not extend beyond the third generation — that is one’s grandmother and grandfather.”

Only seven percent of Russians have composed a family tree, Kirill said; with 38 percent telling pollsters that “no one had told them about this” and “48 percent assertingthat this question for their families was a matter of indifference,” an attitude that Ilyushchenko says helps to explain the breakdown in national self-identification among ethnic Russians.

And the decline of such identification matters not only for the military but for the society as a whole. Those who are conscious of “their membership in a concrete nation or family” not only “have the strength to withstand inevitable difficulties and deprivations” but have a reason not to dishonor their ancestors and their fellows by bad actions.

Tragically, Ilyushchenko continues, Russian military commanders now are exacerbating this loss of ethnic identification rather than helping to overcome it. In the outline for military lectures on “Patriotism and the Problems of the Spiritual and Moral Security of Russia,” “there is not a word about love for one’s own (Russian people and its history.”

Instead, the lieutenant colonel says, “the word ‘[ethnic] Russian” is used four times” in that document, only slightly more than the words “Ukrainian” or Georgian” are used – two times each – or “Kazakh” and “Tajik” once each. That reflects a fundamental change – and in Ilyushchenko’s view, an incorrect one.

“Soldiers drafted from regions where Muslims live in compact groups,” he says, “indicate their nationality much more often in military tickets” than those soldiers, including ethnic Russian ones, from other places.
“They are accustomed to this, and it does not enter anyone’s head to accuse an Avar, a Dargin, a Tabasaran or a Tatar of nationalism.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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