FM Lavrov Should Remember The 5 Thousand Chinese Massacred By Russians Before Talking About Western Colonial Crimes – OpEd


While touring Africa in January 2023, Russian FM Lavrov said it is sad that most European and Western foreign policy initiatives ‘remain imbued with a neo-colonial mentality, a neo-colonial logic based on the divide et impera – divide and rule – principle’. It feels as if that Russia itself is clean as a whistle, and there is nothing to blame it in this regard. But, is it really so? 

Here’s what else is important to know while considering such questions. When saying something like this, Sergey Lavrov (as well as other representatives of Moscow) usually draws a parallel between not only nowadays Russia and the West, but also tsarist Russia and Western colonial powers of the 19th and 20th century. So last summer, Russian FM blamed Western sanctions for the food crisis in Africa and asserted that in contrast to the U.K., France, Belgium and other European powers, Russia ‘has not stained itself with the bloody crimes of colonialism’.

Those words have not gone unnoticed in the West. Here is what Casey Michel, an investigative journalist based in New York City, said in this regard: Russia’s campaigns of conquest and subjugation “were no less bloody for advancing overland, not overseas. Russia never had formal colonies in Africa, Latin America or South Asia. But the idea that the Kremlin avoided colonization projects altogether – that it dodged the ‘bloody crimes’ for which Dutch, Spanish or Portuguese empires were responsible – is as risible as it is ahistorical… Too many either don’t know or ignore that Russia was, and remains, a major colonial power. From the Caucasus to Crimea, from the Arctic to the Amur, from the Volga to the Pacific, Russia’s colonial campaigns conquered innumerable nations – decimating local cultures, bulldozing local sovereignty, and engaging in genocidal practices”.

His piece got a wide negative resonance in the Russian mainstream media because the appearance of such an article in the press having world-wide coverage had been one of those rare cases in which Russia is shown to the world in a way that most of its own non-European (non-Caucasian) minorities have long been accustomed to seeing it. This is a common practice among the Russian political, intellectual and media elites to rush fending off any attempts from outside to expose the falsity of the notion about Russia’s ‘imperial innocence’

So there is nothing surprising in the fact that those words by Casey Michel, describing Russian imperialism and colonialism in a way that refutes Moscow’s rosy reading of them, have been broadly slammed by the Russian print and online outlets. With regard to the relations between the West and the rest of humanity, the public and political circles of Russia, considering themselves to be European, have been and still are guided by the ideas of the early 20th century where the world was yet far from having established racial and ethnic equality. In the present confrontation between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian crisis, that output apparently looks a bit paradoxical. 

However, it may become quite understandable when considering that, as Casey Michel explained in Politico, Moscow’s strategic support for Western nationalist and Christian fundamentalist movements has put Russia, as the number two white power with the United States being the number one, ‘at the helm of the global Christian right’, and ‘American fundamentalists bent on unwinding minority protections in the US have increasingly leaned on Russia for support – and for a model they’d bring to bear back home’.

The submission of the apologies to the colonized and wronged nations and peoples by the countries that have colonized and wronged them is something nobody in the western world virtually objects to. Most citizens of the Russian Federation of European origin have the exact opposite attitude in this regard. Having long been accustomed to the idea that Russia has been and remains a benevolent force, they, on the contrary, have a tendency to blame Russia’s non-European (non-Caucasian) minorities and the titular ethnicities of the former Soviet republics, like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for not showing enough gratitude for what’s once been formulated by Vladimir Rutskoy, the ex-vice-president of Russia, as follows: “We [Russians] have got these people [Kazakhs] down from the donkeys and taught them how to use toilet paper”. The Russian official position now seems to be quite consonant with the above, though it is never expressed in an equally loud voice.

Anyhow, it is apparent that in its dealings with the colonized non-European (non-Caucasian) nations and peoples, Russia wasn’t and isn’t what it thinks it was and is. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov would better remember the 5 thousand Chinese massacred by Russians during the 1900 Amur anti-Chinese pogroms before saying that Russia ‘has not stained itself with the bloody crimes of colonialism’

Here is what Andrew Higgins, a correspondent of New York Times, wrote about this in March, 2020: “The crime scene is a riverbank from which Russian Cossacks drove thousands of Chinese to their death by drowning in the Amur River 120 years ago. On a nearby hill stand a bronze memorial statue and a concrete Orthodox cross. These memorials are not there to mourn the victims. Instead, they celebrate the Cossacks for their role in securing lands that were once Chinese… Victor Zatsepine, a historian of modern Chinese history at the University of Connecticut who has studied the incident, said “the massacre definitely happened.” In a study of the massacre, Mr. Zatsepine wrote that the episode was not an accident or the result of wartime confusion – Russia’s preferred view of the tragedy – but “a calculated display of imperial power” shaped by Russian attitudes at the time of “cultural and racial superiority”.

It is also known that the Russians burned numerous Chinese villages and that many Chinese, including children, women and the elderly, were brutally killed before they were thrown in the water. The Amur River was full of corpses all swollen up. Here is how A.V. Vereshchagin, a Russian officer, described what he had seen then: “A Chinese man”, an old pilot says to me in a low voice, with a deadpan tone, as if there was some kind of snag or pothole. A contemptuous smile appears on his face. It was like, “That is not even worth paying attention!” 

In the days after the Atlanta tragedy occurred on March 16, 2021, the Russian media and FM Sergey Lavrov behaved pretty much the same way as that old pilot. One can judge for himself, here’s how it all happened.

After 20 March 2021, the top Russian TV networks were making fun of Joe Biden stumbling thrice while boarding Air Force One on his way to visit to Atlanta. As was well known, he went there for the purpose of meeting with Asian-American leaders and condemning the rising violence against the community after six Asian women were shot dead in the US state of Georgia. Yet the reason for that visit was almost totally neglected by the Russian mainstream media. It looked like a kind of conspiracy of silence.

RIA Novosti’s Irina Alksnis has been almost the only one author to speak specifically on the topic linked to prejudice toward Asians in America in the Covid-19 Pandemic. Yet everything becomes clear when you look at the title of her article, reprinted by a few Russian periodicals, on the matter: “New white people in the US: Asians are bearing the costs of their success”. That sounded like a highly unethical, even cynical reasoning at a time when there were increases for anti-Asian hate in the US. Or like, “you [Asians] deserve what you’re getting”.

What happened next was quite remarkable. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement expressing his profound concern over the rise in violence against Asians, and people of Asian descent. On April 1, Sergey Lavrov, on behalf of Russia, kind of made his contribution to the high-level discussions on racial discrimination. The Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, 60 percent of whose territory has historically belonged to ethnic groups of [East] Asian origin, spoke against the aggression towards white people, white US citizens and warned that anti-white racism might be building in America. It was like, “I as Russian FM cannot care less about Asians systematically abused, beaten and even murdered in America by the white offenders and perpetrators driven by racist motives. In this context, all I care about are the interests of White Americans”.

That seems to be the real face of Russian foreign policy.

Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analysts from Kazakhstan.

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