Putin Goes Far Beyond Stalin In Defending All Russian Actions Against Non-Russians – OpEd


Vladimir Putin’s new decree goes far beyond Stalin in defending all Russian actions against non-Russians past and present and in insisting that non-Russians must have as their heroes not those who allied themselves with Russians but only those who abjectly subordinated themselves to Russian leadership, Kharun (Vadim) Sidorov says.

As such, the Prague-based specialist on nationality policy says, Putin’s words take to a new and normative level ideas which the Kremlin leader and his supporters have been talking about for some time (idelreal.org/a/kreml-sobralsya-perepisyvat-istoriyu-narodov-rossii/32940606.html).

His May 8 decree – for background, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/05/putin-declares-ethnic-russians-state.html – declares that “the peoples of Russia are a single cultural community of the Russian world,” thus violating the provisions of the 1993 Constitution and a raft of international agreements the Kremlin has signed. 

But even more important than that, Sidorov continues, are several other provisions of the decree. Paragraph 5 specifies that “Russia is a great country with a centuries’ long history, a state civilization which unites together ethnic Russian and many other peoples on the space of Eurasia into a single cultural-historical community.”

This formulation not only denies the subjecthood of the non-Russians that was recognized by the Soviets and is enshrined in the constitution but “actually denies the self-determination of particular peoples of Russia not only in the form of independent states but even in the form of an equal union of the peoples of Russia.”

The various peoples of the Russian Federation in Putin’s understanding are now to be “viewed not as a union (federal) political community, the ideology of which corresponded to the concept of ‘a multinational people’ but as parts of a single cultural and historical community” as defined by Putin.

A glance at the past shows just how radical a change this represents, Sidorov says. “After the collapse of the Russian Empire, the communities were able to restore in it a new ideology form in part thanks to their recognition of the nominal right of its peoples for national self-determination.”

Soviet policy thus first demanded and then allowed for the denunciation of Tsarist Russia as “a prison house of peoples” even when it eventually blocked any criticism by non-Russians of the policies of the communist leadership. But now, the Kremlin wants to “rehabilitate the nationality policy of the Russian Empire and the Muscovite kingdom.”

“If in the Soviet period, Russia’s colonial policy toward those it conquered could be condemned, now,” Sidorov says, “this will be viewed as an officially unacceptable ‘negative assessment of events and periods of national history” to the point that no national heroes will be acceptable. Instead, only those who servilely backed he Russians will be allowed.

As a result, while until recently it was possible to “openly speak and write about [Russia’s] bloody conquests or even genocides” as long as these were confined to past actions, “now, not only all the past of Russia will be presented as ‘bright’ but corresponding histories for the peoples of Russia will be prepared and cadres readied to promote that version.”

Paradoxically, Putin is rehabilitating Russian imperialism and colonialism “under the banner of fighting against both.” But while he is banning any discussion of troubling parts of Russia’s history, people in the West are increasingly willing to talk about and denounce their own colonial pasts.

And as for neo-Nazism, Sidorov concludes, “the fight against it by Putin’s Russia has become a cover for a policy whose similarities with the policies of Nazi Germany are now being discussed around the world.” On that point, he cites Alexander Motyl’s “Is Putin’s Russia a Nazi State?” The Hill, March 10, 2024 at thehill.com/opinion/international/4521958-is-putins-russia-a-nazi-state/.

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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