This is an excerpt from Crisis in Russian Studies? Nationalism (imperialism), racism and war by Taras Kuzio. Get your free download from E-International Relations.
This book has six goals. The first goal is to start a debate about whether there is a crisis in Russian studies because of the difficulty coping with the 2014 crisis and the Russo-Ukrainian war. The chairman of the Institute of Political Science at Columbia University and Marshall Shulman, Professor of Post-Soviet Politics at Columbia University, Timothy Frye (2017) believe that Russian studies in political science are thriving. This book challenges that claim. Indeed, it is curious that Frye (2017) neglects to mention the 2014 crisis, the Crimea, Donbass or the Russo-Ukrainian war which – as this book argues – Not show that Russian studies are “alive and well” but does show “poor quality of academic research in” Russian Studies “. The legitimacy of Russian actions in Crimea is often accepted and the Ukrainian counterpoint is not taken seriously (see Zhuk 2014). There is only one “correct” view of the “Russian history” of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, which is nobler and more important than that of “non-historical” peoples. Russian identity rests on a different plane, ordained with a kind of historical nobility (Belafatti 2014). Only Russian feelings are to be respected, not the subaltern subjects.
The “last anti-Soviet revolution” in Ukraine “destroyed the traditionally accepted Moscow and Russian-oriented (actually Russian imperialist) approaches to analyzing recent political, social, cultural and economic developments in the post-Soviet space” (Zhuk 2014, 207) Western historians and political scientists continue to talk about Russia as if nothing has fundamentally changed, especially historians who largely ignored the emergence of independent states from the USSR in 1991 and continue to write “Russian” history by establishing territory in independent Ukraine include as “Russian countries”.
The crisis in Russian studies is most evident in the treatment of Russian nationalism (imperialism). Although nationalism (imperialism) increased in Russia in the ten years before the 2014 crisis, the tendency of political scientists was to downplay, minimize or time-limit it with few exceptions (Hale 2016, 246) (see Harris 2020). In addition, all political scientists working on Russia have ignored the rehabilitation of Tsarist Russians and whites emigrant Nationalism (imperialism) (Plokhy 2017, 326–327), Putin’s conviction that he is the “collector of Russian countries”, and the impact of these two developments on Russia’s attitudes towards Ukraine and Ukrainians and why they are the main cause of the 2014 crisis. Many of the authors of the 400-page volume on Russian nationalism, edited by Pal Kolsto and Helge Blakkisrud (2016), talk about the rise of ethnic Russian nationalism, its competition with imperial nationalism, and how they converged in 2014 in Crimea to defend it ethnic Russians and territorial expansionism (Kolsto 2016b, 6; Alexseev 2016, 161). At the same time, there is no discussion of how Russian ethnic nationalism is synonymous tryedynstva russkoho naroda (All-Russian people) where the Russian[[[[Russky]]People are seen as being composed of three branches – Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, and how Russian ethnic and imperial nationalisms were integrated into the “Russian Spring” into the “New Russia” (Novorossiya – the project of the tsarist designation for south-east Ukraine) and, more generally, the attitude and policy of Russia towards Ukraine since 2014 (Plokhy 2017, 335). Russian nationalism was always deeply rooted in the past of the revolution and was never limited to Russians, but always included Ukrainians and Belarusians as well (Plokhy 2017, 303–304).
Marlene Laruelle (2017a) writes that Russky can also be defined to include only ethnic Russians or three Eastern Slavs. Western scholars often ignore this important distinction Russky (see Bacon 2015, 23; Zakem, Saunders, Antoun 2015) or downplay it by arguing that Russian ethnic nationalism did not become official policy until Putin’s re-election in 2012 (Alexseev 2016, 162). Laruelle (2016c, 275) believes Russky Identity was already “mainstream” in 2014. Although Western political scientists debate when Russian ethnic nationalism became official politics and whether it is a passing phenomenon, none of them discuss Russky as tryedynstva russkoho naroda and the influence of such views on Putin’s policy towards Ukraine in 2014 and beyond.
The second aim is to show how historiographies of “Russia” can provide justification for nationalist (imperialist) invasions and military aggression in real life. This would not be the case if Western historians were to write civil histories of the Russian Federation, but unfortunately, Western historians continue to merge the Russian Empire and nation-state, depicting Ukraine as “Russian lands”, making Ukrainians a separate story. Western historians advocate that the Russian nation should include three Eastern Slavs if they were to write about a “modern bourgeois nation within the borders of the Russian Federation” (Plokhy 2017, 351).
My book uses the terms imperialism, nationalism, colonialism and racism and integrates them into discussions and analyzes of Ukrainian-Russian relations, Crimea and the Russian-Ukrainian war. Imperialism is used in this book to denote the conquest by a foreign country, in the case of this book the occupation of Crimea by Russia and parts of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
Imperialism also denotes actions, discourses, and politics, and so it is a better term than nationalism to describe Russia (see Rowley 2000). My book understands nationalism as the desire to live in an independent state, which was never a priority for Russian politicians, dissidents and activists. Russian dissidents did not seek the independence of the Russian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic (SFSR) from the Soviet Union, and the Russian SFSR did not declare independence from the USSR. In the USSR, those labeled “Russian nationalists” were either die-hard supporters of Joseph Stalin within the Communist Party or dissidents who wanted to turn the USSR into a Russian empire. As Alexander J. Motyl (1990, 161–173) wrote three decades ago, Russian nationalism is therefore a “myth”.
The third aim is to show how wrong it is to see Crimea as “always been Russian”. Sakwa (2016, 24) describes the annexation of Crimea by Russia as “repatriation”. One result of the story of the Crimea “always been Russian”. portrays “Russians” as the first settlers on the peninsula, thereby denying the Tatars their longer history and their right to be called the indigenous people of Crimea.
Colonialism and racism flow into my analysis of Crimea and the long-term persecution of its indigenous people, the Crimean Tatars. My book places the conquest of Crimea in the 1780s by the Tsarist Russian Empire in the context of similar conquests by Western European countries in North America in the early 17th century and Australia in the following century. The colonial rule of Russia, England / Great Britain and France brought genocide and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous peoples of the First Nation (Magocsi 2010, 691).
While Western scholars unanimously condemn colonialism and the mistreatment of First Nation indigenous peoples, those writing Russian history take a different approach and usually support Russia’s conquest of Crimea and what they see as justice when it comes to 2014 return to Russia (see Zhuk 2014)). The Tsarist Russian Empire, the USSR and Putin’s Russia have all practiced racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars and continue to do so (see Coynash and Charron 2019; Skrypnyk 2019). In addition, the Ukrainians in Crimea and the Russian-controlled Donbass are exposed to Russification based on the Soviet model.
Racism against Crimean Tatars has never been limited to the extreme right, as it has always had supporters of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet communist parties of the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Given such a left-wing history of racism, we should not be surprised if communist China locks a million Uyghurs in concentration camps. In Russia and Ukraine, the political forces are divided into two camps because of their attitude towards Crimean Tatars. Racists believe in the fictional Stalinist allegation that Crimean Tatars collaborated with the Nazis. These political forces include Soviet and post-Soviet communists, nationalist (imperialist) far-right forces of Russia, the former Ukrainian Party of Regions and, after its dissolution, the opposition bloc (Opozytsiynyy blok) and opposition platform for life (Opozytsiyna platforma – za zhyttya). Political forces that hold a non-racist view of the Crimean Tatars include Ukrainian nationalist and democratic forces. Crimean Tatars were elected to the Ukrainian Parliament Rukh (Ukrainian People’s Movement for Restructuring), Our Ukraine and the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. The political forces that support Putin that Russky Mir (Russian world) and Eurasian integration take a racist view of the Crimean Tatars, while those who support European integration do not.
The fourth goal is a critical literature review of the academic orientalist writing on the lack of nationalism in Russia and exaggerated reports on nationalism in Ukraine. Some, but not all, of these scriptures are from what I designate Putin understanding (Putin-Understander) Scientists who always try to deflect the criticism of Russian President Putin and Russia and blame Ukraine, NATO, the EU and the USA.
Nationalism in Ukraine is often discussed and analyzed through Soviet and contemporary Russian lenses. Ukraine has one of the lowest support rates for nationalism in Europe, if we use the political science definition of nationalism. During a war in which more than 20,000 people were killed, the parties understood in Europe as nationalist parties could not be elected in the Ukrainian elections in 2014 and 2019. If a Soviet and contemporary Russian understanding of “nationalism” is used instead, Ukraine will be overflowing with “nationalists” because it is applied to all who have rejected the Soviet system and want Ukraine to live outside the Russian world (Russky Mir) and supported the Orange and Euromaidan revolutions.
Some western scholars try to minimize or deny that Putin’s regime is nationalist, or claim that it resorted to nationalism temporarily between 2013-14 and 2015-16. This claim contradicts several sources of evidence of nationalism (imperialism) within Putin’s authoritarian regime. With this argument, Western scholars ignore how Russian nationalism under Putin exchanged the Soviet concept of citizenship of narrow but separate “brotherly peoples” with the Tsarist Russians and whites emigrant Conception of triyedinyy russkij narod consisting of three branches – Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. It is difficult to see how it can be argued that Putin’s Russia is not nationalist when it denies the existence of Ukraine and Belarus and when Russian leaders and media repeatedly declare that Ukrainians and Russians (and Belarusians and Russians) are one people. ‘
The fifth objective is to provide a counter-narrative of Russian military aggression in order to understand the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The Russian intervention in Ukraine took place throughout the decade leading up to the 2014 crisis and should be examined not only from a purely military point of view, but from all aspects of the Russian “full spectrum conflict” (Jonsson and Seely 2015). The refusal to define the Russo-Ukrainian war as a “civil war” is both a reflection of the crisis in Russian studies and a result of the tendency to recognize the influence of Ukrainian nationalism on the Euromaidan revolution and post-Euromaidan Ukrainian politics exaggerate.
The sixth goal is to show why peace is unlikely because choosing whom Ukrainians will vote for is far less important than the fact that the Russian president will stay in power for another 16 years. Although the Russo-Ukrainian war was counterproductive and led to a decrease in Russian soft power in Ukraine, there will be no peace as long as Putin and Russian leaders continue to deny the existence of Ukraine and the Ukrainians.
This book makes seven main points.
FirstThere are four implications that flow from the way Western historians write stories about “Russia”. The first is that Ukrainian territory is always portrayed as “Russian”, with Ukrainians inexplicably coming from an unknown location and “perching” on “Russian lands”. The second is that the western stories of “Russia” are identical or similar to the official Russian. Views on “Russian” history and the discourse against Ukraine and the Ukrainians are – unintentionally – partners of Russian nationalism (imperialism) against the Become Ukraine. Serhii Plokhy (2017, 331) writes about the connection between Putin’s belief in Russians and Ukrainians as “a people” who should live forever in the Russian world while the Russian army annexes Crimea and invades eastern Ukraine. The fourth is that stories of Ukraine are written in the same way as civil histories of European nation-states with Kiev Rus as the beginning of Ukrainian history (Subtelny 1988, 1991, 1994a, 1994b, 2000, 2009; Magocsi 1996, 1997, 2010, 2012; Plokhy 2015, 2016). Stories with “Kievan Russia” (Kievan Rus) as the beginning of “Russian history” are imperial stories that have nothing to do with the European civic historiography of nation states. Ukraine’s approach is compatible with democratization and European values, while an imperial history of Russia is synonymous with ethnic and political oppression and foreign military aggression.
SecondWestern and Russian historians advocate Russian claims to Crimea in two ways. The first is that “Kievan Russia” (Kievan Rus) was a “Russian country” and therefore Crimea has always been “Russian”. The second is that Russia has controlled Crimea since 1783 and has therefore always been “Russian”. Both allegations – just as in the first point – cause Russia’s military aggression. The claim that “Kievan Russia” (Kievan Rus) was always “Russian” denies Ukraine its historical origin, while the annexation of 1783 to portray Crimea as “always been Russian” denies the Crimean Tatars as indigenous peoples of Crimea (Sakwa (2016, 24)). .
thirdBefore or in 2014 there was no majority support for separatism in either Crimea or Donbass. Opinion polls in spring 2014 showed no majority support for separatism in Crimea or in a region of mainland Ukraine (Coynash 2019). In the eight Oblasts Southeastern Ukraine had the highest support rate for separatism between 18 and 33% Oblasts of the Donbass. In the eight Oblasts Of the southeastern Ukraine, an average of 15.4% supported separatism and only 8.4% the unification of Ukraine and Russia into one state (The Views and Opinions of the Residents of Ukraine in the Southeast 2014).
In Crimea, a Russian invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory was legitimized by a sham referendum based on the Soviet model. In Donbass, extremist Russian nationalists, supported by a minority of the region’s residents, took power with the help of Russian hybrid warfare. While separatists in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh had considerable support because the conflict was ethnically driven, the war in Donbass was always artificial and waged by foreign actors. It is therefore incorrect to describe what is taking place in Donbass as a “civil war” (see Kolsto 2016b, 16).
FourthPutin’s justification for invading Crimea and eastern Ukraine (which Russia has always denied in the latter case) in defense of the Russian-speaking population was wrong. No opinion polls or international organizations reported discrimination against Russian-speaking people (Plokhy 2017, 339). Putin’s justification “went back to 1938 rather than 1989” (Plokhy 2017, 339). In Crimea, “reactive settler nationalism” (Yekelchyk 2019) exercised hegemonic control and discriminated against the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian minorities. In Donbass, the Party of Regions and extremist Russian nationalist groups discriminated against Ukrainian speakers and the Jewish minority.
Russians and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine are given a wide range of educational, cultural, religious, and media facilities. In the Donbass and the Crimea, the institutionalization of the hegemony of the Russian language has been intensified since 2014. In Ukraine, Russians and Russian speakers can vote for pro-Russian parties, attend Russian-language schools, attend Russian-language schools and pro-Russian television channels, and attend services in the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin’s representative in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, owns three television channels.
FifthSince 1783, the Crimean Tatars have seen national revivals for only 33 years, while this has been appropriately named Corenization (Indigenization) 1923–1933 in the USSR and independent Ukraine from 1991–2013. For almost two centuries, Crimean Tatars suffered from genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism and Islamophobia in the Tsarist Russian Empire and the USSR and since 2014 under Russian occupation under the term “hybrid genocide”, as coined by the Crimean Tatar journalist Ayder Muzhdabayev (Goble 2015) . .
SixthA majority of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine has a bourgeois Ukrainian and no Russian world identity and has therefore not supported the “Russian Spring” or “New Russia” project in 2014 or since then. Many Western scholars were surprised because they had stereotypical myths of a regionally divided Ukraine (see Darden and Way 2014), did not understand Russian-speaking Ukrainian patriotism, and did not take this patriotism into account when writing about the Russo-Ukrainian war. There are no differences in regional patriotism among Ukrainians: 85% in the west, 83% in the south and 82% in the east define themselves as “Ukrainian patriots” and 63% are in the west of Ukraine, 54% in the south and 50% in the east ready to use weapons to protect Ukraine from attack from abroad (Defenders of Ukraine Day 2020). Russia’s military aggression is mainly fought by Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who make up the majority of the victims (see Map 6.2). Putin does not defend, but kills Russian-speaking people in Ukraine and drives them to become internally displaced persons and refugees.
sevenIn the first half of the 1990s, the Russian Federation had given nation-building no priority, and Boris Yeltsin first raised the question of formulating a “national idea” for the new state in 1996, the same year he adopted the contradicting one Policy of a country supported by the Russian-Belarusian Union (Prizel 1998). Yitzhak Brudny (1998, 261) argues that the lack of civic nationalism has undermined Russia’s post-Soviet political and economic transition process (see Tolz 1998a, 1998b; Kolsto 2016a, 3; Blakkisrud 2016, 260). The editor of the Russian newspaper VedomostiMaxim Trudolybov (2016) explained the different paths taken by Russia and Ukraine: “Russian body politics equates society with the state. Ukraine, with its growing number of voluntary movements, non-governmental organizations and independent political parties, is busy developing a new bourgeois identity. “
Ukraine is building the bourgeois identity that Russia has escaped. Citizenship nationalism and patriotism are prevalent in Ukraine – not ethnic nationalism (see Clem 2014; Kulyk 2014, 2016; Onuch and Hale 2018; Pop-Eleches and Robertson 2018; Kaihko 2018; Onuch and Sasse 2018; Bureiko and Moga 2019; Nedozhogina 2019) . Ukrainian patriots accuse Russian leaders and the Russian state of military aggression against their country – not the Russian people. Crimean Tatars and Jews would not have fled from Crimea or Donbass to Ukraine if they had been led by extremist “nationalists”. Russian speakers would not fight for Ukraine if nationalism dominated post-Euromaidan politics.
This book has six chapters. Chapter 1 analyzes the Western, Tsarist, Soviet and contemporary Russian historiography of “Russia”, which depicts Ukraine to varying degrees and in different forms as a “Russian land”. The second chapter looks at the Crimea and why Tatars are its indigenous people, and provides an overview of Russian territorial claims to the peninsula that predate 2014. The third chapter critically examines what I define as academic orientalist writing with Russian eyes of the 2014 crisis, Crimea, and the Russo-Ukrainian war. The fourth chapter analyzes the academic orientalist who minimizes nationalism in Russia and carries over nationalism in Ukraine. The fifth chapter takes a critical look at depictions of a “civil war” between Ukrainians, providing ample evidence of Russian intervention before and after 2014 to argue that it was a Russian-Ukrainian war. The final chapter discusses the negative impact of the war on Russian soft power in Ukraine and analyzes why there are few reasons to believe that peace will be achieved in Russia during Putin’s tenure.
 The exception was Mark Galeotti, to whom I am grateful for pointing out Putin’s post-2008 development of seeing himself as a “collector of Russian lands”.
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