My definition of “Russian” is simply how people are identifying themselves on surveys and censuses. There are, however, less inclusive ideas about what makes someone Russian. There, for example, more than a few snappy soundbites from Russian politicians on how being a Russian citizen does not make you “Russian.” I will not entertain those ideas on this forum.
If nothing else, there are a number of ethnic minorities in Russia that do not identify as ethnically Russian even though some within those groups might consider themselves Russian patriots. Tatars are a good example of this. There are also a number of Turkic and Uralic minorities spread across Russia. It’s easy to forget that most the territory that is Russian speaking today was not Russian speaking a few hundred years ago. Take a look at a demographic map of Russia and you can see that some significant portions of the country are minority Russian.
Japan, the Koreas, and Mongolia are all very close to being 100 percent homogenous, ethnically speaking. Yes, Japan has the Ainu and a few descendnts of Korean migrants, but those groups make up around 1 percent of the population. Korean is literally the only native language on the entire Korean penisula. Mongolia’s only real ethnic minority, the Kazakhs, make up around 4 percent of the population.
Remember that “ethnicity” is a constructed term which more or less turns arbitrary hereditary characteristics into a unified identity. Whether a nation is ethnically homogenous often has more to do with how the state defines ethnicity than anything else.
I can’t really argue with this for the most part. What I think is different here is that the collapse of the Russian Empire and the rise of the Soviet Union happened over a fairly short period of time. By 1922 most of the direct fallout of the collapse Russian Empire had occurred and was finished. Future Soviet expansion after 1922 was not premised on the notion of recreating the former boundaries of the Soviet Union or completing a nation.
The after effects of the dissolution of the Soviet Union are still being felt today. While I think this is something of a tired analogy, the current Russian regime is seeking to create a Russian state the contains those Russians orphaned by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We don’t currently know what the consequences of that “liberation” will be. Admittedly, likely significantly less than what occurred due to the creation of the Soviet Union. I just don’t think that should immediately be chalked up as a win by Bush 41.
There also wasn’t the same kind of “collapse” with the dissolution of the Soviet Union as we see with what was literally the eradication of the Russian Empire. Instead of an ideological battle over what form of government would replace what had been the Russian Empire, we see the various Soviet Republicans declare independence based on national identity. That’s more fragmentation than anything else.
This isn’t false, but the reality on the ground is that those areas are held by the Russian Federation and it seems incredibly unlikely that the Russian occupation of those territories is going to end anytime soon.
Some of this also hinges on how we wish to define empire. The Russian Federation is certainly a less linguistically and ethnically diverse state than the Russian Empire was. At the same time, the Russian Federation is far less ethnically homogeneous than your typical European nation-state and, more importantly, its ethnic diversity is due to the conquest of foreign states.
That’s a good point Cata. I would recommend Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. A classic book on just this topic insofar as there is a link between how we identify as a nation and how we create ethnic labels.
At the same time, I think it is important how people self-identify and view themselves within a given nation. There is a reason why Koreans view themselves as Korean and why Korea mostly only encompasses people that identify with being Korean and speak the Korean language as defined by the state and the Korean community. I think the fact that this process has not taken place within Russia to the same degree is an important point here.
I’m not sure I agree. I think Soviet attempts to acquire buffer states in the 30s and 40s and modern Russian attempts to do the same are predicated on the same need for security from outside threats, just with different justifications. The idea that a Russian state needs geographical “armour” to blunt attacks from either the south, east, or west, has been a running theme in Russian foreign policy, all the way back to Ivan III.
Just to say something that is maybe a little more on topic, Maximilian vam Holt seems a little bit more like a Julius Caesar to me than a Bush 41. Could the republic’s days be numbered in the somewhat near future?
Given his political stances and relative respect for diplomatic norms, I’d rate him more of a Scipio Aemellianus than a Caesar, but he doesn’t exactly have an army currently at his back, or the sort of unwinnable situation which would cause him to thrown on a red cloak and cross the Rubicon.
But how much of that had to do with the mythology or spirit of the Russian Empire versus the geographic realities faced by both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union? The Soviet Union certainly took actions consistent with painting the map red to look eerily like the Russian Empire (i.e., the invasion of Finland and the annexation of the Baltic States, Besserabia and Eastern Poland). But those actions seemed more like flimsy justifications to expand the borders of the Soviet Union.
As a counter point, during the initial Bolshevik Revolution the plan was to push through Poland and into Germany. That had little to do with Russian ideology and everything to do with spreading the revolution.
Ultimately, “expansionism” and “security” in the Russian (or really, any other) context are one and the same, and that applies to the USSR as much as any other Russian state.
When the USSR was birthed, it was surrounded by what it perceived as its enemies. Trotsky’s solution was to create buffer states under the ideological justification of “spreading the revolution”. Creating communist states in Poland and Germany would have increased the USSR’s sphere of influence, but it would have also permanently secured the USSR’s western border from the states which had a vested interest in destroying it. Likewise, Stalin’s own excesses were in response to the idea that unless the USSR could maintain itself as a target too hard to attack, it would be brought down by its external foes.
But expansion under the Russian Empire was not limited to strategic considerations. It had expansionist goals premised on its Russian identity. An excellent example of this is Pan-slavism. Something admittedly picked up by the Soviet Union during World War II, which in and of itself is actually a very interesting topic. The Soviet Union, of course, had its own ideological goals that influenced its expansion. This is admittedly more than a bit off topic from where we started, but I think it is a very interesting topic.
Just as a quick aside, I just wanted to say that I very much enjoy the conversations on this thread. It’s incredibly enjoyable to have an intelligent and civil discussion about any number of issues on a given day. I would like to thank everyone here for that.
I’m not sure that’s entirely the case either. Pan-Slavism as an ideology coincidentally gave the Russians an opportunity to weaken two of their major geopolitical rivals (The Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary), while similarly acting as a useful avenue towards the warm water port which has been a keystone of Russian security policy since Peter the Great.
I’m not necessarily convinced that ideology determines foreign policy quite as much as geography and history do.
That’s also why they went after Port Arthur which put them firmly against the Japanese who thought that a considerable Russian army and Navy in the Far East would not be healthy for their future sphere of influence.
Luckily (not for Asia) there was a Western Power who also thought that Russia needed to be contained further.
“I just wanted to build a railroad from one side of my lands to the other. Why must you overreact Japan?”
The most astonishing story though of that war was when Nikolay II got the telegram informing him of the destruction of the Far-Eastern Russian Fleet and he just went back to playing Tennis. I wouldn’t put it past him for the ramifications of that to completely fly over his head.
I don’t think you’re wrong. My addition would be that ideology and mythology provide the justification to act on those geographic and strategic realities. Acting without such a justification often creates domestic and international headaches for the state.
I think the tragedy inherent in the story of the last Tsar is that for all of his manifest inability to be a competent autocrat, he was, by all accounts, a personable dude, a devoted husband, and a pretty good dad.
Nobody would have been worse off if he’d been born a country squire, rather than the Tsar’s grandson.