One of the most notable characteristics of today’s geopolitical situation in the world is that, as time goes, Russia becomes ever more potent in both: economic and political senses of this word. In its turn, this causes the U.S. and its allies a great deal of concern – the West is afraid that, due to this process, it will soon be no longer in the position to enjoy the undisputed geopolitical dominance on this planet.
Therefore, as for us Westerners, it represents the matter of crucial importance to be aware of what accounts for the actual quintessence of Russia’s identity as a nation. The reason for this is that it will help us to choose in favor of a proper strategy when it comes to deciding on how this nation should be dealt with. In this paper, I will explore the historical and current aspects of the ‘identity-making’ politics in Russia while promoting the idea that this country indeed does have what it takes to be able to come as a winner out of its current confrontation with the West.
Despite the fact that Russia has always been an integral part of Western civilization, as we know it, this country is associated with its own unique way of doing things, which does not quite match that of Western countries. The apparent dichotomy between the Western and Russian conceptualizations of the notion of geopolitical greatness is probably the most unambiguous indication that this is indeed being the case.
For example, whereas Americans tend to perceive the idea of a ‘great nation’ as such that is being concerned with the referred country’s ability to dictate its terms to other nations, Russians believe that the main characteristic of a ‘great nation’ is its ability to refuse following orders from abroad. Partially, the phenomena in question can be explained in regards to what were the historical specifics of how Russians ended up being endowed with the sense of nationhood.
One of these specifics has to do with the fact that the Russians never ceased positioning themselves as the defenders of ‘true faith’ – Orthodox Christianity. In its turn, this exposes Russia as the actual descendent of the Byzantine Empire, which in turn was the direct descendant of the Roman Empire. Hence, the actual significance of Russia’s coat of arms, which closely reminds that of the Byzantine Empire (featuring a double-headed eagle) – symbolizes the idea of unity between the ‘west’ and the ‘east’ (Haarmann, 2000). The same can be said about the significance of the fact that Moscow has traditionally been referred to as the ‘Third Rome’ – Russians do believe that they are the descendants of the ancient Romans, at least in the metaphorical sense of this word.
Such their belief is not altogether deprived of a rationale. The reason for this is that the very manner in which Russians proceed with building the Russian Empire is thoroughly consistent with what used to be that of the ancient Romans. For example, regardless of what used to be the specifics of their ethnocultural or religious affiliation, Roman citizens were entitled to enjoy the same social rights as the rest.
Essentially the same can be said about what was the main principle of the Russian Empire’s functioning throughout the course of its history, which is best defined as the ‘Imperial tolerance.’ After all, it does not represent any secret that the representatives of ethnocultural and religious minorities in Russia have never been subjected to any form of governmentally endorsed oppression. Quite to the contrary – upon having their territories included in the Russian Empire, these people were instantly provided with full citizenship and guaranteed the prospect of rapid social advancement.
This sets Russia apart from the rest of the world’s ‘imperial nations,’ such as France and Britain, which considered it thoroughly appropriate to subject aboriginal peoples in the newly acquired colonies to nothing short of a full-scale genocide. Moreover, it explains another commonly overlooked aspect of how the Russian Empire (and its descendant, the USSR) came into being, in the size-related sense of this word – the Russians rarely waged any aggressive wars. Instead, they made a deliberate point in granting the pleas of other Orthodox nations (such as the Armenians or Georgians) to join Russia voluntarily.
The rapid growth of Russia’s territory can also be explained by the fact that this country had never lost even a single defensive war – whatever illogical it may sound. Yet, there is nothing too odd about the above-statement – after having beaten off yet another foreign invasion, the Russians would always move into the territory of the invader to return the ‘favor,’ just as it was the case during the wars with Napoleon (1812) and Hitler (1941-1945).
However, Russia never pursued any deliberate policy of colonial expansion, in the traditional sense of this word. Thus, it will be thoroughly appropriate to suggest that the idea of multiculturalism is an essential component of Russia’s national identity. A particular Russian citizen can be non-Slavic and affiliated with the religion of Islam – this, however, does not make him or her less Russian (Smith, 1998).
The above-suggested helps to highlight yet another important aspect of Russia’s identity, as a nation, concerned with the fact that this country has traditionally been looked upon as the defender of the meek and oppressed throughout history. For example, ever since the 20th century’s sixties, up until its collapse in 1991, the USSR used to spend billions of dollars annually to rebuild the social infrastructure in the Third World countries, while knowing that the invested money will never be returned.
The USSR also used to support the Civil Rights movements throughout the world. In its turn, this made it possible for ordinary people in the West to enjoy good standards of living without fearing the prospect of being subjected to the extreme forms of capitalist exploitation, as it used to be the case with their ancestors throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The fact that ever since the end of WW2, the Russian army was considered one of the world’s strongest did help Russia rather substantially in this respect.
Russia’s identity-related stance, as the ‘defender of justice,’ continues to last. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to how Russia reacted to yet another ‘orange revolution’ in Ukraine (2014), organized by the CIA, publicly supported by the U.S. top-officials, and carried out by the Ukrainian neo-Nazis. While knowing perfectly well that it is was only a matter of time before the Ukrainian ‘fighters for democracy’ with Nazi swastikas on their flags would begin exterminating the overwhelmingly Russian population of Crimea en masse, President Putin decided to move army-units into Crimea.
This was done so that the peninsula’s residents would be able to vote on whether to remain with Ukraine or to join Russia. After all, even though for the duration of the last two decades, Crimea remained the part of Ukraine de jure, it never ceased being Russian, in the factual sense of this word. The peninsula’s Russian town of Sevastopol was founded in 1783 – way before the word ‘Ukraine’ (borderland/province) started to make first appearances on the world map in the late 19th century (Roslycky 2011). During the referendum, 96% of Crimeans voted in favor of joining Russia – the country’s territory grew larger in size once again, as something that occurred in a thoroughly peaceful and natural manner.
It is understood, of course, that America did not welcome this development, because it continues to arrogantly believe that it alone has the right to redraw borders on the world map, just as it did in 2008 by recognizing the independence of Kosovo, which violated the basic conventions of international law. This has led to the enactment of America’s economic sanctions against Russia. However, despite President Obama’s boastful claim that, due to having been subjected to these sanctions, Russia’s economy is now ‘torn to shreds,’ it is far from being the case. Quite to the contrary – because of these sanctions, the whole sectors of the previously unprofitable sectors of Russia’s economy have received a powerful boost in vitality.
This, of course, does not leave any doubts that Russia is indeed a thoroughly competitive/successful nation, the power of which should not be underestimated. This validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the recent Victory Day Parade on May 9th, 2015, in Moscow. Even though the majority of Western leaders did not bother to attend it (thus, showing their disrespect towards the actual defeaters of Nazism), this Parade showed to the whole world that, contrary to what Obama and his cronies would like everybody to believe, Russia is far from being considered ‘isolated.’
In fact, together with India and China (whose troops marched through the Red Square, as well), Russia represents a half of the world’s population that is no longer willing to be exploited by the transnational corporations/bankers from the West, under the excuse that it helps these people to celebrate the values of ‘democracy.’ Given the fact that, as time goes on, more and more people in the West grow increasingly decadent/degenerate (something that is being confirmed by the popularity of ‘gay parades’ in Western countries), it is highly unlikely that they would be able to come winners out of the ongoing confrontation with Russia – especially if this confrontation leads to the outbreak of the WW3.
Therefore, it would make much more sense if, instead of blaming Russia for all the evils in the world, on the one hand, and trying hard to undermine the integrity of this country from within, on the other, the West recognizes the fact that it is no longer in the position to exercise the undisputed mastery over the world.
Thus, it will be fully appropriate to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that Russia can indeed be considered an utterly successful country, the geopolitical significance of which cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for the qualitative aspects of Russia’s identity as a nation.
Haarmann, H. (2000). The soul of mother Russia: Russian symbols and pre-Russian cultural identity. Revision, 23(1), 6.
Roslycky, L. L. (2011). Russia’s smart power in Crimea: sowing the seeds of trust. Journal Of Southeast European & Black Sea Studies, 11(3), 299-316.
Smith, G. (1998). Russia, multiculturalism, and federal justice. Europe-Asia Studies, 50(8), 1393-1411.