Putin’s pursuit of ‘Russian world’ is destroying it

Good-bye, Russia! (Image: Reuters)

Good-bye, Russia! (Image: Reuters) 

Analysis & Opinion, Armenia, Politics, Russia, Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has made the Russian language a key element in his definition of “the Russian world” he wants to create, but his actions in pursuit of that goal are destroying any possibility that Russian speakers will be united, according to Olga Irisova, a Russian analyst at Warsaw’s Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Accord.

In a commentary in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today, she writes that Putin’s pursuit of “the Russian world,” a concept she says few Russians can define with any precision, is leading Moscow to treat countries where Russian has been widely spoken in ways that will make ever fewer people there interested in learning it.

…It is always “an abstract West” that is guilty and there is no need to raise questions about “the failure of Russia” to construct “some attractive and working model of development” that might have led Georgians, Ukrainians and now Armenians to choose differently.

The current aggressive rhetoric that many Russians have responded with to the events in Armenia, the rhetoric that Russians justify by their concern about “the Russian world,” raises questions about whether Russian elites will be able to proceed “along a civilized course and avoid a deterioration of relations” with Armenia.

“The simple formula” which Russians have had imposed on them, a formula that equates Russia, Putin and the Russian world, “does not require an understanding of terminology,” Irisova says. “If you are for Russia, that means you are for Putin, and if you are for Putin, then you are automatically for all his projects, including the Russian world.”

Such a concept deprives Russia’s neighbors of any right to be subjects of their own fate, she continues. It reduces them to being objects of a geopolitical game. And if they turn to the West, those who accept it believe that it is because of Western actions rather than because of any shortcomings in Russia’s approach.

That makes things comfortable for those who believe it because it is always “an abstract West” that is guilty and there is no need to raise questions about “the failure of Russia” to construct “some attractive and working model of development” that might have led Georgians, Ukrainians and now Armenians to choose differently.

In condemning these countries for falling under Western influence and choosing to seek to become part of the West, Irisova continues, Russians forget that “in the 1990s, we sought to become part of the West,” a goal that changed when as a result of “the post-imperial syndrome,” Russians couldn’t face up to their new reduced status in the world.

Russians forget that “in the 1990s, we sought to become part of the West,” a goal that changed when as a result of “the post-imperial syndrome,” Russians couldn’t face up to their new reduced status in the world.

Irisova suggests that it is worthwhile to try to distinguish “the Russian world” as a political project from the roughly 35 million people in the former Soviet space beyond the borders of the Russian Federation who speak Russian as a second language or even in some cases as a first one.

Ukrainians are very much part of this Russian-speaking world, “but they will never want to become part of the Russian world in quotes.” Indeed, Russians now have to acknowledge that the actions of their own government in recent years have reduced the size of the Russian-speaking world and especially its political meaning.

Georgia, she says, provides a good first example. There, “Russian as in Ukraine remains a second language.” But that isn’t going to last: “in a few decades together with the change of generations, the place of Russia will be occupied by English. Who is responsible for that?” Globalization is part of the answer, but only a part and not the most important one.

Does anyone want to study a language whose speakers seized 20% of one’s own country?

“Much more important are two other factors,” Irisova says. The first of these is a response to the Russian actions in Georgia in 2008. Does anyone want to study a language whose speakers seized 20 percent of one’s own country? It is thus “not surprising” that since 2011, Russian has ceased to be an obligatory subject in Georgian schools and that the number of Russian schools has fallen by half.

The second factor is “more pragmatic.” The visa regime Russia has imposed on Georgia and not lifted means that young Georgians see that they will have little opportunity to use any Russian they might learn and so will choose to study other languages whose base countries are more welcoming.

Ukraine is a second example, Irisova says. “For the majority of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Russia today is a country which has occupied part of their territory, a country which does not respect the choice they have made, a country which supports the idea of ‘Novorossiya’ which destabilizes the eastern part of their state.”

Consequently, she continues, “for the generations of new Ukrainians who will not remember the years of peaceful co-existence, Russian will be viewed exclusively as the language of the aggressor” with all the ensuing results. Such attitudes will change only when Moscow’s approach does.

The question now is the following: will Armenia go the way of Georgia and Ukraine and leave the Russian-speaking space because its people want to make decisions about themselves and their future and thus do not want to be part of Vladimir Putin’s “Russian world” where those choices would be made by others for them?

Edited by: A. N., Melodia Kouklewsky

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  • Mike

    How are you able to blame the US backed coup in Georgia, and it’s NATO backed war on its own civilians, and then later the US backed coup, and then later the NATO backed war on it’s own civilians – on Russia?
    How many countries has the US invaded, bombed, overthrown this decade, let alone since WW2?
    N/M read the bio, author literally worked for the CIA. Man, poor f-ing Ukraine. Turned into another Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc, etc. The American empire had such potential.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      WHO turned the Ukraine into a war zone? NOT US troops, but Russians. WHO seized and occupied the Crimea? Russia. Who destroyed the Donbass in a war it is too cowardly to admit it is waging? All the aggression against the Ukraine came from Moscow from the start.
      As for how many countries Russia has invaded and/or seized territory from, deported and murdered its citizens, how about Poland 1939 and again in 1944-45, Finland 1939, Rumania 1940, the three Baltics 1940, Germany and Japan 1945, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Afghanistan 1979, Moldova 1992, Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014. I challenge you to name ONE country the US has annexed any territory from since the start of WW2.

    • puttypants

      Mike you just seem to have a hard time understanding these countries want to make their own choices which they are doing. l Russia does not own these countries. They do not want to be colonies of Russia. Putin and his regime have caused this split to become more serious. Get it through your thick skull these countries chose to work with the West and they probably would have continued their relationship with Russia as well had Putin not attacked them for making a choice he wouldn’t except. Your anti-american rants are nonsense. No one believes them. Ukraine would be fine if Putin took his arms and military out. Poor Ukraine is poor Ukraine because of Putin’s aggression! Everything is blame America…

    • Igor Z

      The only part of Ukraine “turned into another Afghanistan” is where you will find Russian troops operating under the cover of (not-so) plausible deniability. Why is it that the rest of Ukraine that is Russian speaking (much larger than Donetsk) is living in peace? Of course you can’t answer that question. The only answer is one you don’t like. It’s that the Russian ops haven’t reached that far into a neighboring sovereign state that has the absolute right to kill every single invader. In your twisted world it is Ukraine that has invaded Russia.

      Just another example of a “useful idiot” at work, folks.

    • Vol Ya

      Mike is a russian troll just spewing lies and misinformation. This is not about the USA or CIA. This is about Russia invading a sovereign country Ukraine. Ukraine has not attacked or threatened Russia. You Russian whores need to start telling the truth.

    • Brent

      First of all, anyone who has to upvote themselves is a loser. Checked your profile and you are your # 1 fan!!!!

      Secondly, anyone who sees as many ‘coups’ as you is usually at a classic car show. Give it a rest. Russia just came out of its most prosperous period EVER. Russian citizens had freedom and were becoming part of the rest of the World. And what happened to cause all that? Not Putin’s magic touch, as many of you blathering mindless idiots love to profess, but high oil prices, AND Russia joining the G8 and WTO. Now Russia has been booted out of the G8, and hopefully for its unfair trade practices and use of gas as an economic weapon, it will get booted out of the WTO too. Back to Russia being a 3rd World country where you ride your mule to work because you hate Western technology….smart move.

      Then who are all you stooges going to blame? The West again, or the idiot mafia leader you all idolize who took a prosperous country and made it into a pariah state whose citizens are banned from travelling the World….AND who stole $200 billion from you and your children.

      Now go back and upvote yourself some more you mindless twit.

  • Michel Cloarec

    100 years of agressions from URSS and RF , and they want people to love them because they speak russian which was imposed on them by invaders. Who would love that ?

  • Murf

    They break in to your house, eat your food, steal your valuables, rape your wife.
    Then, when you hit them over the head with a steel bar they looked confused and say; “What”?

  • Vol Ya

    Why does putin want to destroy Ukraine. Because he is afraid that Ukraine might turn into a successful nation, free of its soviet past and corruption. a nation that guarantees personal freedom and freedom of the press. That is what worries putin the most, that Ukraine’s success might cause the people of russia to question why they continue to live in a country that is run like a dictatorship where people have no freedom of speech, and the country is full of corruption. Eventually the Arab spring will arrive in russia too.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      The Russian Spring won’t happen. The dwarf has brainwashed the citizens of Dwarfstan to such an extent that they won’t protest no matter what happens.

      In the end Dwarfstan will implode, completing the breakup of the USSR with the breakup of Dwarfstan. The Caucasus will almost certainly break away and form an Islamic state, under Kadyrov or some other fanatic. Taganrog and the Kuban will become part of the Ukraine. Siberia may break away as well due to the Siberians being increasingly fed up with Moscow’s misrule. Russia may end up little larger than 16th Century Muscovy- and kowtowing to Kyiv.

  • Michel Cloarec

    Russia could be a rich country working together with the rest of the world ! But because of putin and his croonies , russia is a rich country full of poor people !
    Russia need a serious leadership without guided media, so those poor people can decide the future of the country which just now is going down the drain because a man called putin does not want to live in the right time !

  • Czech Friend

    Watch out Armenia, you will be next one way or the other.

    I really DO hope our powers that be finally understand switching Putin off IS the best and SAFEST option. Unless they are willing to back down since he is definately not, with declining economy and his KGB stupor the only thing left for him is the fortress mentality and sustained form of over and covert agression.

    He has created personality cult society on the outside at least-that’s his biggest strength while greatest weakness too.

    I say this again. Switch him off and make it look like an inside job. Once he is burried Russia will be coming back to “normal”.