Andrei Raevsky for The Saker
Are Ukrainians Russians?
Seems like a simple question, but in reality it is immensely complex. I will try to outline a few of the issues, assumptions and implications this question involves.
Well, for starters, we might want to ask “what is a Ukrainian?” After all, no such nation or country can be found in history books. But we should not stop here, and we also need to ask “what is a Russian?”. Yes, there was a Russian nation and a Russian country recorded in history books, but does that really help us?
French history books used to begin with the sentence “our ancestors the Gauls” which even kids on the French colonies had to learn. Some ridiculed the fact that sub-Saharan Africans or the children of Guadeloupe had to learn that and that was self-evidently ridiculous.
But what about metropolis French, those who lived in France proper?
Where their ancestors really Gauls and, if so, how much continuity, if any, is there between Vercingetorix and Macron or the people from ancient Gallic tribes to the modern French?
What we often overlook is that nationality is a very modern concept born out of the post 1789 ideology of nationalism. In the more distant past, people built their identity around 1) their place of birth/residence 2) their religion and 3) their ruler. Keeping all that in mind, let’s begin by asking the question “what is a Russian?”. But before we go there, I need to mention another pesky issue: the English word “Russian” can mean one of two things: a member of the Russian ethnic/cultural group, in which case the Russian term is русский (roosskii) or a citizen of the Russian Federation, in which case the Russian term would be россиянин (rossiianin).
[Sidebar: before 1917 you could be a “Russian Chechen” or “Russian German” because the distinction between rossiianin and roosskii did not exist then or, should we say, it was less common and used differently. Russia being the cultural, political and spiritial heir to the East Roman Empire, it had multi-ethnicity built into her from the moment Russia appeared]
For the time being, let’s ignore the second meaning and focus on the ethnic/cultural русский (roosskii). What is a русский (roosskii)?
To try to find a good definition, let’s being by spelling out what a Russian is not.
- This is not somebody who speaks Russian. There are plenty of folks out there who speak Russian and who are not Russian.
- This is not somebody born in Russia, because there are plenty of non-Russians born in Russia.
How about somebody born from Russian parents?
Here we run into a logical problem: if we define as Russian somebody born of Russian parents without defining what Russian means in the first place, this is a completely circular definition.
Also, is Shoigu Russian? This father is an ethnic Tuvan. So 50% Russian max?
How about Czar Nicholas II? His ancestry was mostly German and Danish.
How about Lenin? He had only 1/4 “Russian” blood (whatever that means)
Here we need to keep three crucial elements in mind:
- Russia was always multi ethnic, even in the 10th century!
- Russia has no natural borders
- Russia was invaded by innumerable ethnic and religions groups and many of these groups acculturated into the Russian society adding their heritage to the common Russian one
Thus the “ethnic definition” does not work at all.
For countries like Japan or native people like the Mapuche ethnic categories might make sense, but for a country with a history and geography like Russia it is utterly meaningless (hence the reason why patriotism is a very positive force in Russia and nationalism a very toxic one).
But it only get even more complicated.
Just like, say, France or Italy, Russia went through very different moments in history and the Russia or, say, the 15th century and the Russia or the 19th century had very little in common.
Now this is highly subjective, but I would submit that at the very least, we can roughly break up the historical Russia into the following periods:
- Russia before Peter I
- Russia between Peter I and 1917
- Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1991
- US colonized Russia between 1991 and 2000
- Putin’s Russia 2000-2021
- Russia after 2022
And even this is a much simplified categorization, each period should also be further subdivided, but that would take too much space here.
Next I would also argue that how Russians defined themselves over these periods also changed, and this why pre-1917 Dostoevsky thought that one cannot be Russian unless one is Orthodox first (which might have make sense before 1917, but sure makes no sense at all in 2022). My point here is not to discuss the best possible definition of “who/what is a Russian” but to show that this apparently simple question is also very complex and, at best, a moving target!
Now in the case of the Ukraine, it gets even more complex than that.
When I wrote above that there was no “Ukrainian nation” or “Ukrainian state” in history I did not mean to say that BECAUSE there were no such phenomena in history there is no such thing as a Ukrainian today.
To be clear, I do NOT believe that in order to consider yourself as belonging to an ethnic or cultural group you MUST have a historical basis for your claim. Nations can be created, in fact, I would argue that all of them are created at some point in time. Ethnogenesis is something we can observe on all continents, nations and ethnic groups: this is the emergence of a NEW and DISTINCT identity, usually followed by the creation of “founding myths” which might or might not have any real basis in history.
In the case of the Ukraine (I mean this term geographically here, the southwestern frontier/border lands of Russia), it is simply undeniable that these lands lived under Polish/Latin yoke for many centuries and that this occupation had two direct results:
- The people of the Ukraine had experiences with the rest of the Russian nation did not (such as being under Latin occupation or having Orthodox communities submitted the Greek and not the Russian Orthodox Church)
- The people of the Ukraine did not experience some of the most crucial events in Russian history (such as the Old Rite vs New Rite crisis which deeply shattered Russian society in the 17th century and after).
Such differences in experience left deep marks on the identity of the people it affected. It would be foolish to deny this and it would be dangerous to deliberately ignore it!
So, to sum up what I have tried to show so far we could say that:
- History is not a useful tool to measure some supposed “legitimacy” of any one group’s claim of identity.
- Ethnic/cultural identities can arise both spontaneously and even artificially.
In the case of the Ukraine, it is a mix of both. Primarily, the “Ukraine” is a creation of the Latin Papacy (see here for a discussion). But, like it or not, the Latins did eventually trigger a Ukrainian ethnogenesis, albeit with varying degrees of success (roughly the further West, the longer the Polish yoke, the stronger that Ukrainian identity).
But even if none of that had happened, it would make no difference.
Even if we assume that there was absolutely NOTHING on our planet which could be called “Ukraine” or “Ukrainian”, and even if the people of the post-1991 Ukraine had ZERO historical basis for their claims, it is still a fundamental human right to choose your identity (or, more accurately, identities, plural).
If tomorrow the people of Japan decide that from now on their identity will not be Japanese but, say, Martian, we could laugh all we want, but we could not deny them that right or force them to give up their newly adopted “Martian” identity.
Furthermore, is it not silly to tell a person who absolutely hates Russia and all things Russian and who sincerely believes that he is from a totally different ethnic and cultural group, that this person has no right to his opinion that this person must accept that he is Russian?
That would create a “Russian russophobe”.
Actually, there are PLENTY of Russians russophobes out there. Even if by any imaginable definition you are Russian (or any other nationality), you still have the free will to reject that heritage and choose another one (even a fictional one).
There is even a special term for these folks: вырусь (vyroos‘). In my experience, most (but not all!) folks who voluntarily emigrated from Russia fall into this category.
This is why my first thesis here is this: those Ukrainians who chose to identify as Ukrainians and who reject any Russian heritage (whatever we may mean by that) have the moral right to do so and nobody has the moral right to deny them this choice. And while historical arguments can be used to debunk the founding myths of the Ukronazi ideology, they still cannot be used to deny anybody what is a deeply personal choice.
[Sidebar: it is my personal belief that identities can be cumulative and that they don’t have to exclude each other. While I personally consider myself culturally a “pre-1917 Russian”, I am 50% Dutch by DNA, I was born in German speaking Switzerland and lived most of my life in French speaking Geneva, and I also feel even more cultural identities inside me, including an Argentinian one. I speak 5 languages well (albeit with many typos when I write, as you all know!) and another 2 reasonably. I currently live in the USA (click here for an explanation why) And just to add yet another element, I am a member of a Greek Orthodox Church, not a Russian one. I also think of myself as a Jazz guitarist and freediver. So even my hobbies form part of my identity. Why should I have to limit myself to only one, “pure”, identity when I am so clearly a mongrel? In fact, I embrace and enjoy all this diversity of influences which all have contributed to shape the person I am today. And if I claim that right to cumulative identities, how could I deny it to anybody else?]
And then there is this undeniable fact: while about 80% of россиянин (rossiianin) are русский (roosskii), 20% are not. In fact there are 193 ethnic groups in Russia and 35 languages which are considered official languages in various regions of Russia, along with Russian, plus are over 100 minority languages. And while Chechens are not русский (roosskii) they are most definitely россиянин (rossiianin), that is to say that while Chechens are a distinct ethnic group, they are also part of what I call the “Russian civilizational realm”. One could reasonably argue that the Chechens of 2022 are the most patriotic of all Russians!
This makes a lot more sense to me that to dig into past clades, tribes or local native groups and seek some “biological identity”.
This is, by the way, one of the most striking and profound differences between the Russian and Ukronazi cultural models: Russians want and enjoy the immense diversity of their nations. Ukronazi want a racially pure, russenrein, Ukraine (hence their constant talk about “subhumans”, “cockroaches” and “biomass”).
Let’s leave the idiotic concept of “pure race” to the Nazis, Zionists and their likes.
The first thing which I would immediately point out if that historically the lands which we now call the Ukraine were very much exposed to, or even part of, the Russian civilizational realm. But that is absolutely NOT true of the current, Ukronazi/Banderista cultural identity which, in fact, was created as an anti-Orthodoxy and which nowadays sees itself as an anti-Russia. I personally know that identity very, very well: not only have I met plenty of Ukronazis in my life, I also monitored the Ukronazi propaganda on VOA and RFE/RL for years and I know that Ukronazi nationalism has no positive content whatsoever, it is only a pure and total negation of everything Russian with a few truly ridiculous (and comical) claims about some “Ukrainian antiquity”.
In other words, even if you live in Odessa or Kharkov and you are (let’s simply assume that) from 100% pure ethnic Russian stock (no such thing, but bear with me), you STILL get to reject that identity and adopt any identity you want, including the Ukronazi/Banderistsa one.
At this point, I want to list all the criteria which are plainly not helpful to discuss identities:
- Genetic makeup
- Place of birth
- Mother-tongue (or languages)
- History in general and historical borders (which constantly shifted) specifically
- Whether we personally approve of an ideology or cultural claim or not
- Political ideologies
- Identities embraced in the past
- The difference between a language and a dialect
- Similarities and differences with other identities
And yet, every time I hear people discuss whether the Russian are liberators or occupiers of the Ukraine, I see these criteria used, and by both sides!
This makes absolutely no sense to me.
In fact, I strongly believe that the choice of being Ukrainian, Russian or both (yes, that is a choice!) depends on each individual person. Period.
But here I want to add something crucial: having to make such a personal choice is not specific or unique to the Ukrainians, all Russians also face the same question too!
I submit that, objectively, the “Russian” 5th column and the Atlantic Integrationists are, de facto, not Russians. Why do I say that? Because 1) they serve foreign masters and 2) they seek to harm Russia. And I don’t care how their actions are packaged (heck, Navalnyi tried really hard to impersonate a nationalist!).
Thus, to “be Russian” means, in my opinion, that you have made a deliberate choice by identify with, and become part of, the Russian civilizational realm.
Put simply: you cannot be Russia and hate Russia.
How many people in what is left of the Ukraine today consider themselves Russian?
I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody else knows either.
But I think that it is fair to say that most people in Russia were shocked by the number of Ukrainians who chose to not only adopt a Ukrainian identity, but even fight and die for it! Many did, sincerely, think of Ukrainians are “brothers”.
Today this “brotherhood” looks increasingly like the “brotherhood” of Cain…
Even more amazingly, most of these Ukronazis don’t even speak Ukrainian properly and mostly speak to each other in Russian. Some even consider themselves as Orthodox Christians. Yup, these Russian speakers, many from the central and eastern Ukraine still sing “Батько наш — Бандера, Україна — мати, ми за Україну будем воювати!” (Our Father is Bandera, our mother the Ukraine, we are ready to wage war for the Ukraine).
I would note with some glee that if Bandera is their father, then the Ukraine was born no earlier than the mid-1920s (since Bandera was born in 1909!). And I won’t even go into the Ukie hallucinations about being “pure Aryans” (as opposed to the Moskals whom they see as Finno-Ugric-Mongols), which is an ideology developed even later 🙂
So, 2163 words later, did we even being to answer the question of whether the Ukrainians are Russians?
No, not really. And here is why:
Taken by themselves, the terms “Ukrainian” and “Russian” are highly ambiguous.
We know that in the past, many of those whom we call “Ukrainians” today had ancestors who lived and were part of the Russian civilizational realm. But that does not AT ALL mean that modern Ukrainians want (or even could!) join the Russian civilizational realm, especially since what this realm was, is and will become is also highly complex and even controversial.
Furthermore, I think that we need to pay special attention to what is happening in Russia today: the SMO has had a HUGE impact on the Russian society and that society is quickly and profoundly changing.
That by itself begs the question of what kind of civilizational realm Russia is offering to the peoples of the Ukraine today?
One thing is certain, the Russia of, say 2023-2025 will be profoundly different from the Russia of 2000-2022. First, the Russian ultimatum to the West of 2021 then the 2022 SMO have truly revolutionized (in a literal sense) Russia: 5th columnists and assorted liberals have fled by the thousands (mostly to Poland, Israel and the three Baltic statelets), the Atlantic Integrationist have either given up or are keeping a very low profile. Foreign agents (folks paid by foreign interest) must now register, are listed as such, and can be fined or even imprisoned for breaking Russian laws (finally!).
Russia has also completely and categorically rejected the entire Woke ideology promoted by the Hegemony worldwide.
Most importantly, the reality of a AngloZionist Empire which wants to subjugate, colonize, enslave and break-up Russia has now become pretty hard to ignore. In fact, this war (against the collective West, not just a few Ukronazis!) is as much an existential war for Russia as WWII, so those Russians who complain about the lack of Spanish jamon serrano in Russia stores need to wake up and compare their current “hardships” with what their parents and grandparents suffered during WWII (besides, you can still find Spanish jamon serrano in Russia, just at a higher price than before; there are also superb local substitutes!).
Here I want to express my deepest thanks to the US Neocons, EU lemmings, NATO Nazis, the Latin Papists and all the other Russia-haters who have generated one of the biggest hate-wave in human history and who have now FORCED all Russians into a basic, yet vital, choice: resist or perish.
Unlike the folks in the West (until recently) and unlike the folks in the Ukraine (again, until recently), many Russian people have gradually switched their mode thinking from “peacetime” to “wartime”. In fact, I would even argue that the so-called “Russian defeats” in Bucha, Kharkov or Kherson have only poured more fuel onto the raging fire of Russian anger: in February of this year very few Russians would have supported to switch off the lights in the entire Ukraine. But by late summer, they were DEMANDING it!
So, the next time you hear about “Russian defeats” consider the following:
- the massive wake-up effect these “defeats” have had on a (rather spoiled) Russian society
- the comparatively minuscule price paid by Russia for these tactical retreats (economy of force maneuvers really) and
- the huge costs of these “victories” for the NATO side
and decide for yourself if Putin is weak and indecisive or very smart and cunning 🙂
Nobody really knows what Russia will look like in 2023-2024-2025 etc. So nobody really know what kind of “Russian civilizational realm” the SMO is “offering” to the people of the Ukraine. It is therefore impossible to ascertain whether Ukrainians (which Ukrainians anyway, they are still a diverse group!) will ever become Russians again or not. Some probably will. Many will probably won’t.
One thing for me is axiomatic: Russia should not occupy even a single square meter of “Ukrainian” land if that land is mostly populated by Ukronazis. In fact, I see no need to “go to the Polish border” or any other such grand plans. Yes, NATO might well not give Russia any choice (just as NATO forced the SMO upon Russia!), but then I hope for a swift “in and out”. Russia should only free those who want to be freed. Period. The rest she can either ignore (if they leave Russia alone), or kill (if they threaten Russia).
Does Russia want/need millions of Ukronazis inside her borders? Nope!
Can Russia afford to pay for the destruction of country 404? Nope!
Do Russian authorities really want to be in charge of not only pensions and social programs, but also law and order in a land populated by (armed!) people who hate Russia with a passion? Nope!
But I do agree, fully, that Banderastan needs to be fully demilitarized and denazified.
The former can be achieved without having to put forces on every square meter of the Ukraine while the latter will happen as a natural consequence of the former: if all you got if police and SWAT forces, what is the point of playing Nazi or talking about “liberating Crimea next year”? And if some residual Ukronazis want to read Mein Kampf, and can stay awake while reading it, then let them. Who cares?
And then there are population movements. MILLIONS have left for the EU and MILLIONS have left for Russia. MILLIONS have also “left” when Crimea and the LDNR joined Russia. And now that the lights are out, MILLIONS more are leaving (and only 20% plan to return according to Ukrainian estimates). Add to this the 100’000 KIA of Ursula von der Lugen, multiply it by a safe factor 2 and we probably already have 200’000 KIA and, therefore, about 300’000-400’000 wounded in action. True, “Ze” & Co. can continue to mobilize wave after wave after wave of civilians, and NATO can even get most of them through some sort of basic training (including advanced training for some), but that is not a sustainable strategy: Russia has many more artillery shells than bodies the Ukrainians, Poles, Brits and all the other crazies can throw into the Russian meat grinder.
[Sidebar: you might wonder what the current US Neocon plan is. Simple: to get as many Ukrainians killed as possible and then accused Russia of genocide and to ruin the EU economies to remove a competitor. BTW – Plan A was to attack the LDNR, trigger an overthrow of Putin, place a puppet in power and dismember Russia. That plan failed. So what we see today is the USA’s Plan B, executed by NATO and a few megalomaniacal idiots with imperial phantom pains (UK+PL not to mention them).]
One more point: this all also applies to Belarus, Kazakhstan and all the other Russian limitrophes. So far, not single one of them has shown the capability of being a viable, stable state. ALL of them have chosen what some call “multi-vectorness”, that is: you beg Russia for protection and the USA for money.
Does Russia needs such “friends” or “allies”?
Are Iran, China or even Algeria not infinitely better friends and allies by any measure?
I say that they all these limitrophes get their act together and make a basic choice because if there is one thing which the Euromaidan has proven beyond reasonable doubt that is that the West will never allow any country to be a good neighbor or partner to both the West and Russia.
Now, especially following the wave of total hatred against all things Russian in the West, this obligation to chose one side or another has become a fact of life for at least as long as the (already dead) AngloZionist Empire maintains its (still very real) momentum and its ability to suborn the comprador elites ruling over countries with no sovereignty or agency (the entire EU for starters). This is why both Russia and China seek a multi-polar world in which all countries are truly sovereign and the relations between these countries determined by the rule of international law.
This is not about the Ukraine and Russia. This is about a full reorganization of our entire planet, including the international trade and finance, political alliances and cultural/spiritual values.
The following two images sum it all up nicely I think.
Right now, both Russia and the Ukraine are moving targets undergoing tremendous changes. And I am not saying that Russians and Ukrainians cannot be brothers or even be one nation again. All I am saying is that making such an assumptions would be extremely dangerous and costly.
Somewhere, further down the road, there could be a Ukraine and a Russia living in a not too comfy relationship like, say, Pakistan and India today, but with a fully demilitarized Ukraine (nevermind one threatening Russia with nukes, which both Pakistan and India have, so that parallel only goes so far). I am pretty sure that the Poles will bite off a chunk of the rump-Banderastan, and maybe the Hungarians too. Finally, I consider it very likely that by one way or another, Russia will liberate the Ukrainian coast and lift the current blockade of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) were about half a million Russian citizens live. So you can pretty much visualize what the Ukraine will look like when then Russian decide to stop.
But, when all is said and done, it will be for the people of the Ukraine to decide which civilizational realm they want to embrace. Russia should not liberate those who embrace their slavery.