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The Identity of Russia

The identity issues are always difficult for analysis. The reason is that every nation has some specific cultural, historical, and social elements that may be perceived differently by the representatives of other nations. This paper studies the identity of Russia. This case is of a considerable interest because Russia declares that its national identity is different from that of the Soviet Union. At the same time, its historical and social development demonstrates that it is highly unlikely to build a traditional Western democracy in the current Russian environment. As any nation or group needs solving its identity problems, Russia is searching for the new identity foundations. However, this process is more problematic than in the other countries due to the considerable role of the Russian government that tries to use the national identity in order to maximize its political power.

Historical Background

The history of Russia is the history of various empires, including the Grand Duchy of Moscow, as well as Tsarist and Imperial Russia. In the 20th century, another quasi-empire emerged – the Soviet Union. During that period, the Soviet leaders tried to associate the Russian identity with that of the multi-national Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the identity crisis emerged. Although the majority of Russian people realized numerous problems present in the former Soviet system, they were not open to the Western democratic principles. Moreover, Russia continued its military campaigns in many fields. For example, the two Chechen wars revealed serious problems inside the country (Duncan, 2005, p. 277). In particular, the Muslim population did not share the major principles that were supposed to be present in the national identity. However, the Russian government was not ready to respect the independence or even autonomy of Chechnya. The only means found was the military campaigns that led to numerous victims among the civilian population. The military means are still considered by the Russian government an appropriate strategy for realizing the supposed identity at any cost.

Socio-Cultural Aspects and the New Imperialism

In general, the identity-building processes in Russia are traditionally very different from the Western ones. The identity of the Western countries is based on the ethnic identification that shapes the corresponding identity politics (Leach, Brown, & Worden, 2008, p. 766). In other words, the entire process is decentralized. Both the existing social institutions and the national governments try to adjust their functions in a way that will optimally correspond to the people’s identification. It contributes to a comparatively stable and non-violent social dynamics. The situation in Russia is different. During numerous identity crises, the Russian people have comprehended that some urgent changes in the identity politics are needed. However, they are unable to formulate their preferences clearly. As a result, the current political elite try to use this situation for its political purposes. President Yeltsin aimed at creating a civic identity of the multi-cultural Russian Federation (Duncan, 2005, p. 277). However, his attempts were largely unsuccessful for the following reasons.

The first reason is the inability of the Russian people to reorient to the new values. Moreover, Yeltsin’s approach presupposed tolerance and respect to other nations while the post-Soviet society were not open to such a position. The second reason is the dominance of the representatives of KGB at the highest level. Their interests included the return to the imperial identity because it was the only way for maximizing their power. The Russian Communists also largely supported this perspective (Duncan, 2005, p. 277). As a result, President Putin adopted this new imperial vision although, at the beginning of his Presidency, some attempts to establish the mutually beneficial cooperation with the United States and other Western countries were present.

One of the factors that clearly illustrate the return to the imperial worldview is the adoption of the former Soviet anthem in the modern Russian Federation. Moreover, according to the recent statistics, the anthem makes the majority of Russian people proud of their country (Valdai Discussion Club Report, 2014, p. 61). People’s responsiveness to the Russian anthem is higher than to the national flag and coat of arms (both of them are not based on the former Soviet symbols); it indirectly means that the majority of the population supports the imperial development of Russia.

However, the Russian new imperial policy is still very different from that of the former Soviet Union. The latter tried to establish the global world’s dominance using the Communist ideology as a foundation for its positions. The modern Russian Federation, however, has abandoned the socialist ideology and relied on the formally capitalist system with a considerable role of the national government. Although currently, Russia also declares its attempts to establish the global dominance, the actual steps demonstrate that it mostly aims at becoming the regional leader. Its economic development and ideological basis are very low for pretending to the global leadership status.

However, today, Russia creates substantial problems for other countries. As it positions its identity from the imperial perspective, it tries to expand its territories at the expense of other countries. Although it directly contradicts the basic principles of the international law, the power elite continue to use this means for maintaining their positions in the country. As long as the majority of the population either explicitly or implicitly supports this policy, it may be expected that the further attempt to aggress against the other countries and territories will be present. The recent examples of Georgia and Ukraine demonstrate that the identity policy that violates the rights of other nations is very dangerous for the entire international order.

The Russian Identity Threats

It is evident that the current Russian development is unsustainable. The attempts of establishing the new national identity on the basis of the new imperialism cannot lead to the positive long-term results. First, the concept of the national identity deals with people’s identification of themselves. It should not lead to the negation of identity rights of the other nations. Otherwise, the constant military conflicts tend to emerge both inside (such as the two Chechen wars) and outside the country (in Georgia and Ukraine). As the Russian military forces initiate aggression in all of these cases, such politics will lead to the negative results in the long run. Second, the interests of the Russian people and Russian government are fundamentally different. The former try to determine their identity and collaborate peacefully with the other nations. The latter aims at the further military campaigns in order to maximize its political power. The Russian government realizes that the identity issues present the threat to the regime (Shevtsova, 2013). Therefore, the largest fraction of discussions in this field are either prohibited or strictly controlled by the government.

Vladimir Putin declares the return to the traditional values that have been typical for Russia for centuries (Shevtsova, 2013). In this way, the regime tries to minimize the attempts of critical examination of the real Russian identity. In order to reach its objectives, the power elite heavily rely on propaganda. According to Kremlin, the traditional values should substitute the real discussion and actual Russian identity. For this reason, these values are expressed and promoted through the state-owned (Russia 1, Russia 2, Russia 24, and Channel One Russia) and state-controlled (NTV, TNT, and REN TV) TV channels. A comparatively new RT channel promotes the Russian propaganda at the international level. Nowadays, there are almost no independent media in Russia.

However, the existing state of affairs cannot be long-lasting. One of the following two scenarios may emerge in the near future. The first one is the change of the Russian regime due to its continual military campaigns. If Ukraine or Western countries defeat Russia, the popularity of regime will evaporate. The second scenario is the loss of power due to people’s understanding of the fact that their interests and those of their national government are opposite. In any case, the attempts to build one’s identity on militarism and new imperialism cannot be successful. Therefore, Russia will face a new identity crisis in the nearest future when the population realizes all the major hidden problems.


It may be concluded that Russia experiences a unique identity situation. Despite its long history, the nation is still unable to determine the proper identity policy. The Soviet period of the country had a considerable impact on the people’s worldview. President Yeltsin’s attempts to create a civic identity in the multi-cultural country were mostly unsuccessful. As a result, the representatives of the former KGB became able to return their power. President Putin decided that the only way of maintaining his power was promoting the traditional values and new imperialism. In order to persuade the majority of the population in these ideas, all resources of the government propaganda were used.

This state of affairs creates considerable problems not only for Russia per se but also for the other countries and nations due to its military campaigns. It demonstrates that the identity problems and crises may threaten the entire system of international order. Unfortunately, the current tendency in Russia makes the new identity crisis in the near future very likely. When the Russian population does not associate its interests with those of their national government, the reconsideration of the values and identity may emerge. Only when the Russian society recognizes its true identity and adequate means of attaining it in a peaceful and non-violent way, the sustainable development of this nation will be possible.

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