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Nationalism in Russia After Crimean Crisis

Becoming an arena of serious struggle for influence between great powers, Ukraine has been main issues of today’s international politics. And even each theory of international relations explains the Crimean crisis differently but they all come in one opinion that nationalism has been playing an important role in these events.  While constructivism explains the role of Russian nationalism in Crimean crisis as a consequence of its identity, realism sees it only as a tool to reach its own goals. But something has changed in Russian nationalism after Crimean intervention, if for last two decades Russian nationalism was more clearly seen only within Russian in struggle with immigrants(carried more conservative character), after Crimean crisis it was used also to expend its territory and thus to increase the national glory of a country (seen signs of expansionist nationalism) .

Constructivist approach to the international relations, mainly based on the idea that identity plays main role in shaping political actions of states, can partly explain the behavior of Russian Federation against Ukraine and Crimea.  According to this approach an understanding of “self” depends on an “other” which shows state’s place in world politics and thus shapes actions of it. In case of Russia, Crimea had been seen as a part of it even before it was officially announced as an autonomous republic of Russian Federation on March 22 followed from the referendum held on March 16, 2014. So seeing Crimea among “us” or “our nation”, Russia is trying to protect Crimean citizens where 58% of population are ethnic Russians[1]. In other words, perceiving itself as a protector of its nation, Russia thinks that protecting “us” is its main duty.  And as an argument to its actions Russian leaders point that individual rights of citizens of Ukraine are being abused according to their ethnicity and political beliefs. So according to constructivism Russian actions toward Crimea were shaped by its own identity, how it perceives itself and sees own role in international arena.

While constructivists argue that nationalism in the case of Russia toward Crimea was used with good intention in order to protect “us”, realists explain the same issue completely differently.  Realism explains Russian nationalism as a devise to reach own interests, in this case expanding own territory and sphere of influence. Moreover Crimea possesses great geopolitical importance.  Masha Lipman in her article “Putin’s nationalist strategy” also argues that Russia uses nationalism to oppose the West after a collapse of the Soviet Union proofed the non-competitiveness of socialist ideology with capitalist one.  If in period of Soviet Union communism was used as an ideology to oppose the West, the same way nowadays nationalism is used. It became a main tool of Russia in foreign policy, especially in struggle with western countries. And one of recently examples to this is Crimean crisis where according to realism Russia pursued only own interests, it did not protect “us” like in constructivism. And these Russian interests were expanding its territory, its power and sphere of influence.

From this perspective, nowadays Russian nationalism turned into expansionist nationalism while before Crimean intervention it had carried more conservative character. Perceiving it as a threat to Russian nation, immigration became a main issue Russia fights with last years. For example anti-immigration campaigns waged against especially Central Asian immigrants, demonstrations of ultranationalists led by clashes (for instance, clashes on 11 December 2010 in the Manezh Square in Moscow), slogans such as “Russia for Russians”, “death to Caucasians” (December 2010 demonstrations in Moscow) obviously show the signs of conservative and aggressive Russian nationalism, according to which immigration poses a threat to their nation (e.g increasing of crime). Recent poll held by independent Levada Center also shows strong xenophobic sentiments, according to which approximately 75 % of Russians favor the deportation of migrant workers[2].   Thus, promoting intolerance towards immigrants, Russian nationalism before Crimean events carried more conservative character.

However, after Crimean intervention conservative nationalism became not enough in explaining Russian nationalism. After Russian armed intervention to Crimean peninsula and signing the document making it a part of Russian Federation on 21st March 2014, Russian nationalism became more look like to expansionist one. Moreover, Russian racism and ethnic-nationalism, revealed itself more “within Russia” for the past two decades, started to be active out of its borders too. “In the last two decades, Russia has never intervened outside its borders on behalf of the ethnic Russian Diaspora” wrote Paul Goode in his article “How Russian nationalism explains—and does not explain— the Crimean crisis”[3]. But according to him this is the weakest explanation about Crimean crisis.   Nevertheless probably because of these signs of expansionist nationalism Vladimir Putin was compared with Hitler, who wanted to bring ethnic Germans together and achieve Lebenstraum for Aryan dominated empire. Moreover ideology of Eurasianism with Russian dominance is also similar to Hitler’s third dream about Arian dominated world. If it would be correct to compare Russian nationalism with fascism or not, but anyway it probably does carry some signs of expansionist nationalism. For example one of the consequences of Russian attempts to bring together all post-soviet countries under Custom union and Eurasian Economic Union were the protests  and clashes in Ukraine ( that have started in November 2013) that later led to military intervention into Crimean peninsula by Russia.

To sum up, how it was not explained by the theories of international relations, it is fact that nationalism was used by Russia in Crimean crisis; as a device for increasing own influence over geopolitically important area or in order to protect Russians. So Russian nationalism served as a main tool in intervening to Crimea and then making it a part of Russian Federation. And if before these events it carried more conservative character and could be seen more within “Russia”, after the crisis it started to be active in out of Russian borders too and carry some signs of expansionist nationalism.   Thus Crimean crisis showed that Russian nationalism is no more only conservative, but it also carries signs of expansionist nationalism for the past two decades.

Begimai Atamyrza kyzy, International Relations Department, Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan



[2]  Brian Whitmore, “The Kremlin Is Losing Control of the Nationalist Movement It Helped Create”, November 8, 2013 (article).

[3] Paul Goode, “How Russian nationalism explains—and does not explain— the Crimean crisis”, March 3, 2014 (article).

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