Russian Empire

I got very confused and indeed even angry with a comment written on Pharyngula. Not with the commenter, who I do not think has any malicious intent, but with the contents of the comment which make no sense to me and sound downright typically American ignorant.

For what I gather from Nina Khruscheva’s explanation, Biden’s idea that Putin wants to resurrect the USSR is incorrect. He also doesn’t want to resurrect the the Russian Empire. Putin doesn’t like revolutions apparently.

What he wants, it seems, is similar to the united Arab state Baathists like Hussein and Assad want in the Middle East. In Putin’s case, he wants a pan-Slavic state that he rules with an iron fist.

I know that most readers and commenters on FtB are Americans and thus are writing mostly from an American perspective and reading sources that were either written from an American perspective or were filtered through it on the way. I try occasionally to insert some different perspective, with questionable results.

But even when I try to read this comment through my American glasses, it does not make any sense whatsoever. Maybe my American glasses are not strong enough or maybe I interpret it wrongly but…

I mean, what the fuck is the difference between Russian Empire, USSR, and a pan-Slavic state that Putin rules with an iron fist?

The Russian Empire was a multi-national country in which Russians with Tzar at the throne wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some West and Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by Austrians and Ottomans.

The USSR was a multi-national country in which Russians with the Communist Party wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East and West-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by a separate Communist totalitarian regime of their own.

So saying that Putin does not want to revive USSR or the Russian Empire is true in about the same sense as saying that Nazis don’t exist no more, ya know, since the term refers to members of a political party that only existed in Germany in the 1930-40s. Technically the comment is accurate, practically it is meaningless. And such quibbling over distinctions without a difference at a time like this pisses me off.

Putin most emphatically DOES want a Russian Empire with him as the ruler. It does not matter what anyone says, his actions speak louder than anyone’s words. Minutiae of differences between the former Russian Empire, the former USSR, and Putin’s recent goals are irrelevant and pale when the similarities are considered.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    We just had an American senator declare that Putin wants to seize Ukraine for its food because Communism can’t feed people.

    Never misunderestimate the disinformation saturating the USA.

  2. lumipuna says

    Indeed, it seems like quibbling over a technical difference. Besides, these sort of nuances tend to get muddled in the news media anyway.

    I think there may be some difference between the goals/focus of Putin’s pan-Slavic nationalism (if he indeed has such ideology) and his practical goals of holding onto as much power as possible, as long as possible. I get the impression that a pan-Slavic Greater Russian nation would include East Slavic peoples (that is, Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians) but not the full extent of the Empire or the Union in their heyday. Of course, that wouldn’t preclude Greater Russia from having a larger sphere of influence with satellite states and whatnot. It’s just that in a nationalist point of view, overly extensive imperialism would be a distraction that would risk obfuscating the identity of the core nation, or something like that.

    It seems to me that Putin seeks to hold de facto power first and foremost over Ukraine and Belarus, but also most other ex-Soviet states, and probably more if he could. He might prefer to formally annex Ukraine as part of Greater Russia, but since he hasn’t yet done that with Belarus, it might not be very realistic. Maybe he thinks or hopes it will be possible in the long run -- and obviously that’d require maintaining de facto control in the meantime. Maintaining that control happens to align with his other interests, such as fending off NATO from Russia’s borders and generally being the ruler of universe.

    So, Putin is definitely an empire builder. I might say Russia never stopped being an empire, except in the sense of ditching traditional monarchy. Even within its own current borders, Russia is a huge, ethnically diverse country that barely contains the separatist aspirations of its own minorities.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Putin is a bully with nukes. How do you deal with bullies?

    I’m more convinced than ever that NATO should have mirrored Putin. He masses troops at the Ukrainian border? NATO should have done the same from the beginning, at least in Poland and Slovakia. All the major NATO countries have rapid response integrated brigades, and they could have had 50,000 plus troops, including artillery and air support, in place within days, with possibly more to follow.

    I’m safely ensconced in Canada, so my opinion can, of course, be taken with a grain of salt.

    I’m interested to know what people living closer to the borders think.

  4. says

    Putin is a bully with nukes. How do you deal with bullies?

    Stab them in the neck before they realize the fight has even started? What else is there?

  5. StevoR says

    @ ^ LykeX : So hit them back first and harder causing them harm and putting yourself in a situation where you rightly get seen as the attacker?

    I don’t think so though I can understand the temptation as someone whose been bullied and not really found many good ways of dealing with it.

    Of course we’re talking specifically here at a level of nation states not individual people or gangs of bullies. What is the international version of that metaphorical “stabbing” -- pre-emptive military attacks on Russia first? So, er, no, sorry but no.

    I think we need to find some way of de-ecalating, of negotiating and working out some sort of peaceful solution but yeah, really don’t know how we’re going to get there. Putin personally needs to be removed and its my hope that Russians themselves whether people, Generals or both manage to do so but that may not happen and, yeah, its a tough one.

    Blunt foce and violence, becomiing bullies ourselves is not the answer though. satying that from painful lived experience too.


    @ 2. Pierce R. Butler :

    We just had an American senator declare that Putin wants to seize Ukraine for its food because Communism can’t feed people. Never misunderestimate the disinformation saturating the USA.

    Also in Oz a swell. Seen some brutish willful ignorami on fb threads repeating and describing Putin’s Russia as “communist”here too which, no, just no. It reallyisn’t and hasn’t been for years. An oligarchy, sure, a kakistocracy like our own msiGovtm, yeah. A tyranny and mafiocracy maybe. Communist? Not been that for decades sicne Gorbachov..

    Of cours ethe murdoch and other reichwing disinfor outlets -- ironically despite having their own strong Putin idolising segments. -- ar etoblame for much of this misunderstadning and propaganda nonsense.

    @ Rob Grigjanis : “I’m safely ensconced in Canada, so my opinion can, of course, be taken with a grain of salt. I’m interested to know what people living closer to the borders think.”

    Same applies to me too albeit in Australia not Canada.


    .. the Russian Empire was a multi-national country in which Russians with Tzar at the throne

    Exceedingly minor nit pick here but FWIW isn’t it either Tsar with Ts or Czar with a Cz? Usally see the former for the Russian monarchy but the derivation coming from Ceasar as in the Roman Imperator title makes the latter look more accurate-ish so .. anyhow. Oh & I’m the last one that can talk when it comes to having spelling variations given all my typos I know, sorry.

  6. says

    @StevoR, according to English Wikipedia, all of your and mine spellings are used in English.

    Tsar (/zɑːr, sɑːr/ or /tsɑːr/), also spelled czar, tzar, or csar, is a title used to designate East and South Slavic monarchs.

    If one wanted to be pedantic, the only correct spelling is царь, but probably nobody around here is able to read that except Andreas Avester and me.
    English has no usable spelling rules and has way too few letters to transliterate Slavic words meaningfully.

  7. lumipuna says

    Tangentially related, it just occurred to me that while the title tsar (just like German Kaiser) was clearly meant to appropriate the prestige of old Roman imperators or “Caesars”, not all tsars are apparently regarded as “emperors” in English or other languages.

    A while ago I noticed on English Wikipedia that the Russian historical period between 1540s -- 1721 is called “Tsardom of Russia” as opposed to the later “Russian Empire”. On Finnish Wikipedia, this period is called “Moscow-based Russia” while the later period is called “Empire of Russia”. Now that I looked it up, similar distinction seems to exist on Russian Wikipedia.

    Mid 16th century was when the princes of Moscow began regularly calling themselves tsars. Shortly before that, most of what was then East Slavic speaking area had been united under the principality of Moscow. After that, Russia began seriously expanding into non-Slavic areas in the east (that is most of present-day Russia) and spreading Russian language and culture into them. It also conquered the southwestern part of the old East Slavic speaking area (roughly modern Belarus and Ukraine) which had been Polish-Lithuanian rule.

    1721 marked the end of a war where Russia whooped the asses of Sweden and probably some other Western powers. I haven’t looked if there was some formal Western recognition of Russia as an “Empire” at the time, but this seems to be the modern historical convention anyway. I strongly suspect that contemporary Russian speakers didn’t distinguish between “tsar” and generic “emperor” (the latter seems to be imperator in modern Russian). In the 18th century, Russian nobility became a lot more connected to the West, began communicating in Latin, French etc. In Finnish, like in English, later Russian tsars are interchangeably referred to as tsar (tsaari) or emperor (keisari).

  8. says

    I’m not saying it’s a great solution, I’m just not sure what else there is. The only “peaceful” solution is the one where we just accept the situation. Bullies don’t back down because you ask them nicely and when the bully has nukes, pressuring them might just end with them blowing up the world.
    While I was being a bit flippant earlier, it may well be that the only way to deal with Putin is for someone close to him to cut his throat. How else do you get to a guy like that without him having the time to push the button?

    I think it’s much more likely that we’ll end up in the other scenario: The one where Putin does whatever he wants until at some point he’s drops dead of a heart attack, perhaps in a decade or so. And then we get to try to clean up the mess.

  9. amts says

    Rene @ 10

    I somehow want that T-shirt. And no, I can’t read it I had to resort to Google translate--yet I still want that T.

  10. says

    I mean, what the fuck is the difference between Russian Empire, USSR, and a pan-Slavic state that Putin rules with an iron fist?

    The Russian Empire and USSR included non-Slavic, non-majority-Christian states in Central Asia. Perhaps — at this time at least — Putin doesn’t want to reconquer those non-Slavic states. (Boris Yeltsin had once envisioned a “Federation of Independent States,” consisting of the white/Slavic SSRs, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Maybe Putin has a similar fantasy?)

    Also, the USSR was, in theory at least, Communist and atheist; and maybe Putin, being closely aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, wants to have a “pan-Slavic” theocracy instead.

  11. Ice Swimmer says

    lumipuna @ 8

    Yeah, after the Constantinople fell to Turks, the Grand Prince/Duke (Knyaz) of Moscow married the Byzantine Princess Zoe Palaiologina (niece of the last Emperor). The Byzantine Emperor was called Tzar by Russians and Constanople was referred to as Tzargrad. Later Russians claimed that Moscow was the third Rome and her grandson, Ivan the Terrible took the title of Tzar.

    Muscovites were the ruthless tax collectors of Mongols and Tatars and once the Mongol/Tatar power went in decline, they started to gain ascendancy over other Russian states. I wonder how the history would have gone if the mercantile and more republican Veliky Novgorod wouldn’t have been subjugated by Muscovites…

    Putin is certainly in the tradition of despotic, conquest-happy and repressive rulers like Ivan the Terrible, Alexis I, Peter I (the “Great”), Paul I, Nicholas I and Stalin.

    Raging Bee @ 12

    I think KGB infiltrated the Russian Orthodox Church rather successfully and the men (women can’t be priests in that cruch) put there by KGB managed to oust the more independent-minded clerical leaders, when Putin took power. So, there is probably de facto caesaropapism in Russia and the Patriarch of Moscow is Putin’s puppet.

  12. says

    @Raging Bee, I fear you did not understand the article and why I wrote it because otherwise, you would not write this comment. I know those things you wrote and I allude to them in the OP, for crying out loud!

    This is exactly the kind of “difference” that whilst technically correct is practically meaningless. Yes, Putin might want to rule over an ever so slightly different “portfolio” of nations and his policies and politics differ ever so slightly from those previous two regimes, but that does not matter to the people being run over by Russian tanks in the name of Making Russia Great Again.

    Hitler with his Third Reich also did not want to resurrect exactly the same German Empire as the previous one was. Why the fuck do people even need to quibble over such trivial technicalities at a time like this is beyond me. Putin is an Imperialist hell-bent on building a Russian Empire akin to, if not identical to, the USSR sphere of influence. He and his dipshit diplomats even said so, albeit mostly indirectly.

  13. Jazzlet says

    Thank you for this Charly, and to others for thoughtful discussion of the article.

    I am not defending the people who do this, far from it, but I think there is a certain kind of person who feels that they are more in control (which makes them feel safer, as it does for most of us) if they can define a situation as compared to other situations to their satisfaction. It does nothing -- except maybe start pointless nitpicking arguments -- and they rarely have the expertise to be interesting, but it makes them feel better, even if it is at the cost of making the rest of us feel worse.

  14. Tethys says

    I think you are correct to assume that what the current megalomaniac wants is a return to the glory days of Imperialism. His fascist credentials list KGB as his previous job title, but nobody seems to have expected him to full on attack despite having massed troops?

    I cannot imagine how much anxiety all of you must be feeling due to history and proximity. I’m an ocean away and worried sick. The only reason I’m American is because of similar fascist and nationalistic Russians back in 1897 ejecting all the ethnic German settlers in Eastern Europe who had immigrated into Imperial Russia under Katherine the Great, and later czars. I still don’t know how my Grandpa managed to get into Canada when he was shipped to Siberia for staying on his family farm in the Molatschna region of Ukraine.

    I take hope from the fact that it is not going well at all for the fascist Putin, and that US chatter has focused on the real world threat of war.

    It’s a subtle change, but suddenly I’m no longer seeing any “suggested news” about our very orange fascist in my various feeds.

    I guess having tucker Carlsons Fox News propaganda widely circulated within Russia by Putin was not a good look for its corporate owners. There will always be fascists, but the 70% of US voters who put Biden in office are pro-democracy and distrust Putin on principle.

    In any case, please take good care of yourselves. May Putins putsch sink into the swamps of the Molotschna, preferably asap.

  15. rq says



    Well, they are saying the Baltics are next. Time to finally get on those Canadian passports for the kids.
    Me, well. Mobilization training is a thing now. Fingers crossed, right?

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