Russia: No Longer a Nation

Russian economist Alexei Bayer, writing in the Moscow Times:

With the rest of the world worried about the economic crisis, the news of yet another politically tinged crime in Moscow gets little more than a shrug. It draws the same response in Russia, even though the killing of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova last month provided a glimpse into a murky, Byzantine abyss lying just beyond the country’s facade. It’s a frightening sight in normal times but especially so in a worsening economic climate.

The crimes themselves — and the usual ho-hum reaction to them — testify to the absence of even a rudimentary civil society. Russia is a country of inhabitants, not citizens. Citizens have a stake in their political entity, and murders like these target the very foundations of a nation. This is an occasion on which citizens of all political persuasions would have found a way to make their voices heard. Instead, Russia’s inhabitants go down into the streets to protest higher duties on foreign cars.

On or, for example, any article criticizing the Kremlin or showing a pro-Western or liberal bias is certain to trigger comments accusing its author of being on the payroll of some foreign power or disgraced oligarch. It seems that the Russian public has become so polarized that those who hold one set of views simply can’t imagine someone else expressing different views without being paid to do so.

The Russian government seems to realize that what it presides over is not a nation in a traditional sense but an assemblage of interest groups who happen to share geography and language but otherwise have so little in common that they don’t even understand each another. Why else would the government be persistently silent on these and other political murders?

After the 2006 murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security service officer Alexander Litvinenko, the West’s capacity for outrage against Russia has been nearly exhausted.

Since then, Moscow’s anti-Western posturing, its invasion of Georgia in August and its gas wars with Ukraine have placed Russia among the world’s most malevolent irritants — located somewhere between Nigeria and Venezuela. Since Russia’s petrodollars have dried up, even Western businessmen who earlier sang self-serving praises to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have fallen silent.

After the traumatic experience of communism, Russians began to come together as a nation in the early 1990s, when they prevented a hard-line coup in August 1991. But economic hardship and half-cocked reforms derailed this process. During the fat years of the oil boom, special-interest groups began to emerge and diverge from one another even as the Kremlin’s efforts to eradicate even loyal opposition killed the last hope for creating a Russian nation.

Fragmentation is the reason why no side in the case of Colonel Yury Budanov — the most likely cause of Markelov’s murder — has been willing to accept any court decision. Russians no longer look to their state for justice. This is why the killer apparently took matters into his own hands. This is why the government will always be suspected of bailing out cronies at the expense of everyone else, regardless of what it does to address the economic crisis.

The great upheavals of the 1990s — from the fall of communism to the 1998 default — passed without social turmoil or large-scale civil conflicts. But back then, Russia was more of a nation than it is today.

10 responses to “Russia: No Longer a Nation

  1. I liked and learned from your piece very much until the very end, when you claimed: “Russians no longer look to the state for justice. That is why the killer [of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova] apparently took justice into his own hands.” Attorney Markelov was investigating crimes and abuses OF the Russian state, and it was probably the latter, or agents working for it, who killed him, as well as Baburova, Litvinenko, and certainly Politkovskaya.

  2. Great democratic “nations” – Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Norway, Holland, Belgium, etc. were scattered like skittles by Hitler’s blitzkrieg. Although Russia was not a “nation”, things went a bit differently there… As to Markelov, after reading his last article “Patriotism as a Diagnosis” (, many Russian citizens don’t just “shrug”. They say: “A dog’s death for a dog!”

  3. On a very related note, Paul Goble has a disturbing post about Russian Interior Ministry troops…

    …referencing this much longer domestic article:

  4. Eugene:

    If the USSR was of the size of “great Holland” or “great Belgium” then things would “went a bit differently there” too. The first months of the German blitzkrieg were a total catastrophe for Red Army (several million soldiers dead, maimed or taken prisoner and a HUGE territory lost), before the Germans were stopped in their tracks by the Russian winter and war of attrition began. Also Poland was a joint venture of Third Reich AND the USSR.

    “Many Russians” sure are sad and angry homocidal fellows. Is there “dog’s death” for the people on this blog too, like me?

  5. Eugene:

    You forgot to mention another great power: Luxembourg. That they failed to defeat the blitzkrieg surely proves that democracy makes you weak.
    The Soviet territory that Germans occupied in 1941 and 1942 was larger than “Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Norway, Holland, Belgium, etc. ” combined (I can even throw in Luxembourg). That was nothing short of an utter disgrace. Twenty or twenty-six million Soviet citizens were killed because of their government’s ineptitude (even Germans, who were fighting several great powers at a time, only lost ten million). Even Stalin acknowledged that in any other country such a government would be swept away. That this did not happen proves beyond reasonable doubt that Russians are not a nation – just a bunch of perverts who love those raping them and cry “dog’s death to a dog” when the rapists kill those trying to stop them.

  6. Eugene,

    How interesting that Stalin formed a pact with the Nazis only to be ‘stabbed in the back’ by them. The Soviets were content to sit back and watch everyone else suffer until their doomsday came. Then they demanded action from the western allies everyday of the war.

    When you set yourself for a fall, you can only blame yourself.

    Perhaps Russians should re-acquaint themselves with this lesson in order to obtain guidance for the future.

    Gary Marshall

  7. Well said Robert.

    When will Russians hear the footsteps of their doom overtaking them?

  8. And surprise surprise, another Chechen murdered in Moscow, this time the former mayor of Grozny.

  9. “Many Russians” sure are sad and angry homocidal fellows.

    Really you know many Russians?

    BTW the article isn’t La Russophobes but pulled word for word from the Moscow Times, typical for here. She rarely writes anything original. Just reprints already published stuff with a comment that this is more proof of Russia being evil.


    You are now banned from commenting on this blog because of your outrageous lies.

    (1) This blog has at least one original editorial in EVERY issue, often two or three.

    (2) This post is clearly marked with a link to the source.

    (3) This is a team blog and many male staffers contributed content, you sexist pig.

    Goodbye, lying idiot.

  10. Eugene,
    Thank you for your charming comment about dogs. It nicely illustrates my point.
    As I write in the piece, a nation is an entity where different people, while keeping their own views, opinion, etc., recognize that they hold something in common–at least, they recognize each other’s humanity. To write something like what you have written about your compatriot–who I should remind you was gunned down (like a dog, as you put it) in plain daylight less than 2 miles from the Kremlin by an assassin who also murdered a totally innocent human along with him–is to put yourself, even in your own mind, beyond your own nation. But Russia isn’t a nation, and so everything you say is just fine.
    As to your comment about WWII, Solzhenitsyn writes in GULAG that an army assembled by General Vlasov, consisting of Russians willing to fight for the Germans against their own country, was 1m strong. That even though Hitler’s was a monstrous regime which held Russians for subhumans and murdered them for sport. (Just like you clearly consider Stanislav Markelov not fully human.) If Hitler had any brain at all, he could have come as a liberator and probably would have won the war. But then he wouldn’t have been Hitler.
    Cheers, AB

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