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Putin Offers Poly-Ethnic State As Alternative To Nation State

As Russian nationalists have increasingly joined the opposition, Putin has set out a position that is eerily reminiscent of the USSR.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/25/2012, 5:14 PM

Vladimir Putin is regarded in the West as a Russian nationalist, as he has been extremely critical of the West and, particularly, of the United States. However, in an article that he authored this week for Nezavisimaya Gazeta as part of his presidential election campaign, Putin in a sense reverted to a Soviet-style nationalities policy and sought to distinguish himself from xenophobic Russian nationalism.

Russian nationalism has flared up in football game rioting and in criticism of government subsidies to Muslim areas of Russia. More importantly for Putin, Russian nationalists and most prominently, blogger Alexei Navalyni, have joined the anti-government demonstrations.

Putin. who considers the breakup of the Soviet Union a tragedy, criticized the Russian assertion of independence by Boris Yeltsin that was the last nail in the coffin for the Soviet Union. His proposed Eurasian Union is an attempt to remedy this mistake.

In the Soviet era, Russians chafed over the fact that the various nationalities such as Georgians, Latvians and Ukrainians had their own national republics, while the Russians had to content themselves with being part of the Soviet Union. Some considered the breakup of the Soviet Union a good thing, as it would preserve a Russian majority in what remained.

Putin considers the vision of Russia as a Russian ethnic state to be historically inaccurate. Even before Russia expanded in czarist times to Central Asia, Russia was always - claims Putin, citing Russian historians -  a poly-ethnic state rather than an ethnic nation-state. This way, many nationalities in the 4 major religions of Russia - Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism - could find a common home. A common Russian culture supplied the glue. Putin would like to obligate every student to read 100 Russian classics.

State aid to the predominantly Muslim regions in Central Asia is an attempt to create better economic conditions there and thus avoid an influx into predominantly ethnic Russian areas by job seekers.

As for the migrants from areas that became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union, such as Tajikistan, Putin proposes a Russian language exam as a prerequisite for new workers in addition to educational programs for workers who are already living in Russia.