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Putin’s Playing with Russian Nationalism Already Backfiring

Staunton, October 31 – Like so many Moscow leaders before him, Vladimir Putin’s incautious and insensitive playing with Russian nationalism is backfiring in his multi-national country, raising questions about how well he understands its nature and leading Russian nationalists to act in ways certain to infuriate the non-Russian quarter of the population.

Responding to a question at the recent Sochi meeting of the Valdai Club, Putin acknowledged that “patriotism can grow over into nationalism” and that “this is a dangerous tendency.” But then he said something which undercut his own comments: the Kremlin leader said he is “the biggest nationalist in Russia.”

Putin qualified that declaration by saying “the most correct nationalism is the arranging of actions and policies in such a way that this will work for the good of the people, but if under nationalism is understood intolerance to other peoples and chauvinism, this will destroy our country which from the beginning has been a multi-national and poly-confessional state.”

Such comments, Erik Khanymamedov, a Central Asian who blogs from Volgograd, might be ignored if they were made by another leader in another state, but “in multi-national Russia … such presidential words about ‘the biggest nationalist’ will be taken by many practically as a direct instruction for actions that will be far from seemly.”

At a minimum, they will intensify “the everyday intolerance to other ethnoses” on display in Russia and particularly “great power chauvinism” among ethnic Russians toward minorities. Indeed, some of the latter will ignore all the nuances of Putin’s remark and assume that his self-identification as a Russian nationalist justifies their own attitudes and actions.

Khanymamedov says that he remains “deeply convinced” that the Soviet Union fell apart because of ethnic issues rather than economic ones and that Putin does not appear to understand that or that “a certain …read more

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