According to the writing of Russian national history, the national history of Russia begins with the Kiev state. According to this understanding, a homeland from the 11th century, the unity of people in a land, unity in language and belief, existed in the Kiev state, which was seen as the first independent Russian state and continued from the 9th to 13th centuries.

The Russians accepted Orthodoxy during this period. Vladimir I was baptized in 988 and married the daughter of the Byzantine emperor and implemented policies to orthodoxies his subjects (Acton, 1986: 5). Therefore, from the Russian point of view, since this period there is a unity in terms of language, religion, political unit and culture.

One of the most important factors in the emergence and development of the first elements of Russian national consciousness was the geographical environment. In addition to being between Europe and Asia, communicating with groups of different religions, ethnic identities and cultures has had a significant impact on Russian consciousness.

In this study, Russian nationalism is examined under three main headings as pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet, and the arguments of the modernist nationalist movement are discussed again.

1. Russian Nationalism before Soviet Union

The most important subject in the early Russian literature is the concept of Russian Land which emerged as the first element of identity in Russian consciousness. The story of Igor’s Army, written about 1200s and about the loss of Prince Igor’s war against the Cuman, is defined by Russian princes, Russian princes and Zemliu Russkoiu. Written in the 13th century, The Story of the Destruction of Russian Land, describes the occupation of Northern Russia by the Mongols. There is another point in this work: While the Russian land was defined by its princes,

this time both aristocracies was added, and Orthodox Christianity was included in the definition of Russian land. The boundaries of Russian soil were determined with a religious identity and being Orthodox.

Zadonschchina, written at the beginning of the 15th century, is  another example. Zadonschchina is about the defeat of the Mongols by the Russians in the battle of Kulikovo in 1380. Here, it is seen that the understanding of Russian soil is defined with even more Orthodoxy. In addition, as an important element, death for the homeland (patria) is seen to be equivalent to dying for God. The homeland is still understood as the patrimony of the Russian princes, and aristocracy is included in this identification. In this literary work Russian soil is defined by Moscow. In these works, a Russian consciousness is defined by combining three concepts: Russian Land, Orthodoxy and Moscow (Cherniavsky, 1975: 119-120).

Changes in the definition of Russian consciousness are observed in these works of different centuries. These changes are closely related to the development of Russian history. Living under the rule of the Mongols, who were from a different religion between the 13th and 15th centuries (1240-1480), and the rise of Moscow as a new political center between the 14th and 16th centuries; Russian soil, Orthodox belief and the Moscow trilogy had a significant impact on the formation of Russian consciousness. In addition, the Russian church became increasingly Russian during this period and saw the importance of the rise of Moscow for itself and supported it. Therefore, it can be said that the Russian Church as well as Moscow played an important role in the establishment of the political unity of the Russians (Nationalism: A Report by a Study Group, 1939: 59).

In addition, the Council of Florence in 1439 and the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 are two important events affecting Russian national identity. The Florentine Council and the Greek Orthodox Church were accepted to pledge allegiance to the Papacy, which led to the separation of the Russian church from the Istanbul patriarchate. After the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire, Moscow remained the only important city in Eastern Christianity ruled by a Christian prince (Zernov, 1938: 31).

Moscow was regarded as the sole representative of “true faith and the sole’’ protector of Orthodoxy and was declared the heir of Byzantium. In 1472, The marriage between III. Ivan and Sophia Paleolog, the cousin of the last Byzantine emperor, was also seen as affirming Moscow’s right to Byzantine heritage.

The period after 1453 was a turning point in the 15th century Russian consciousness. Since then, the only Orthodox state in the world has remained Russia, and all of Russia’s neighbors belonged to a different religion. In addition, from the 15th century onwards, Moscow seems to have taken the northeast as its centralized monarchy. During this period, Russian territory, Orthodox faith and Moscow began to overlap with more and more political realities.

Before the 15th century, there was no coronation ritual, palace ceremonies and kingdom symbols in Moscow. All this was created after the end of Eastern Roman and Mongol power in the late 15th century.

During this period, the Great Prince of Moscow and Russia (Velikiy Knyaz) became the Orthodox sovereign, and Moscow became the Third Rome. Moscow palace, rituals, coronation, the appearance of the rulers all, Byzantineized. The 15th century is the century in which Moscow has begun to consider and evaluate many of the options available from Russia in order to create a consciousness for the empire. The conceptualization of the Russian prince as both the Khan, the Roman Emperor, the Orthodox Monarch and the heir of Ivan I’s dynasty, and the coexistence of all these concepts at the same time, had reinforcing effects, not contradictory (Cherniavsky, 1975: 123).

All these options were further expanded in the 16th century. The Russian ruler was a Tsar as the leader of the Orthodox Christian world, not only because the Second Rome fell, but also in the 11th century, his ancestor Vladimir Monomakh defeated the Byzantine emperor and became the symbol of the universal Christian Empire. It has received. It was also acknowledged that the Russian rulers were descended from the Emperor Agustus. That the Emperor Agustus gave his brother Prus the lands in the north; Rurik, the first ruler of Russia, and the ancestors of all Russian princes came from these lands (Kurat, 1993: 140-141). Accordingly, the Prince of Moscow was the Tsar of the Universal, the Russian people were chosen by God, and he was the foremost among all Christian peoples.

Moscow was defined as the Third Rome. The idea of defining Moscow as the Third Rome was the basis on which all the next was to be based on the conceptualization of Russia’s national mission. In the first half of the 16th century, Philotheus was a Russian priest of Pskov, Prince III. He wrote to Vasili the First Rome was destroyed by Heresy, the Second Rome became the victim of the Turks, but the new and the Third Rome were born from the north by illuminating the whole universe like a sun. The First and Second Rome were destroyed, but the third will survive until the end of history, because it is the last Rome. Moscow has no heirs; the Fourth Rome is unthinkable. (Nationalism, A Report by a Study Group, 1939: 62).

Another important event that strengthened the Russian national sentiment IV. It was Ivan’s invasion of Kazan in 1552. During and after the occupation, emphasis was placed on Orthodoxy. For the Russians, the occupation of Kazan meant the victory of the Orthodox against the infidels and it also meant that the Tsar was truly crowned.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Tsar’s Orthodoxy began to be emphasized much more. Tsar Aleksis is presented as a typical example of an Orthodox ruler. His period was also a period in which the struggle between the tsar and the patriarch and the struggle between the state and the church intensified. In the end, the state established complete sovereignty over the church. This period can be shown as the milestones in which the state established its domination over the church (Cherniavsky, 1975: 135-136). The church almost became an organ of the Russian state, and the tsars saw the church as a means of legitimizing their rule (Guroff and Guroff, 1994: 84).

When Russian folklore is examined, it is seen that the songs and tales in Russian folklore were mainly about two periods in the period before Peter the Great. One of these periods was Saint Vladimir and the other was Ivan the Terrible, especially the occupation of Kazan. As mentioned above, Vladimir was the first Russian ruler to become Orthodoxy. Ivan was the ruler who conquered Kazan and declared the triumph of Orthodoxy (Cherniavsky, 1975: 126).

The concept of “Holy Russia” (Svyataya Rus) is an example of popular consciousness. After the begning of the 17th century, this term gained wide use. With this concept, national consciousness and Orthodox identity have been met. Being Russian meant being Orthodox. Being Russian and Orthodox overlap.

2. Russian Nationalism in the Soviet Time

The consciousness of most of the present-day Russian population was formed under the Soviet rule. They grew up during the Soviet period and inherited a Soviet lifestyle and worldview. The younger generation was raised by this generation. One of the arguments of this study is that in order to understand the identity of Russians and how they define themselves today, the Russian identity and their relations to the state during the Soviet period should be analyzed.

The influence of the Soviet era on today’s Russian identity and Russian nationalism still exists. The roots of the different currents of today’s Russian nationalism go back to the Soviet period. Most of the Russian nationalists today have a feeling of nostalgia toward the Soviet period. The Soviet era also seems to have an effect on Russian politics. Today, in the Russian Federation, the Soviet past is being partially and selectively rehabilitated. (Smith, 2002, p. 182).

The main rival of Marxism, the ideology of the new Soviet regime, was nationalism. In the beginning of the Soviet period, all the expressions of Russian nationalism were called “Great Russian Chauvinism” and were strongly suppressed. These pressures continued into the mid- 1930s. Under the threat of the upcoming World War, the Soviet regime under Stalin’s leadership aimed to mobilize Russian nationalist sentiments. Therefore, Russian nationalism was integrated into the state ideology. However, Russian nationalism was not allowed to be expressed as a separate ideology independent of the state ideology. Marxism–Leninism remained one of the important sources of legitimization of the Soviet regime (Filipov, 2017).

Being aware of the dominance of Russians within the state and in the country, and of the possible harmful effects of Russian nationalist sentiments aiming to separate the Russian nation from the Soviet state, the Soviet regime always tried to control Russian nationalism and to preserve the Russian/Soviet Union identification in the minds of the Russians. In addition, some Soviet leaders regarded partial identification with Russian nationalism as beneficial because this would increase the legitimacy of the regime in the eyes of the Russians. Eventually, a degree of identification between the Russians and the Soviet state was achieved.

The Russian nationalism under the Soviet rule until the 1960s developed in a strictly controlled line dictated by the Soviet state. In the early years of the Soviet regime, until the first half of the 1930s, all forms of Russian nationalism were punished by the regime. However, in this period, a new kind of Russian nationalism, which blended Russian nationalist themes with Marxist–Leninist themes, emerged. These groups were close to or within the political establishment. (Kolstø, P. , 2016)

After 1934, Russian nationalism was used by the regime for its own goals and to create identification with the Soviet state in the minds of the Russians. However, the regime never lost control over Russian nationalism. Russian nationalism was incorporated in the official ideology of the state and was not allowed to go outside the boundaries defined by the state. Until the 1960s, Russian nationalism was state-based. Toward the end of the Khrushchev era, different expressions of Russian nationalism, which were defined outside the discourse of the state, emerged.

During the Brezhnev period, Russian nationalism became an ideology from below. For the first time in this period, a strong tendency among Russian nationalists saw the Russian nation as a separate ethnic group from the Soviet state; they began expressing their thoughts on the harmful effects of the Soviet administration on the Russians. Furthermore, National Bolshevism became a strong Russian nationalist tendency. During the Brezhnev period, the National Bolsheviks were not only tolerated but also supported. The revival of Russian nationalism began as well as gained momentum in the Brezhnev era. During the Brezhnev period, Russian nationalism found its own form and the main concerns of Russian nationalist thought, its worldview, and the proposals became clear.

During the Brezhnev period, two main Russian nationalist approaches emerged. One was the group that worried about what they perceived as the moral and demographic crisis of the Russians. They were concerned that the Russians were losing their values, culture, and tradition. As a solution, they offered the revival of the Russian Orthodox values, pre-revolutionary Russian culture, and peasant traditions. They were against modernization and had concerns about the devastating effects of the Soviet administration on the Russians. Representatives of this group were dissident nationalists and rural prose writers. Although the rural prose writers were much more successful in finding a modus vivendi with the regime, both groups shared the above-mentioned thoughts.

The most important development in terms of Russian nationalism during the Brezhnev era was the emergence of dissident Russian nationalism, which influenced all groups of Russian nationalists. Dissident Russian nationalists have defined the Russian nation as a separate ethnic group from the state. They rejected the official ideology of the state. They considered the state a non-Russian and anti-Russian element. They believed that the Soviet state had harmful effects on the Russian nation.

Another nationalist group comprised the National Bolsheviks. Their primary concern was that the Russian military and political power should be increased both with regard to other countries and other nations within the Soviet Union. They regarded the Soviet state as the representative and protector of the Russians.

From the Brezhnev period to the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian nationalism developed on almost the same line. Russian national identity and Russian nationalism found their modern forms during the Soviet period. Considering how much the Soviet and Russian identities have been identical in the past, and while the Soviet past is being partially and selectively rehabilitated in the Russian Federation today, the Soviet period provides important clues to understand the relations between the nation and the state in the new era. (Kolstø, 2016)

The disintegration of the Soviet Union was one of the most important events of the 20th century. The collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the two most important actors in the world political system, has led to many changes in the world order. Although the end of the Cold War period had significant effects on the whole world, the most direct effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union were of course the oldest in the territory of the USSR.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians had to live in a nation-state for the first time in their history. The Russians have never lived within a nation-state structure and have never attempted to establish a nation-state. The establishment of the Russian Republic as a nation-state has raised the degree of nationalism Rus of the Russians and the issue of the identification of the new state and the Russians as an important issue. The identification of the new state and the Russians was considered important for the internal stability and international relations of this new country.

Today, the consciousness of most Russians is shaped under Soviet rule. They grew up in the Soviet period and inherited a lifestyle, worldview from the Soviet period. The generation that followed them grew up in the Soviet era. In order to understand the Russians’ understanding of the nation and how they define themselves today, it is necessary to analyze the relations of the Russian people and Russians in the Soviet period with the state. Within the Soviet Union, as a result of state policies, there was a degree of identification between the Russians and the Soviet state (Tunçer-Guide, 2017). According to public opinion polls, the Russians were the nation most identified with the state among the nations of the Soviet Union (Drobizheva, 1992, p.101). The events of the Perestroika period and the collapse of the Soviet Union had important effects on Russian national consciousness. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, most of the Russians separated themselves from the center they viewed as highly bureaucratic, oppressive and exploitative, and from the new independent countries, which they perceived as economic burdens, but it was not easy for them to leave the land they considered themselves. With some exceptions, a large number of Russian nationalists have remained committed to the integrity of the Soviet Union, the integrity of the former Soviet territory. (Dunlop, 2014)

At the heart of the many problems that the newly formed Russian Federation had to deal with was the question of the position of the Russians in the new state. The nationalism of the Russians, the dominant nation in the country, and the nationalism of the non-Russian peoples were the most important issues on the agenda. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia became a nation-state, but it was still a federal country with many different ethnic groups. Apart from the ideological gap, the demands of separatist and autonomous non-Russian nations living in the Russian Republic, the situation of the Russians living in other republics of the Soviet Union and the economic difficulties in the country were of concern for the Russian people and the newly established Russian state.

In the last period of the Soviet Union, with Boris Yeltsin taking over the Russian Federation, a critical approach to the Soviet center and policy was adopted in this direction, and the support of USSR ( Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) and the Russians, the Soviet Union, the separatist feelings in non-Russian republics, was more lethal.

3. After the Soviet Union: Russian nationalism from Yeltsin to Putin

 The Russian Federation emerged as an ethnically more homogenous country compared to the former Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Just before the Soviet Union was dissolved, the Russian population in the country was 50 percent of the total USSR population. In the newly established Russian Federation 81 percent of the population consisted of Russians (Tishkov, 1997).

After the dissolution of the USSR, the Soviet people of ethnicities in the new era were replaced by Russian citizenship-based identity, covering everyone living within the borders of the new state. Immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, rossiiskii and rossiane, which are Russian and Russian, respectively, began to be used in the sense of people living everywhere, not in the sense of ethnicity, but in Russia. With the new administration, an understanding of non-ethnic Russia has been adopted.

During the 1990s, the Yeltsin administration developed a project to build a nation based on the idea that all peoples living in Russia belong to Russia regardless of their ethnic identity. The Yeltsin period was the period when the Russian Federation was built as a nation state based on citizenship (Breslauer and Dale, 1997). During the Yeltsin era, the understanding of nationalism was based on citizenship based on the Russian Federation. This approach was developed by Valery Tshkov, director of the Institute of ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of nations during the Yeltsin period. In this approach, Russia has been recognized as a multiethnic Federation, but it has been emphasized that ties to the various groups living in the country are strong and that Russian is known by the entire country population, facilitating the identity of a nation over ethnic groups, (Rossiiane).

In Russia Today there are many different expressions of Russian nationalism, many different approaches to Russian nationalism. There is no mention of Russian nationalism. These different expressions of nationalism are incompatible with each other, and there are many differences between the ideas of various nationalist groups, and there are disagreements between these groups. Today, there are two different Russian nationalists. One of them is the approach that can be called “ethnic Russian nationalism”. Another could be called “Imperial Russian nationalism.” In addition to many differences in ideas between these two approaches, there is also tension.

As described above, during the perestroika period, ethnic nationalism was strengthened among the Russians as a reaction to other nations ‘ nationalist and ethnic mobilization. During the Yeltsin period, the concept of citizenship-based rusticism came to the fore, and the period after the 90s was a period when the imperial approach was dominated by the “imperial nostalgia” (Kolstø, 2016).

As Szporluk described above, it can be said that the “imperial protective” ideology still continues in a different way. A similar approach continues in the ideology of “imperial nostalgia” or Eurasianism. This approach continues in the form of a longing for a state of the Soviet Union, a great, strong, and Russian state. (Kolstø, 2016, p. 3).

Today’s ethnic Russian nationalists include former Slavic republics, Ukraine and Belarus, as well as those who say that the majority of Russians in Kazakhstan should be removed from Russia. Some ethnic Russian nationalists, Ukrainians and Belarusians also regard themselves as Russians (Shevel 2011, p.187-189).

According to Emil pain, in Russia’s political life, Imperial understanding is united with Russian nationalism. There is a nationalism that supports Imperial wishes, and this has recently demonstrated itself in the annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014. Although there is also anti-imperial Russian nationalism, this group has recently become completely weak, the Imperial element’s invariability in Russian nationalism.

Looking at the Putin era, it is observed that a tendency to influence the borders of Russian ethnic identity has been adopted in Putin’s approach to nationalism. The Russian conception of Putin’s testimony is not based entirely on ethnic nationalism. It can be said that the extravagance of Russian ethnic identity is a deliberate and consciously chosen approach to help the administration extend its sphere of maneuver (Blakkisrud, 2016). This makes it possible for the Russian identity to be interpreted as both narrower and wider than the citizens of the Russian Federation. Because this Russian identity can be understood only as ethnic Russians, as citizens of the Russian Federation, as well as a definition of the wider “Russian World” (russkii mir) outside. The term “Russian World” (russkii mir) is used as a concept that speaks Russian language, adopts Russian culture and Orthodox faith, and expresses a community that extends beyond the borders of the Russian state.


The new approach to national identity is based on the Russian ethnic core, but culturally defines being Russian. It extends the borders of Russia to the part of the population that is not an ethnic Russian but wishes to become part of this new Russian identity. This approach does not only have an understanding of Russian identity restricted to the official borders of the Russian Federation. It also wants to address the Russian world, defined as a distinct, unique civilization. In this way, a discourse that extends beyond the borders of the Russian Federation can be addressed to Russian and Russian groups in neighboring countries (Blakkisrud, 2016). When Putin’s statements are examined, it is seen that Putin has a more positive view than the narrow version of Russian nationalism. This, in fact, shows that a rational discourse that encompasses wider sections is adopted politically. Putin tries to do this without alienating different nationalist groups while preserving the ambiguity of his discourse.

In this discourse, the Russian people are ethnically mentioned, but Russia is defined in terms of culture and values, not as an identity from the ancestry and the gene. Tatar, Chuvash, Armenian, German and so on. Russian Tatar, Russian Chuvash, Russian German and so on. as a nation, which can be included with these identities, whose borders extend beyond the Russian Federation, that includes everyone who identifies themselves with this kind of Russian understanding throughout the world, tries to address them as well and whose borders are deliberately ambiguous.

Today, the Russian Federation as a nation state is actually more ethnically homogeneous than many nation states. From a system in which ethnic differences in the Soviet Union were recognized and strengthened, to the understanding of nationalism that emphasized citizenship of the Yeltsin era, and to an understanding that called for the groups that this discourse could address both within and outside the Russian Federation to integrate ethnic Russian identity with broad and ambiguously defined borders. crossing.

For the first time in their history, the Russians are trying to adapt to a nation-state mentality. The imperial understanding inherited from previous periods continues. Ethnic-based, Russian Federation-centered Russian nationalism, which emerged as a reaction to ethnic mobilization in other republics in the short-term, has left its place to an approach that wishes to appeal to a wider geography, culturally defining Russian ethnicity, and inclusion. The prevailing understanding is more of an imperial understanding and Putin’s rhetoric seems to have adopted a rhetoric that would appeal to both this understanding and the ethnic approach.


Acton, Edward (1986). The Present and the Past Russia. New York: Longman.

Anderson, Benedict (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London.

Blakkisrud, H. (2016) “Blurring the Boundary between Civic and Ethnic: The Kremlin’s New Approach to National Identity Under Putin’s Third Term”, The NewRussian Nationalism: Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism 2000–15 , Pål Kolstø ve Helge Blakkisrud (derl.), Edinburg: Edinburg University Press.

Breslauer, G. ve Dale, C. (1997) “Boris Yeltsin and the Invention of a Russian Nation – state”,

Post-Soviet Affairs, 13, 4, 1997, 303-32. Cherniavsky, Michael (1975). Russia.

Dunlop, J. (2014) The Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Guroff, Gregory ve Alexander Guroff (1994). The Paradox of Russian National Identity.

Kolstø, P. (2016) “Introduction: Russian nationalism is back – but precisely what does that mean?”, The New Russian Nationalism: Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism 2000–, Pål Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud (derl.), Edinburg: Edinburg University Press.

Kurat, Akdes Nimet (1993). Rusya Tarihi: Başlangıçtan 1917’ye kadar. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu.

Nationalism, A Report by a Study Group of Members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1939). London: Oxford University Press.

Shevel, O. (2011) “Russian Nation – building from Yeltsin to Medvedev: Ethnic, Civic or Purposefully Ambiguous?” Europe–Asia Studies, vol.63, no. 2, 179–202.

Smith, K. E. (2002). Mythmaking in the new Russia. Politics and memory during the Yeltsin Era. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press

Tishkov, V. (1997) Nationalism and Conflict in and after the Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame, London: Sage.

Zernov, Nicolas (1938). Moscow and the Third Rome. London: AMS Press.

Lütfen takip edip, beğenin

About Author

Muhammed İsmail AKKAYA

IR (Researcher on Russia and Central Asia)

Leave A Reply