by Anna Fotyga
The invasion of Ukraine is a direct continuation of Russia’s imperial and colonial policies; policies that never disappeared. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has been coupled with a propaganda campaign denying the very existence of a Ukrainian nation, genocide being actively committed against Ukrainians, all completed with the colonisation of occupied territories by ethnic Russians.
This is what is happening in Mariupol, Donbas or Bakhchysarai. Russia’s policy in these instances has been copy-pasted from Krasnaya Polyana or Kamchatka in the 19th Century, writes Anna Fotyga, ECR MEP and former foreign minister of Poland.
Whether it was Tsarist, Soviet or led by Putin, Russia has not changed over the centuries. It is driven by the same imperial instincts, repeating the same scheme: conquest, genocide, colonisation, and then seeking a silent acceptance of the status quo, bribing the international community through a mirage of economic cooperation or the illusion of a vast Russian market. We cannot be misled into thinking that Moscow is a part of the solution to any global problems.
We should remember that even when Russia was falsely seen as a stabilising force in Europe, it was at the expense of nations of my region, with my country being partitioned and occupied by Russia. Even then, Moscow planned to further “go West”, to export its “stabilisation” in the 19th century or its revolution in the 20th. Moscow has no shame in openly repeating this imperialist scheme in Ukraine in the 21st century. This is why Moscow’s imperialism must end forever.
We should be aware that Putin and his gang of war criminals are not the cause, but the consequence of the problem, the root of which is the authoritarian and imperial essence of Moscow and the phobias of the Okhrana, KGB or FSB, which captured the Russian state long ago. Russian imperialism has very deep roots.
However, today we find ourselves not in the 16th century of Ivan the Terrible or the 18th of Catherine II, but in the 21st century of international law, common organisations and shared values. The European Parliament and many other parliaments around the globe have labelled the Russian Federation a terrorist state. Such an acknowledgment has certain consequences.
This terrorist organisation, even if it is seen by many as an empire, should be dismantled. Otherwise, we should have no doubts that in a blind desire to maintain ‘the empire’, other criminals in its leadership will continue to create constant threats, destabilisation, hybrid attacks and wars for its neighbours and other countries, and enslave and oppress its own citizens.
Therefore, as it was the case of the German Third Reich, as an existential threat to humanity and international order, the Russian Federation should undergo drastic changes. It is naive to think that the Russian Federation, after being ultimately defeated, will remain within the same constitutional and territorial frames. It never happened in history that such centralised empires, subjugating so many nations, remained unchanged after being defeated in a crucial war.
Therefore, the international community cannot take a comfortable position on the side lines, waiting for developments, but must undertake a brave initiative that supports re-federalisation of the Russian state, taking into account the history of Russian imperialism, and the respect for the rights and desires of its nations. The victims of Russian imperialism should be able to rebuild their own statehoods, exercise their right to celebrate their heritage, and determine their own future.
Unfortunately, we cannot draw any positive conclusions from anti-war demonstrations organised by Russian society in the country or outside, because there are no such protests. However, we should learn a lesson from mass protests against subjugations to Moscow in the regions of the Federation, such as those in Ingushetia or in the Far-Eastern city of Khabarovsk.
There are no such things as Russian gas, oil, aluminium, coal, uranium, diamonds, grain, forests, gold, etc. All such resources are Tatar, Bashkir, Siberian, Karelian, Oirat, Circassian, Buryat, Sakha, Ural, Kuban, Nogai, etc. For most of the inhabitants of the regions — be they ethnic Russians or indigenous people — Moscow represents only war, repression, exploitation and hopelessness. Harassment and discrimination against ethnic minorities in Russia is commonplace. Hyper-centralisation has exposed the country’s multiple weaknesses, but foremost, subjugated theoretically autonomous regions and republics to the will of the Kremlin. Moreover, with its odious war of aggression, Moscow is sending ethnic minorities to the meat grinder, implementing a real ethnic policy by further harming both the Ukrainian and already conquered nations of the Far East.
Taking into account the national and ethnic map of the territories of the Russian Federation, we should discuss the prospects for the creation of free and independent states in the post-Russian space, as well as the prospects for their stability and prosperity. The international community has the obligation to support the rights of indigenous nations that, due to Russian conquest and colonisation, now exist also within the borders of the Russian Federation. We cannot only focus on the preservation of some indigenous people and not others.
The same rights must belong to Khakas, Tuvans, Sakha or Evenks. We cannot neglect the fact that ethnic Russians, while being the biggest nation of the Russian Federation, are just one of many. We should put more focus on the regions and nations of the Russian Federation, their capacities, and their perspectives for sovereignty. We should get to know their leaders, their histories, and their strengths. We should be aware that the Russian Empire denied the very existence of a culture of subdued nations, often stealing their heritage. The Western term ‘cultural appropriation’, has many examples in Russia, be it Mikhail Lermontov stealing the legends of conquered Circassians, or Russians trying to separate ethnic Ukrainian Nikolay Gogol from his Ukrainian national identity.
We should be aware that the dissolution of the Russian Federation might bring certain difficulties and risks, as with any transition period. However, those risks will be far less dangerous than leaving this aggressive empire unchanged. After a period of sleep, it will return with further aggressions as it has done throughout centuries. There are many possible solutions and strategies for a controlled, constructive, and non-violent dismantling of the last colonial empire in Europe. The rupture of the Russian Federation will bring unquestionable benefits in the security, including energy security, and in the economy of Europe and Central Asia. I agree with Janusz Bugajski that new pro-Western states can emerge from within the Russian Federation, enhancing stability in several regions of Europe and Eurasia.
The dismantling of the last colonial empire in Europe is inevitable. Therefore, it must be controlled and constructive, solving the problem of the imperial policies of “United Russia”. Dissolution of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe for Putin and his KGB colleagues. For the Baltics, Ukrainians and Georgians, but also for Kazakh or Kyrgis, it was blessing. I am convinced it will be also the case of the Russian Federation, bringing freedom to Ichkerians, Circassians, Buriats, Chuckots and many others.
That is why, together with my colleague Kosma Złotowski, we are glad to host numerous experts, historians, journalists, politicians from both sides of Atlantic, and leaders and representatives of more than 20 nations of the Russian Federation, who will gather in Brussels in the European Parliament to discuss prospects for the decolonisation and deimperialisation of the Russian Federation. Join us for this important discussion: