Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Putin Pledges To Protect All Ethnic Russians Anywhere. So, Where Are They?

Russian enough?

Russian enough?

By Robert Coalson
In recent weeks, the Russian government has articulated what might be called the Putin Doctrine, a blanket assertion that Moscow has the right and the obligation to protect Russians anywhere in the world.

Speaking on Russian television last month, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said that “Russia is the country on which the Russian world is based” and that Putin “is probably the main guarantor of the safety of the Russian world.”

The ebbing and flowing of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union over recent centuries have left millions of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers outside the borders of today’s Russian Federation.

Many of them — from Moldova’s Transdniester to eastern Ukraine and elsewhere — have responded to the Putin Doctrine with calls for Russian “protection.”

A banner outside a government building in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk that is occupied by pro-Russian separatists reads: “Russia! Save us from slavery.”

‘New Russia’ And Ukraine

The Kremlin’s new position has come into sharp focus in recent weeks in the Ukrainian region of Crimea — annexed by Russia last month — and in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine. Russian nationalists such as the Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin refer to this region by the historical name “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia,” which also encompasses several southern regions of Russia including Rostov Oblast and Stavropol and Krasnodar krais.

The area was added to the Russian Empire over the 18th and early 19th centuries by military conquests over the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire. Beginning with Catherine the Great, the fertile region was handed out to Russian nobility who enserfed the local population. Although Catherine notably invited foreigners from Europe to settle in the region, Russification of the region was official policy.

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Today there are more than 5 million ethnic Russians in the Ukrainian parts of Novorossiya, making up a significant plurality in most of the regions. Russians compose a majority in Crimea because of energetic Russification there and the 1944 mass deportation of Crimean Tatars, who are only now approaching their pre-deportation population levels on the peninsula.

Deportations In Moldova

On the edge of historical Novorossiya is the Moldovan region of Transdniester, which today is home to at least 150,000 Russian passport holders. The region was brought into the Russian Empire in the 1790s and its capital, Tiraspol, was founded as a border outpost by the legendary General Aleksandr Suvorov.

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