Staunton, December 5 – Even as evidence mounts that the Russian Federation may be more fragile than other post-Soviet states and that its aggression in Ukraine may accelerate its disintegration along ethnic or regional lines, Vitaly Tretyakov says that “Russia was and will continue to remain an empire.”
Tretyakov, dean of the television faculty at Moscow State University and a television personality, says that Russians should not be troubled by the fact that many in the West are talking about Russia’s “imperial nature” and the aggression its “imperial ambitions” are supposedly leading it to.
First of all, he says, “all European powers were colonialist and thus imperialist; all of them at one time or another built their empires.” Indeed, one can say that “the history of Europe is the history of empires.” Russia is no exception.
Second, “an empire is one of the types of large complexly built states,” one that “as a rule includes within itself the lands and territories of various ethnic groups” and people who belong to different religious groups.
Thus, Tretyakov argues, “to assert that small ethnically homogenous countries are good states and large empires are bad is simply to deny all of world history.” Even more, it is to ignore what he says is the fact that “as a rule, science, advanced technology, culture and art developed in empires” and that empires are “the main motive force of world history.”
Third, the United States has “all the characteristics of empire and conducts an imperial policy.” And “undoubtedly, the European Union is an empire of a post-modern type,” one that includes a variety of peoples within its borders and interferes as empires do in the affairs of other countries.
“Russia in this sense was and will continue to remain an empire,” he continues, because it “belongs to a definite type of state. Russia before 1917 was an empire. The USSR was an empire of a new type. [And] the Russian Federation also is an imperial formation,” one that includes “peoples not only different in racial and ethnic terms but in religious ones as well.”
According to the Moscow commentator, “the Russian Federation in this sense is unique,” although few in the West know or understand this. It includes Orthodox Christian peoples, Muslim peoples and Buddhist ones as well. “In this sense, Russia is a more complex imperial formation than the European Union and better balanced ethnically.”
Not every country which tries to become an empire succeeds, he says. Lithuania, Poland and Sweden all tried and failed, and two of those who did not only lost out to Moscow which was able to build and maintain an imperial state but were absorbed for a time within the Russian state.
Many who condemn Russia for one or another imperial sin are simply condemning it for what they themselves are doing or would like to, Tretyakov says.
Empires of course rise and fall, but often they disappear only to be reborn in a new form. That is the case with Europe and Russia. According to the Moscow commentator, “the conflict between the West and Russia [today] can be completely logically treated as a conflict between the Holy Roman Empire reborn in the form of the European Union and the Russian Empire which takes the form of the Russian Federation.”
The only fundamental difference, he continues, is that “today, the current Holy Roman Empire has entered the orbit of the American empire.”
As has always been the case, these empires are in conflict at precisely those places where they come in contact. Today, that is in Ukraine. One can treat the conflict there “as an internal civil war and as a national liberation movement of Russians within the Ukrainian state against Ukrainian nationalism and anti-Russian racism.”
“But it is also part of the conflict and competition of the two empires,” Tretyakov argues, one in which the Western empire has encroached on that of the Russian. And that is important to remember: the West is violating Russia’s imperial zone, but Russia is not violating the West’s by seeking to promote its interests in Mexico or Canada.