Russian irredentism

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Orthographic projection of Greater Russia and near abroad:
  The Soviet Union in 1945
  Soviet territories that were never part of the Russian Empire: Tuva, Eastern Prussia, Zakarpattia, Western Ukraine and southern Kurils
  Additional annexed/occupied territory from the Russian Empire: Finland and Poland
  Maximum extent of the Soviet near abroad, 1955: Warsaw Pact, Mongolia and North Korea
  Maximum extent of the Russian Empire's sphere of influence after the sale of Alaska in 1867, despite later Soviet attempts to restore them (Northern Iran, Xinjiang, Manchuria

Russian irredentism refers to irredentist claims to parts of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union made for Russia. It seeks to incorporate Russians outside of Russian borders into the Russian state. The ideological premise dovetails with aspects of ethnic nationalism and religious nationalism inside Russia and elsewhere, with political activists viewing ethnic Russians under the Russian Orthodox Church as representing a unique cultural movement in world history.

The annexation of Crimea is an example of an irredentist action, with news commentary remarking to its similarity with German nationalist efforts in the lead up to World War II to increase the overall land area of Germany proper.[1] Russian irredentists claim many lands outside of Russia such as Russian-majority regions in the Baltic states, the Russian-majority regions in north Kazakhstan and east Ukraine, the latter leading to a full scale war over Russia's territorial nationalism.

Ideological background

Specifically looking at the viewpoints of post-Soviet Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Erdi Ozturk, a professor at London Metropolitan University, has commented that irredentist ideology relies upon a "distinction between civilisations by synthesising nationalism with nostalgic visions of history, memory, and religion."[2]


Russian Empire

From roughly the 16th century to the 20th century, the Russian Empire followed an expansionist policy.[n 1] Few of these actions had irredentist justifications, though the conquest of parts of the Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus in 1877 to bring Armenian Christians under the protection of the Tsar may represent one example.[3][when?]

Post-Soviet Union

Russian president Vladimir Putin gives a televised address on 24 February 2022 announcing the invasion of Ukraine.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was thought that the Russian Federation had given up on plans of territorial expansion or kin-state nationalism, despite some 25 million ethnic Russians living in neighboring countries outside Russia.[4] Stephen M. Saideman and R. William Ayres assert that Russia followed a non-irredentist policy in the 1990s despite some justifications for irredentist policies—one factor disfavoring irredentism was a focus by the ruling interest in consolidating power and the economy within the territory of Russia.[5] Furthermore, a stable policy of irredentism popular with the electorate was not found, and politicians proposing such ideas did not fare well electorally.[6] Russian nationalist politicians tended to focus on internal threats (i.e. "outsiders") rather than on the interests of Russians outside the federation.[7] It has been proposed that the annexation of Crimea in 2014 proves Russia's adherence to irredentism today.[8][9][10][11] After the event in Crimea, the Transnistrian authorities requested Russia to annex Transnistria.[12][13][14]

The annexation of Crimea led to a new wave of Russian nationalism, with large parts of the Russian far right movement aspiring to annex even more land from Ukraine, including the unrecognized Novorossiya.[15] Analyst Vladimir Socor proposed that Russian president Vladimir Putin's speech after the annexation of Crimea was a de facto "manifesto of Greater-Russia Irredentism".[16] After international sanctions were imposed against Russia in early 2014, within a year the "Novorossiya" project was suspended: on 1 January 2015, the founding leadership announced the project has been put on hold, and on 20 May the constituent members announced the freezing of the political project.[17][18] On 21 February 2022, Putin recognised the independence of pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as their irredentist claims to the Donbas region of Ukraine, and sent Russian troops into Ukraine.[19][20] On 24 February, Russia formally invaded Ukraine,[21] which is seen as a continuation of Russia's irredentism at the expense of Ukraine.[22] Parallels were made between Putin's irredentism during the Ukrainian War and Slobodan Milosevic's irredentism during the Bosnian War.[23]

On 27 March 2022, Leonid Pasechnik leader of the LPR said that the Luhansk People's Republic may hold a referendum to join Russia in the near future.[24] On 29 March, Denis Pushilin leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic talked about a similar possibility.[25]

On 30 March 2022, South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov announced his intention to begin legal proceedings in the near future for annexation by the Russian Federation.[26]

Some Russian nationalists seek to annex parts of the "near abroad", such as the Baltic states,[27] while some fear potential escalation due to Russian irredentist aspirations in northern Kazakhstan also.[28]

Looking at the Russian efforts as a whole, the news network Al Jazeera has quoted University of San Francisco scholar Stephen Zunes as remarking, "The level of physical devastation and casualties thus far over a relatively short period is perhaps the [worst] in recent decades which, combined with the irredentist aims of the conquest, makes Russia’s war on Ukraine particularly reprehensible in the eyes of the international community."[2]

U.S. news publication The Washington Post has stated that the Russian government could start a chain reaction of irredentist mass violence, which then "could break the international order".[29]

See also


  1. ^ The state expanded eastwards, westwards and southwards, which led to the conquests of Siberia, the Caucasus, Turkestan, and Uzbekistan.


  1. ^ "No, Crimea is Not a "Model" for Aggression in Asia".
  2. ^ a b "Can Russia return to the world stage, as other aggressor nations?". Al Jazeera. 29 March 2022. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  3. ^ Saideman & Ayres 2008, p. 96.
  4. ^ Tristan James Mabry; John McGarry; Margaret Moore; Brendan O'Leary (2013). Divided Nations and European Integration: National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 365. ISBN 9780812244977.
  5. ^ Saideman & Ayres 2008, p. 197.
  6. ^ Saideman & Ayres 2008, p. 199.
  7. ^ Saideman & Ayres 2008, p. 196.
  8. ^ Armando Navarro (2015). Mexicano and Latino Politics and the Quest for Self-Determination: What Needs to Be Done. Lexington Books. p. 536. ISBN 9780739197363.
  9. ^ Joseph J. Hobbs (2016). Fundamentals of World Regional Geography. Cengage Learning. p. 183. ISBN 9781305854956.
  10. ^ Marvin Kalb (2015). Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War. Brookings Institution Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780815727446.
  11. ^ Stephen Saideman (March 18, 2014). "Why Crimea is likely the limit of Greater Russia". The Globe and Mail.
  12. ^ Bocharova, Svetlana; Biryukova, Liliya (18 March 2014). "Приднестровье как Крым" [Transnistria as Crimea]. Vedomosti (in Russian). Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  13. ^ "Moldova's Trans-Dniester region pleads to join Russia". BBC. 18 March 2014.
  14. ^ "Transnistria wants to merge with Russia". Vestnik Kavkaza. 18 March 2014.
  15. ^ Casey Michael (19 June 2015). "Pew Survey: Irredentism Alive and Well in Russia". The Diplomat.
  16. ^ Vladimir Socor. "Putin's Crimea Speech: A Manifesto of Greater-Russia Irredentism". Vol. 11, no. 56. Eurasia Daily Monitor.
  17. ^ "Russian-backed 'Novorossiya' breakaway movement collapses". Ukraine Today. 20 May 2015.
    Vladimir Dergachev; Dmitriy Kirillov (20 May 2015). Проект «Новороссия» закрыт [Project "New Russia" is closed]. (in Russian).
  18. ^ "Why the Kremlin Is Shutting Down the Novorossiya Project". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved 2015-12-20.
  19. ^ Jack, Victor; Busvine, Douglas (22 February 2022). "Putin recognizes separatist claims to Ukraine's entire Donbass region". Politico. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  20. ^ Borger, Julian; Roth, Andrew (22 February 2022). "Russia strongly condemned at UN after Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  21. ^ "Ukraine conflict: Russian forces attack after Putin TV declaration". BBC News. 24 February 2022. Archived from the original on 24 February 2022. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  22. ^ Paul Hensel, Sara Mitchell, Andrew Owsiak (March 4, 2022). "Russian irredentist claims are a threat to global peace". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 31, 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Harun Karcic (March 30, 2022). "Why NATO Should Worry About the Balkans". The Economist. Retrieved March 31, 2022. The similarities between Russian and Serbian irredentism are astonishing. Back in the 1990s, Serbian nationalists parroted the claim that Bosnia historically belonged to Serbia, that we Bosniak Muslims were in fact Christian Serbs who were forcefully converted to Islam under the Ottomans, and that Bosnia—as an independent and sovereign country—would not survive without Serbian tutelage. So closely are Bosniak Muslims able to identify with Ukrainians that monetary donations have been collected and prayers held at Bosnian mosques for Ukraine’s defense.
  24. ^ AFP (March 27, 2022). "Leader of east Ukraine separatist region says it may hold vote on joining Russia". Times of Israel.
  25. ^ Humphries, Conor (29 March 2022). Trevelyan, Mark (ed.). "Russia-backed Donetsk Republic may consider joining Russia - leader". Reuters.
  26. ^ "Breakaway Georgian Region Seeks to Be Putin's Next Annexation". Bloomberg. Retrieved 30 March 2022.
  27. ^ William Maley (1995). "Does Russia Speak for Baltic Russians?". The World Today. 51 (1): 4–6. JSTOR 40396641.
  28. ^ Alexander C. Diener (2015). "Assessing potential Russian irredentism and separatism in Kazakhstan's northern oblasts". Eurasian Geography and Economics. 56 (5): 469–492. doi:10.1080/15387216.2015.1103660. S2CID 155953187.
  29. ^ "Russia's land grabs in Ukraine could break the international order". The Washington Post. 4 March 2022. Retrieved 17 May 2022.


  • Saideman, Stephen M.; Ayres, William R. (2008), For Kin Or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War, Columbia University Press

Further reading

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