The “Russian World” is an imagined community defined in national and cultural terms to include both Russians in Russia and their “Russian-speaking compatriots” abroad. The concept consciously relativizes the borders between nations states and is used to justify the “protective” role of the Russian Federation toward Russian-speaking minorities abroad, especially in the states of the former Soviet Union. By setting itself off clearly from “the West” and cloaking its version of Russian nationalism, the “Russian World” claims to be based not primarily on ethnicity but rather on an essentialist, mythical ideal of Russian language and culture. Speaking Russian is thereby equated with acting like a Russian and thinking like a Russian, which goes hand in hand.

“Russian World’ aims at the expansion of Russian influence abroad and uniting the states considered by the Kremlin as its backyard on the basis of Russian language common history in the Moscow’s perception and Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). As a political concept it gained some importance in 2000s, particularly after Vladimir Putin started using it in his public speeches, making an appeal to the “compatriots” abroad. At the initial stages the ROC played a significant role in the development and promotion of the concept, which supported the Kremlin-designed confrontation between the “Russian World ” and Western democracies that are consistently portrayed as hostile on civilizational level and as attempting to enforce their “destructive values” on the other states.  With “Russian World ” Putin’s Russia attempts to establish itself as a civilization-forming state and as a leading geopolitical actor. As the Russian political elite started to increasingly rely on the concept, it became more linguo-centric. Russian language is established as a key unifying factor, and it correlates with the foreign policy of the Russian Federation, the government of which has repeatedly used manipulations around language issues as a pretext for aggressive actions, including military conflict. The Kremlin defines anyone who, according to Vladimir Putin, “speaks and thinks in Russian”, as a part of “Russian World ”.  Russian language and its promotion is among the key focus points in a series of the Kremlin’s strategic documents, including the National Security Strategy and the Foreign Policy Concept of Russian Federation. National Security Strategy defines the diminishing role of Russian language in the world as one of the crucial threats along with “the erosion of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values and the weakening of the unity of the Russian Federation’s multinational people by means of external cultural and information expansion (including the spread of poor-quality mass cultural products), propaganda of permissiveness and violence”. Such a definition of threats correlates with the basic principles of “Russian World ”, which, therefore, is enshrined in the main strategic documents that establish the governmental policy at the highest level. It also indicates the second vector of the concept’s exploitation, aimed not only at the expansion of influence abroad, but also at solidifying the multinational country from top downward. Promotion of “Russian World ” is a component of Russian foreign policy and is implemented by a number of actors. They include the networks of the local agents of influence, which may promote specific elements of the concept, thus raising the level of its acceptance by a target society as a whole. Crucial role is played by the institutions that promote Russian “soft power” abroad, in particular the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation) and “Russian World ” foundation, established by Vladimir Putin’s decree in 2007. Both the foundation and the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs rely on a network of proxy organizations. These organizations are involved in promotion of historical and territorial revisionism, Russian disinformation narratives and hatred , polarizing society and often serving as a façade for the activities of the intelligence services.  The Russian Orthodox Church  remains inextricably connected to the expansion and strengthening of this quasi-ideology, ensuring its moral and ethical, in the Kremlin’s perception, basis and granting access to a large conservative audience susceptible to such ideas. Leader of the Russian Orthodox Church insists that “Russian World ” is that very special civilization, to which people who call themselves by different names belong – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians. People, who have no relation to the Slavic world but who have accepted the cultural component and values of this world as their own, may belong to it. Promotion of “Russian World ” by the religious institutions is particularly convenient for the Kremlin, as it allows discrediting any attempts to limit it as interference into religious issues.  It is also worth mentioning that as the concept, first of all, serves political interests of the Russian authorities, it is populist and adaptive. In such a way under the umbrella of “Russian World ” a number of cultural and historical narratives are united, even though they initially may seem to have no relation to it. Still, in the end, rewriting history with the focus on whitewashing the image of USSR, appropriating the victory over Nazism, labeling every attempt to critically evaluate history as “fascist” also work in favor of “Russian World ”. Putin’s Russia grants itself with the messianic title of the vanquisher of absolute evil – and with the opportunity to fight against what it considers fascism again. Systemic cultural appropriation also adds to the picture. It enables the portrayal of formerly colonized states as having a poor culture, with is partially appropriated and partially discredited, while “Russian World ” is pictured as a culturally rich opposite. The Kremlin consistently discredits pro-democratic policies in target societies, employing disinformation and promotion of destructive narratives, then attempting to offer “Russian World ” as an appealing alternative to such policies. Taking this into account, effective response to the threat should include not only the limitation of activities perpetrated by the Kremlin’s agents of influence, which directly and indirectly promote the concept. It should also include strategic, fact-based positive narrativization that will serve as the best immunity for the target societies .

President Putin has made  the “Russian world" concept it official foreign policy doctrine to protect, safeguard and advance the traditions and ideals of the Russian world.

The Russian world refers to territories populated by people who are ethnic Russians, speak Russian, or associate with Russian culture. This includes Russia itself, and extends to places such as northern Kazakhstan, Belarus, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Eastern Ukraine, the Transnistria region in Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and also Serbia. 

Most Russians live in the CIS and Baltic countries. The largest diasporas are in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Uzbekistan. 11.4% of Russian compatriots live in foreign countries (Germany, the USA and Israel)

Ethnic Russians

  1. Ukraine: 8,3 millions
  2. Kazakhstan: 3,5 millions
  3. Belarus: 706,000
  4. Uzbekistan: 640,000
  5. Latvia: 471,000 (27% of the general population)Russian speakers make up nearly 34% of the general population)
  6. Kyrgyzstan: 400,000
  7. Estonia: 310,000 (24% of the general population) Russian speakers make up 30% of the general population)
  8. Turkmenistan: 300,000
  9. Moldova: 200,000
  10. Lithuania: 180,000 (6% of the general population) Russian speakers make up 8% of the general population)
  11. Transnistria: 168,000 (30% of the general popilation)
  12. Azerbaijan: 140,000
  13. Abkhasia: 122,000
  14. Tajikistan: 68,200
  15. South Ossetia: 56,500
  16. Georgia: 26,000
  17. Romania: 23,000
  18. Bulgaria: 16,000
  19. Poland: 13,000
  20. Armenia: 12,000


The borders between the former Soviet republics were internationally recognized with the Minsk and Almaty Agreements in 1991, consequently leaving sixty million people, twenty-five million of whom were Russians, out of their home countries. Ethnic Russian people and other Russian-speaking ethnic communities who had settled in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), southern Caucasia (Georgia and Azerbaijan), the Baltics (Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia), Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldavia became minority groups after the breakup of the Soviet Union .

Since Putin declared that Russia has the right to intervene when Russian minorities are in trouble, a Russian intervention in Eastern Europe or Central Asia could be a problem in the future. Russia tries to exploit political, regional, religious, social, and ethnic conflicts, to influence the foreign and security policies of each country that he identifies as within the spheres of Russian influence (the CIS in Europe—Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldavia—the Baltics, Central Europe, and Southeastern Europe). Russia attempts to undermine the military integration processes of these countries with the United States and prevent every other kind of regional cooperation. One of the ways to achieve these objectives is to take advantage of ethnic differences. Russian people and other Russian-speaking communities are regarded as sources of regional influence by political decision-makers in Russia, and the Kremlin thinks that creating as many privileges as possible for the Russian diaspora means investing in a loyal social and political structure suitable for supporting Russia’s state policy. Putin wants to rebuild Russia’s sphere of influence in the former Soviet republics and in the former territories of the Russian Empire, and he wants to protect the rights of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking communities in the countries where they live.  Putin waged war in order to change the post-Cold War order and to reshape the borders in Ukraine and Georgia. It is hard to predict what Russia will do in the former Soviet republics under the pretext of supporting the Russian diaspora

Add new comment