The Russian Empire 171

I am working very hard on getting Sikunder Burnes into shape for publication. Just ten weeks left to achieve that. Still hacking a lot of draft material out of the text. This passage on the Russian Empire was written before the tragic events in Ukraine.

I still reckon the solution for Ukraine is a series of internationally supervised referenda, in the Eastern districts and also in Crimea, with UN peacekeepers in charge of security. Putin needs a ladder to climb down. For the West to base its position solely on the sanctity of arbitrary borders is unimaginative and fruitless.

I would point out that what follows was a draft, not finished writing:

British people, myself included, have to concentrate their intellectual resources to get a clear conceptualisation of the Russian Empire, which can be obscured from our view by a number of factors.

Firstly, from British history and geography, we British tend to think of colonies as something reached exclusively by ship. The idea that colonies can be a contiguous land mass with the metropolitan is not a pre-received idea for us. Russia’s absorption of the entirely alien cultures of vast areas of Asia was undoubtedly a massive colonial expansion. In Central Asia today, political societal and economic developments can only be understood as a post-colonial situation. Crucially, the broad mass of people are themselves entirely of the view that they are former colonised.1. But I found in the FCO a great many western and particularly British officials had much trouble with the concept.

Secondly, the transmutation of the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union confused the issue, in bringing a spurious equality to the different Soviet Socialist Republics. In particular, this brought members of the political elite from the Asian areas within reach of holding political power at the centre. But that is not at all unusual for the history of Empires in general, particularly as they mature. The economic relationships within the Soviet Union, with the Asian regions very much operating as suppliers of raw commodity or goods with little value added, followed a well-worn colonial pattern even if operated by central planning rather than overt capitalism. But many did not realise the Soviet Union in itself was an Empire incorporating colonial structures.

Thirdly, particularly for those brought up like myself during the Cold War, the Russians were distant and feared figures and not perceived as altogether European. In fact, the Russian conquest of the the North and heart of Asia was a major part of a complete encirclement of Asia by Europeans from the late eighteenth to the end of the nineteenth century. This included the occupation by United States Europeans of the American Pacific Rim, and of Australia, New Zealand, East Africa, much of South East Asia and India by the British and occasionally others. Russian and British expansion into Asia were part of the exact same process, except the British often did not see it:

A long liberal tradition took a sceptical view of Russia’s European credentials, seeing Tsarist Russia as as “Asiatic despotism” too crude and too poor to be “one of us”…A more realistic view would see Russia, like Spain or the Hapsburg Empire, as one of the frontier states that played a vanguard role in Europe’s expansion…behind Russia’s expansion was in fact its European identity…the economic energy that flowed from Russia’s integration into the European economy; and the intellectual access that Russians enjoyed, from the sixteenth century onward, to the general pool of European ideas and culture. Russians, like other Europeans, claimed their conquests as a “civilizing mission.”2

Britain’s claim that Russia was excluded from the “civilizing mission” of Empire because it was a despotism, when British officials were arbitrarily blowing Indians from the muzzles of cannon while practising unabashed despotism, is something those of my age were educated not to question. The notion that the culture of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky is not European is self-evidently wrong. I found that walking around the 19th century Russian cantonments of Margilan in the Ferghana Valley, with its beautiful little theatre for amateur dramatics, its racecourse and mess hall, the architecture could have been a British hill station. It even has its Freemasons’ Lodge.

So Russia and Britain were expanding their colonial possessions in Asia, and their boundaries were pushing ever closer.

The Russophobes therefore were not talking absolute nonsense. Nobody knew how far North-west the British might push and how far South-east the Russians. Nor was it physically impossible for a Russian army to invade India through Afghanistan or Persia. Alexander, Mahmood, Tamerlane, Babur, Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah had all done that. The logistics were difficult, but not impossible. The British were very aware that historically India was vulnerable to attack from the North West. In the marvellous prose of an end of Empire administrator, Kerr Fraser-Tytler:

“For upwards of 2,000 years the tide of conquest rose and fell, pouring in great cascades over the breakwater of these most vital mountains, seeping through the passes, or flowing round the exposed Western flank, to surge onwards to the south where it spread out, stayed and finally was absorbed in the great open spaces of India.”3

Where the Russophobes got it seriously wrong was their political analysis. A successful Russian invasion of India would have taken enormous resources and been a massive strain on the Russian state, and would certainly have precipitated a major European war. Russia’s economy was still recovering from Napoleonic devastation. Her foreign policy priorities were focused on the richer and more central lands of the Mediterranean and Caspian. Russia’s desire to divest Persia and Ottoman Turkey of vast provinces and to become a Mediterranean power was the consuming passion of the Tsar’s ministers, and Nesselrode in particular. Bringing Central Asia into play may occasionally be a useful bargaining chip with Britain, but was never more than that.

It is a peculiar fact that for two hundred years, fear of an attack by Russia has been a major factor in British foreign and above all defence policy, and was for much of my lifetime the factor that outweighed all others. Vast sums of the nation’s money have been squandered on guarding against this illusory threat, and that is still the unacknowledged purpose of the ruinously expensive and entirely redundant Trident missile system today. Yet on any rational analysis, Russia has never had any incentive to attack the United Kingdom, and historical research has never uncovered even a remote Russian intention actually to attack the United Kingdom. However an awful lot of arms manufacturers have become exceedingly wealthy, as have an awful lot of politicians, while the military have had enhanced careers.

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171 thoughts on “The Russian Empire

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  • Republicofscotland

    An anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli lobby group has stirred controversy in San Francisco with a series of provocative ads on 50 buses, with images of Adolf Hitler accompanied by a demand to stop all aid to Islamic countries and an appeal to “stop the hate.”

    The ads are the latest effort by the pro-Israel, Houston-based American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment across the US. The group is well-known for its previous Islamophobic advertising campaigns in major US cities.

    Stop the aid is the message, I wonder if the citizens of US realise, they send £3 Billion Dollars in aid each year to Israel.

  • Republicofscotland

    The United Nations has called on the Israeli regime to release millions of dollars in tax collections owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that Tel Aviv withheld after the PA decided to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

    A senior UN official stated Thursday in the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the blocking of nearly $130 million in tax revenues since January 3 was in clear violation of the US-sponsored Oslo Agreement between the Israeli regime and the Palestinians.

    “We call on Israel to immediately resume the transfer of tax revenues,” said United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, addressing the council members.

    So Israel is in violation of the Oslo Agreement, what will the US and the UN do about it?

  • Republicofscotland

    Israel says the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem would have been rejected by the regime’s officials if she had traveled to the occupied territories.

    “The Swedish foreign minister would not have been given any official meetings in Israel if she had traveled here. What Sweden did was an utterly unfriendly action,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, on Thursday, referring to Stockholm’s recognition of the Palestinian state.

    Nahshon’s remarks came a week after Wallstroem postponed her scheduled visit to the occupied territories following the escalation of tensions between Sweden and Israel over Stockholm’s stance toward the issue of a Palestinian state.

    Aw what a shame poor wee Israel is going to cry now, Sweden has just when up 100% in my opinion. Now I wonder who’ll be next to unfriend the Middle East Monsters.

  • fred

    “And here you are spewing your establishment dross about links.
    As the Mods said, recently, their really are tossers in here.”

    I’d assumed that it was you the Mod was referring to.

  • Republicofscotland

    “I’d assumed that it was you the Mod was referring to.”


    That’s your problem you assume too much, and know f*ck all.

    Now do what you’re good at telling others to do, and F.O.A.D pronto.

  • Kempe

    ” They re-ran my creditable article that has not been questioned by the wider media. ”

    Here we go again. Same old, same old.

    I don’t suppose many in the “wider media” even noticed it and those that did would just’ve had a quiet chuckle and moved on.

  • lysias

    Bury the hatchet? Far from arguing with the troll who complained about the spelling Lvov, I have been careful not to reply to him at all.

    And he was too stupid to follow the link I gave for the quote I took from Global Research, and realize that everything I quoted (including the spelling he objected to) came from that site.

    But of course what trolls do is to ignore the substance of postings and find some little detail to complain about and divert attention to.

    Which is precisely why trolls should not be fed. It furthers their disruptive agenda.

  • Rehmat

    Thanks to the 2014 Winter Olympics and Jewish groups’ pro-LGBT campaign, Sochi city has become a household name in the West. However, a great majority of world population and sadly Muslims are ignorant of the fact that $50 billion Olympic facility in Sochi is built over land stolen from Circassian Muslims by the Russian Czarist occupation forces.

    The Russian forces occupied Circassia in the 19th century after decades of bloody wars. Today, 90% of surviving Circassian Muslims live outside Russia. About 700,000 Circassians live in Russia while the rest live in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kosovo, Libya and occupied Palestine.

    Circassians lived in areas far from the other Caucasian peoples who adopted Islam before them, such as the Dagestanies and Kumyks tribes and others. Islam did not become widespread among Circassians until the end of the seventeenth century because they were separated from their Moslem brethren. Living in the south, by the high mountains, while the Christians lived either in the east, separated from Muslims by the Caspian Sea, or in the west, separated from Muslims by the Black Sea. Read more here.

    The other Muslim regions annexed with Russia by force include Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. Chechen have been fighting against Russian colonialism for the last 400 years.

  • John Goss


    “I don’t suppose many in the “wider media” even noticed it and those that did would just’ve had a quiet chuckle and moved on.”

    Come on then big mouth with the chuckle cheeks tell us all what’s so funny about it. Or is it just a case of I said it so it’s true? You, and your fellows on this blog have given us all many a laugh over the years and I need some more entertainment in my life. Or will you just skip it like usual?

  • Kempe

    ” Come on then big mouth with the chuckle cheeks tell us all what’s so funny about it. ”

    The usual mix of anonymous witnesses, rumour and wild speculation.

    No wonder the MSM didn’t pick up on it.

  • John Goss


    The MSM, which has hardly reported on the fascist killing spree in Eastern Ukraine which totals thousands more deaths than the Israeli genocide of Palestinians. If they are not going to report that they are not going to report my article. They don’t (can’t?) dispute it though. Anyway even if there was not an agenda to avoid news articles concerning Ukraine they would not want ordinary Ukrainians to know their gold is now in the hands of the Yanks.

    So what’s funny, funny man?

  • John Goss

    Tim, thanks for the contribution. Yes, sometimes countries do get their Gold deposits in foreign countries back. Unfortunately most western countries who in good faith let the US look after their gold have been asking for it back. It may or may not be there. Germany has recently been pestering the US for its gold, Russia too and other Eurpean countries. There is speculation that Ukrainian gold has gone to supply some of these demands.

    For me though the whole system is flawed. Pegging against a currency or commodity is futile since what is perceived as the peg can be gold, petro-dollars, or whatever the international community decides. It is time for a change!

  • Mary

    Gas Theft and Auschwitz Snub… Russia’s Every Right to End the Insults
    By Finian Cunningham
    January 17, 2015

    ‘But here’s the coup de grace for European insolence towards Russia: French President Francois Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck will be among other European leaders to attend the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz later this month. The ceremony will be led by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

    An official invitation was reportedly not sent to Moscow, and Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week that the Russian president would not be attending the Auschwitz event, as a result.

    In January 1945, it was the Russian Red Army that liberated the death camp – which has since come to symbolise the crimes of Nazi Germany and European fascism generally. Russian troops liberated thousands of Poles, Jews and other European nationals from imminent death at Auschwitz, where over one million had already perished. The French Vichy regime collaborated with Nazi Germany to send hundreds of thousands to their death at Auschwitz and other extermination centres.

    Seventy years on, Russia is being snubbed over perhaps its most heroic contribution to Europe – the defeat of fascist Germany and its mass extermination programs.

    It is astounding how relatively quickly European history is in effect being re-written – and by countries that were perpetrators of the horrors of World War II.

    But should we be surprised? Russia saved Europe’s neck from fascism and continues to save Europe’s neck from freezing every winter with its natural gas supplies. And yet for all this, Russia has to endure insults and provocations from a thankless European elite.

    It’s time that there were consequences for such hideous, purblind European arrogance. Russia can legitimately take her generous bounties elsewhere in the world – and let the incorrigible ingrates freeze if they want to!’

  • nevermind

    Only now read this, puzzled…
    ““Zero self-discipline. Tossers.”

    Thanks mod, I thought you are doing the tossing here, are there any other mods who toss comments around?…..;)

  • Tim

    The peg to gold went in 1971

    The mistake is to regard money as something of intrinsic worth. Its only value is what it can be exchanged for. If more money is issued than the real economy is producing then inflation will depreciate the currency to return to balance. If there is not enough money around the opposite happens eg the deflation which tok place during the end of the nineteenth century which constrained global growth and led to William Jennings Bryant’s famous speech

    The gold reserves of central banks are there as a kind of universal lubricant – because gold is generally accepted by all. But they are generally a small component of national wealth and should not be confused with it.

  • Clydebuilt

    Today BBC Radio Scotland broadcast a programme covering the lives of Spys. near the end we were treated to the notion that Russia would like to see the UK weakened by Scotland gaining it’s independence, so they will have been working to that end. Rory Stewart (chair of the Defence Select Committee)was asked if the UK secret service had taken any part in the Scottish Referendum. Rory assured the interviewer that the UK doesn’t do that kind of thing. He was very believable.

  • Boncho Guentchev

    Good day,

    “…with UN peacekeepers in charge of security…”

    After what happened in Bosnia (brought out by Kathryn Bolkovac) and who knows on how many wars before/after silenced forever?

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