The hypocrisy of several African, Asian and Latin American leaders who are courting Russian President Vladimir Putin could not be more ridiculous.
Self-declared campaigners for anti-colonialism and anti-racism are openly supporting an imperialist, racist and colonialist Russian state — or at least remaining neutral — during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
South Africa is one of the most egregious examples of colonial appeasement. Its government is now trying to convince an Indigenous African population that suffered for generations under a racist system of apartheid that Russia is the leader of a “multi-polar” world against “American hegemony.”
This is why the August 22-24 BRICS summit in Johannesburg — a gathering of developing economies Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, scheduled for Johannesburg — will completely ignore Russia’s enduring colonialism.
In stark contrast to this BRICS appeasement, the Vancouver Declaration, issued by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on July 4 ,2023, clearly spelled out the “violently imperial and colonial nature of the Russian Federation.”
Moscow’s policies, it states, are on full display in the illegal war against an independent Ukraine, as well as in its “forceful, ongoing and deliberate subordination of the Indigenous ethnic minority nations within the Russian Federation, which are denied equal rights and self-determination and subject to abuse and exploitation in violation of the Helsinki Principles and the Charter of the United Nations.”
In light of growing attention to their plight, all the nations that have suffered under Muscovite oppression need to launch a campaign in the post-colonial world to explain Russia to misinformed populations.
Ukraine and other countries without a history of colonizing other nations can become more credible voices in the “Global South” than countries such as Britain, France or Spain, which have a long and in many cases brutal colonial history. They must become more active internationally on the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial front.
Since the beginning of its conquests in the 15th Century, the Muscovite empire has vastly expanded its possessions at the expense of its European and Asian neighbors. Although the maritime empires of the Western European states were dismantled, Russia as a land empire retained its colonies for exploitable resources and cheap labor.
This colonial exploitation morphed through several state structures, disguised at various times with the ideological veneers of Tsarist civilization, Christian Orthodox messianism, communist liberation and Russian greatness.
The Urals, Siberia, the Far Eastern territories and other non-Russian regions were conquered through ruthless colonization campaigns. The Indigenous nations had limited opportunities to assert native rights to their land, pursue their traditional lifestyles or develop their societies. Under communist social engineering, they were generally deprived of genuinely autonomous institutions and independent economies and had no freedom of speech, assembly or information. In addition, in the 1930s and 1940s, Joseph Stalin forcibly deported several ethnic minority groups en masse from their homelands.
In their essentially racist beliefs, leaders in Moscow consider the Russian ethnos as a unique civilizational core with a predestined mission to guide the development of its neighbors through cultural and political assimilation.
This worldview has become a fundamental ingredient of state policy under the Putin regime with the promulgation of the “Russian World” or “Russkii Mir” — the linguistic and cultural entrapment of all nations under ethnic Russian lordship.
The weakening and toppling of the Russian state as a result of war losses in Ukraine, collapsing revenues, international sanctions and economic decline will help reveal the distinct histories and identities of non-Russian nations.
This multi-national liberation from Russian imperialism is fully in line with traditional de-colonization movements in Africa and Asia, as well as the anti-racist and anti-imperialist initiatives in Europe and North America.
Unfortunately, many Western academics and officials dealing with Russia remain trapped in a narrow-minded Russophilic mindset. They overlook or ignore how Moscow has conquered, absorbed, exploited and Russified — in other words, ethnically cleansed — its dominions.
Much of the blindness to Russian colonialism is also a hangover of Soviet so-called “anti-imperialism” (in reality, just anti-Americanism) among left-leaning scholars who for decades misinformed their audience by depicting Russia as a defender of the working class and oppressed and colonized nations.
Just as Russia’s colonialist mindset is being exposed in Ukraine, Russian officials have been trying to deflect attention in the “Global South” by condemning the U.S. as the sole global hegemon and imperialist power.
To counter this disinformation and reveal the true nature of the Russian state, activists from the oppressed nations seeking liberation from the Muscovite empire need a voice and a platform among the post-colonial nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This will help them dispel the mirage of benevolent Russian “internationalism” much more effectively than anyone in the West can do.
Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington D.C. His recent book is “Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture.” His forthcoming book is titled “Pivotal Poland: Europe’s Rising Strategic Player.“