Russian Colonialism

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Russian Colonialism describes a process that has evolved in the course of over five centuries - in the wake of military conquest and ideological and political unions in four eras. Its starting point is believed to be 1477 and its end in 1991.[citation needed]

Ivan III and IV expanded Muscovy's borders considerably by annexing Novgorod and settled the annexed territories with Muscovite/Russian servitors and peasants from the Kliazma-Suzdal region. After a period of political instability the Romanovs came to power and this expansion-colonization of the Tsardom continued.

While western Europe colonized the new world, Russia expanded overland to the east and south. East of the Urals it encountered little resistance in a region that had developed little since the height of Mongol power.

This continued unceasingly; by the end of the 19th century, the Russian Empire reached from the Black sea to the Pacific Ocean, and for some time even included colonies in the Americas

The region was governed from Moscow, settled by Russians, and continued to grow under Soviet rule. Areas that were formerly part of the Russian Empire, and others still that had been captured from the Nazis during World War II were proclaimed as autonomous republics, within the USSR.

Tsarist era[edit]

Economic integration[edit]

In the late 19th century industrialization became a driving force behind Russian imperial policy, which rapidly developed coal and iron-ore extraction in non-Russian areas like the Donets Basin, eventually eclipsing production in the Urals. The planting of cotton began in Central Asia. Cloth manufacturing from cotton was quite a new concept for non-Russians.[citation needed] While industrial growth occurred, it was one-sided, because finishing and manufacturing remained underdeveloped in non-Russian territories, except for Russian Poland and the Baltic provinces. During the 1920s Soviet historians considered these policies and actions colonialism.

In the 19th century, Russian settlers on traditional Kirghiz land drove a lot of the Kirghiz over the border to China.[1]

In Ukraine under Tsarist rule mercantile legislation (enacted in the 1720s in order to foster trade and commerce in central and north-western Russia) effectively destroyed Ukrainian urban manufacturing and merchants by the nineteenth century. Throughout the next century tariff policy benefited central-Russian producers at the expense of non-Russian borderland producers. State-sponsored programs under the Tsarist and Soviet regimes developed extractive and heavy machine-building industries and promoted agricultural exports. On the other hand, they neglected the consumer manufacturing, finishing, and service sectors. In 1900 Ukraine produced 52 percent of the empire's pig-iron and 20 percent of its iron and steel. Between 1900 and 1914 Tsarist Ukraine produced on average 75 percent of the empire's grain exports. Meanwhile, peasants still used earthenware utensils, wooden axles and hinges, and straw-thatched roofs. Finished goods were imported at excessively high prices set by Russia, while the prices for Donets' industrial products was low.[2] Vladimir Lenin, in exile in 1914, stated in a speech that "it [Ukraine] has become for Russia what Ireland was for England: exploited in the extreme and receiving nothing in return."[3]

National assimilation[edit]

Russians, Ukrainians and other nationalities migrated to the Siberian lands from the conquest onwards.

Under Emperor Alexander III (reigned 1881-1894) the Russian administration increased efforts to assimilate non-Russian peoples.[4]

Impetus for colonialism[edit]

Standard explanations for colonialism such as economic exploitation and religious causes can also account for much of Russian expansionism into colonisable areas. Since the Russian Empire grew overland (with the exception of the Russian possession on the west cost of North America: Alaska and Fort Ross), protection of borderlands and settled areas from nomadic raiders and slavers (especially in the south) also played a role.

Soviet era[edit]

On the eve of Ukrainian independence in 1991, eight of Ukraine's thirteen political parties referred to the country as an exploited “colony” in their programs. After 1991 most[citation needed] Ukrainian historians described Ukrainians as victims of colonialism while literary scholars drew attention to the nation's "post-colonial" condition. Most Russian historians[which?] stressed that Ukrainians had also served as agents of empire (compare the role of the Scots in the British Empire) and characterized Ukraine's historical status as "semi-colonial". Whereas academics disagree as to whether to label the central policies as "Russian", tsarist, Soviet or intentionally "anti-Ukrainian", and whether the development that did occur was worth the cost, most[quantify] Russians and a minority of the population in Ukraine regard that country's historical association with Russia favorably and do not see Ukraine as a colonial victim of Russian imperial power. On the other hand, those who regard Ukraine as a victim of Russian imperialism, are typically Ukrainian nationalists from Western Ukraine, which was never part of Russia or the USSR until 1939. With the rise of nationalism and neo-fascism in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union, the notion that Ukraine was a victim of Russian aggression and imperialism became popular throughout many parts of the country.

Post Soviet Era[edit]

Although Russian colonialism formally ended in 1991 with the political independence of the former Soviet Republics, in practice Russian capital still dominates those territories and can be said to maintain a neo-colonial relationship to them. Russian settlers who arrived in Soviet times still tend to identify culturally and intellectually with Moscow and Russia, rather than the nations they live in.

It is also argued by some that some parts of the current Russian state, such as Chechnya, are colonial possessions of Russia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alexander Douglas Mitchell Carruthers, Jack Humphrey Miller (1914). Unknown Mongolia: a record of travel and exploration in north-west Mongolia and Dzungaria, Volume 2. Lippincott. p. 345. Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  2. ^ Subtelny, O: Ukraine, pp. 268–276. University of Toronto Press, 2000.
  3. ^ Doroshenko, D: Istoriia Ukrainy, p. 127. New York, 1974.
  4. ^ Hosking, Geoffrey A. (1997). Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917. Harvard University Press. p. 374. ISBN 9780674781191. Retrieved 2014-02-02. "[...] Alexander III [...] pursued more or less consistently a national policy which his father had applied only sporadically. Its aim was to draw the non-Russian regions and peoples more securely into the framework of the empire, first of all by administrative integration, then by inculcating in each of them the language, religion, culture, history, and political traditions of Russia, leaving their own languages and native traditions to occupy a subsidiary niche, as ethnographic remnants rather than active social forces. It was accompanied by an economic policy which emphasized the development of transport and heavy industry, and the assimilation of outlying regions into a single imperial economy." 


  • Iavorsky, M. Ukraina v epokhu kapitalizmu Kiev: Derzhavne Vydavnytstvo Ukrainy, 1924.
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    • idem, ed. Ukrainian Economic History(Cambridge MA, 1991)
  • Krawchenko,B. Social Change and National Consciousness in Twentieth Century Ukraine (NewYork, 1985)
  • Martin, Virginia. Law and custom in the steppe: the Kazakhs of the Middle Horde and Russian colonialism in the nineteenth century. Richmond: Curzon, 2001
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