“The history of Russia is the history of a country that colonizes itself.” This phrase, first coined by the historian Sergei Solov’ev in the 1840s, gained widespread currency thanks to Vasilii Kliuchevskii’s Course of Russian History, first published in 1911 and still popular today.
It remains one of the best-known aphorisms about Russian history. And yet, any historian of the Russian empire knows that one surefire way today to drop a brick in a conversation with Russian colleagues is to refer to ‘Russian colonialism.’ With rare exceptions, you will be met with a baffled, if not offended, response: “Colonialism? What Colonialism? Russia has never had colonies.”
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Alexander Morrison is Professor of History at Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan. He is the author of Russian Rule in Samarkand 1868 - 1910. A Comparison with British India (Oxford, 2008) and is currently writing a history of the Russian conquest of Central Asia. Morrison’s web page can be found at: https://nu-kz.academia.edu/AlexanderMorrison The views expressed in this commentary are Morrison’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of Nazarbayev University.