A new Russia has begun to define its identity from the ground up; very little from its past can be applied to the present. The country's intellectual history has not provided contemporary thinkers and politicians with adequate tools for assessing how Russia's age-old quandary about her identity fits into its new geopolitical situation. Historical and cultural messianic traditions stand in sharp contrast to Russia's current circumstances.
Nevertheless, we can isolate three major options for the future development of a Russian identity: neoimperial, ethnic, and civic. Most western commentators, especially from foreign policy and security communities, usually concentrate on the perils of Russian neoimperialism. They usually ignore the dangers of ethno-nationalism, as well as the difficulties of building a new civic identity.
Although ethno-nationalism is not politically well organized in Russia, it may nonetheless emerge ascendant, especially if the goal of nation-state building is introduced into contemporary political discourse, since the term "nation" has had a strong ethnic, not civic, connotation in Soviet and post-Soviet academia, public opinion, and politics. No longer hidden under an imperial veil, ethnic identity has become more salient to Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The essence of the ethno-nationalist program is to restore a geographical congruence between the state and the nation by building the Russian state within Russians' and other Eastern Slavs' area of settlement.
Politically, that means the reunification of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan .
If the experience of other countries is any guide, nation-building on the rubble of an empire is usually an endeavor of ethno-nationalists. Kemalist Turkey started its experiment with a nation-state by subjecting its Armenian, Greek and Kurdish minorities to genocide, and expulsion. Austrians welcomed Hitler's Anschluss after 20 years of living in a small post-imperial state. Most recently, Serbia and Croatia became aggressively nationalistic.
All former Soviet republics have adopted ethno-political myths, identifying the state as a homeland of "indigenous" people. These policies rely on the Romantic historicist tradition, claiming that humanity can be divided neatly into nations, and stipulating that culturally--or ethnically--defined nations possessed sacred rights. National leaders can downplay individual human rights and respect for minorities using this reasoning.
Russians have now found themselves in a multiethnic milieu within new borders once again, while 25 million were left outside. The "national question" for Russians was not resolved by the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was created: Russia within its current borders is "more a bleeding hulk of empire: what happened to be left over when the other republics broke away," British historian Geoffrey Hosking says.
Hope of Globalization
Eurasia's blurred political map might be more in line with the burgeoning process of globalization than the two-centuries-old system of nation-states emerging from bloody wars. Boundaries between nation-states are becoming increasingly less significant as a result of the globalization of the international community, and there is no reason for Russians and other Eurasian peoples to repeat all the steps and mistakes made by Western Europe. The "German question," for one, has been finally resolved within the framework of European integration, when the borders that Germans had fought over for a century became obsolete.
The approach of nation-state builders overlooks many grave threats to international security that may evolve from an attempt to mechanically line up Russia with its neighbors. In fact, inarticulated Russian nationhood is one of the key factors explaining why the U.S.S.R. 's disintegration occurred so peacefully, especially when compared to the debacle of another communist federation, Yugoslavia, where most Serbs encountered no ambiguity over their nation or national identity.
A Russia without clear-cut frontiers may be the only peaceful solution to the "Russian question" after the breakup of the Soviet empire. Paradoxically, inconsistent and messy relations between Moscow and ethnic republics within the Russian Federation, and moderate and sometimes tremendously ineffective policies toward the Russians in the "near abroad" might be a better solution for security in Eurasia than attempts to shape a clear-cut approach toward nation-state building and the inevitable redrawing of borders. But the Russian government is probably pursuing such an ambiguous policy not because of its wisdom, but because of its weakness.
The development of a civic identity hardly matches other options in the sense of a quick mobilization potential; in fact, it might mean a weak state for a long period. In order to build a true civic identity, it is necessary to have or develop a common idea, history, heritage, traditions, legitimate boundaries accepted by all citizens, and strong and effective state institutions. Nothing in this list exists in Russia thus far.
As a multiethnic political community within the boundaries of the modern Russian Federation, the Russian nation is new, unstable, and weak. Regular elections, political institutions, and common economic and social problems and policies might gradually serve as the integument for this new political nation, further separating it from the other Soviet successor states.
However, internal divisions, first of all between ethno-territorial units and the center, are strong and are becoming even more important. Separatist Chechnya is an extreme example of the difficulties in building a common civic identity in Russia. It is an evident security concern not only for Russia, but for the rest of the world, and will be affected by the security and power vacuum in Eurasia.
Russia is not alone in confronting immense difficulties in building a civic identity. States in many parts of the world have been unsuccessful nation-builders, and many governments have failed to induce their subjects to shift their primary loyalties from informal subdivisions (ethnic, religious groups) to formal, legalistic state structures.
Many in Eurasia and the West view the vague boundaries of the Russian people as an unnerving and threatening phenomenon that could very well lead to imperial restoration. A Russian nation-state, on the contrary, is seen as a well-tested, familiar, and peaceful alternative.
Russia can eventually play the role of a legitimate leader in integrated Eurasia, as a center of cultural, economic and political gravitation. However, the current international environment has not been favorable for such a result. Nation-state building on an ethnic basis seems to be the only game in Eurasia thus far. U.S. foreign policy-makers are so preoccupied with putative Russian imperial ambitions in Eurasia that they fail to recognize other challenges to peace and security on the continent.
Russian and non-Russian ethno-nationalism are among the most significant threats to security in Eurasia. Regional integration coupled with globalization is probably the only viable alternative to imperialist, ethno-nationalist, or isolationist programs, which are destabilizing and threatening to Eurasian peace