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Names can be deceiving. Americans call the area where Moscow’s writ runs “Russia.” But the official name of this place is the “Russian Federation.” Federation of what, you ask? Well, there are a lot of people who live in “Russia” who are in important senses not Russians. There are Ingush, Buryats, Chechens, Mordvinians, Tatars, and many others. Russia, then, is a “Federation” of Russians and non-Russians.
But even that’s not quite right. As Valerie Kivelson and Ronald Suny point out in their excellent book Russia’s Empires (Oxford University Press, 2016), Russia is really an empire, and has long been. Since the 16th century, Moscow has gathered, conquered, colonized, assimilated, or otherwise brought to heel a great number of places occupied by people who were not Russians. Russians built this empire for different reasons at different times; it grew and (especially recently) it shrank. But it was always there, and still is. Kivelson and Suny convincingly argue that nothing about Russia—past or present—can really be understood outside the context of Russia as an empire. Listen in to our lively conversation.

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