The Russian language is now spoken everywhere. The Russians have invaded Syria and occupied the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine. Or if you prefer — depending on your political leanings — Russian forces are merely occupying this vital chuck of territory for the security of Russian nationals and Russian speakers. Language and propaganda, it seems, are playing a massive part in this ongoing saga.
The presence of a Russian-speaking majority in Crimea, and parts of Eastern Ukraine, is one of the core justifications for Russia’s military occupation. While Russophones do make up a majority in the Crimea, many observers believe this fact is simply a pretext for an opportunistic land grab. A sizable section of Russian society thinks Khrushchev never should have gifted the peninsula to Ukraine in the first place.
As far as the Russian presence in Syria? The Russian answer is to stop the proliferation of middle east terrorism, stop refugees and the flow of illegal weapons and drugs. Is it true?
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Protecting “Russians” in Crimea is a hard excuse to argue with on paper, even if by most accounts Russian speakers aren’t in any real danger there. Regardless, if we take this tool of Russian propaganda at face value and apply it to the world at large, we can come up with some very real, and some incredibly outlandish (hopefully), scenarios.
The Russian diaspora has spread the Russian language across the globe. You can find substantial Russian and Russian-speaking communities in places like Belarus, Germany and Mongolia, as well as Israel and Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.
While a Russian invasion of New York is fairly unlikely, and you probably won’t see Russian Spetsnaz commandos storming into Tel Aviv anytime soon, both Israel and New York City have communities that are full of Russian speakers. In fact, Israel has one of the largest Russian-speaking populations outside of Russia. After the U.S.S.R. disintegrated, more than a million Russians with Jewish backgrounds packed their bags and headed to Israel. And if you’ve ever spent any time at Brighton Beach, you know English isn’t the language of choice for many of this neighborhood’s vodka-loving inhabitants.
Thankfully, Russian speakers in Israel and New York aren’t calling for Russian military intervention just yet. Well, I hope that’s the case. You always have to be careful when dealing with deceptive geopolitical moves and the conquest of valuable real estate.
Returning to the realm of plausible eventualities, some of Russia’s immediate neighbors are nervous for good reason. Poland is especially on edge, thanks to the nation’s history with Russian invasion and occupation, and the exceptionally unpopular Soviet policy of Russification toward countries bordering Russia’s western flank.
Speaking Russian yet?
While nations like Lithuania and Poland have relatively small Russian-speaking minorities, countries like Belarus and Estonia have some good-sized Russian populations to contend with. If the Russian Federation were so inclined, not only could it branch out into other parts of the Ukraine, like Donetsk and Luhansk, it could also exploit the guise of protecting Russian nationals from harm to further foreign policy goals along its very large borders, and counter Western European and American hegemony. It worked in Georgia with the partition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — and it appears to be working in Crimea as well.
Are you listening, Mongolia? No one is talking about you yet, but the political situation on the ground can change incredibly fast. You might not be overstocked with Russians, but you do write your language with the Cyrillic alphabet, and your older generation is well versed in the ways of the former Soviet State. You’re a massive, thinly populated (i.e. easily conquered) country wedged between Russia and China. If the notion of “protecting” various language minorities through military force catches on, you might want to forget your Russian pretty fast. While you’re at it, you may want to drop your Chinese too (trading partners be dammed), just in case China decides to beat Russia to the punch and invade — excuse me, I mean “protect” — you first.
Hey, why should China settle for the Diaoyu or Spratly Islands, or Russia make do with carved-up pieces of Georgia and Ukraine, when the Mongolian Plateau is just sitting there, barely guarded, ripe for the taking? Welcome to a multipolar world, dominated by great powers and rising superpowers.