War by Any Other Name: Patterns of Russian Colonialism



Let’s be honest, the mechanisms of Russian imperialism have been a blindspot of the magazine until now. Rather than adding to the noise produced amidst the shock of the military invasion of Ukraine, we commissioned this text by Anna Engelhardt that describes the recurrence of Russian strategy when its military is deployed in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine. In the future, we will also concentrate on the Indigenous struggles at work within what is commonly called the “Russian Federation.”

“In Chechnya, the only place which is ours is where our troops stand; troops move—and this place immediately goes into insurgents’ hands,” reported a Russian journalist of Moscow Bulletin from the front of a Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 1840s. Going on for more of the 63 first years of the 19th century, it was one of the myriad Russian colonial wars that formed what we know today as the “Russian Federation.” Its “sovereignty” and “integrity,” the two most protected notions in Russian criminal law, is a highly volatile unity of colonized territories. The fragility of what is known as Russia is secured by endless wars of conquest waged over centuries. Their mechanic repetitiveness is daunting. What hope can one find today if Russia has annexed the Crimean Peninsula at least four times? What is it there in those four attempts at total elimination of Indigenous Crimean Tatars, with the first one dating to 1783 and the last one ongoing since 2014? No matter how successful such invasions are as a singular event, their horrific frequency reveals the inability to break down decolonial resistance and secure desired integrity.

To rephrase the quote I started with: the only place which is Russia is where its troops stand.