Russian volunteers in Ukraine and defensive mobilization

Since Russia annexed Crimea and sent troops to bolster the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” (the DNR and LNR) in Eastern Ukraine, thousands of Russian volunteers have traveled to the Donbass to take part in the fighting. While a few of them have teamed up with the Ukrainian side, the vast majority joined the irregular DNR/LNR forces. A recent Russian study asks what made these volunteers tick. The core motivation, the study claims, was a desire to defend one’s own people. As one would expect given the current domestic climate, the findings certainly suit the official story about the conflict. But that doesn’t mean they are wrong.

According to Ukrainian authorities, the bulk of the DNR/LNR forces was made up by an estimated 36,300 irregulars as well as 2,900 Russian regular troops by July 2017. A substantial proportion of the irregulars have consisted of incoming volunteers from Russia. Source: Ukraine Crisis Media Center

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Short note on the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Constituent Assembly

Peaceful demonstration in defense of the Constituent Assembly. Petrograd, January 1918. Forces loyal to the Bolsheviks later opened fire on the demonstrators. Source: Moscow House of Photography

On 18 January 1918, a hundred years ago today, Russia’s first democratic experiment was strangled at birth by Lenin and the Bolsheviks as they forcibly shut down the democratically elected Constituent Assembly and opened fire on unarmed protesters.

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The strange decline of antisemitism in Russia

It will surprise no one that attacks on Jews occur in Russia. After all, this is the country that gave us the word pogrom. Yet it might surprise you to hear that the level of antisemitic violence in Russia, by all accounts, is quite low compared to Western Europe. Given the political climate in later years, shouldn’t we expect otherwise? Patriotic rallying, attacks against “foreign agents” and internal “fifth columnists”, rampant and officially sanctioned homophobia, a fortress mentality in which one in four say the country is “surrounded by enemies on all sides” — isn’t this fertile soil for a reinvigorated antisemitism?

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Dancing for the white race in St. Petersburg

As jihadism scholar Thomas Hegghammer and a selection of other fine scholars show in the book Jihadi Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2016), jihadis don’t just fight, kill, and die for their cause. In their spare time they also read poetry, interpret dreams, listen to music, pray, weep, and embroider. Such activities are ways to generate meaning, which, of course, is a very human endeavor, and jihadis are human too. So are right-wing militants. Just look at these dancing Nazis in St Petersburg.

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Readers, colleagues, tovarishchi! Allow me to introduce The Restless Russianist. I plan to use this blog as a platform for sharing reflections, notes, and sources related to my research interests, which mostly revolve around Russian history (Soviet and post-Soviet), right-wing extremism, and antisemitism. For details about what I do, see my personal website.

Why this blog? I have a public motivation as well as a private one. The first impetus came from the outside, as a highly respected colleague encouraged me (twice!) to start a blog. After some initial doubts I began thinking he might be right. A blog is a nice way for any researcher to connect with a larger community of colleagues and other interested parties. No less important, as a publicly funded academic I’m responsible for making the products of my research available to a wider audience, not just readers of peer-reviewed publications.

There’s also a more personal reason. Like most researchers, I’ve usually tailored my writings to fit the narrow formats of academic publications. These are indispensable for career purposes, but they also limit what you can say (and what you do say takes ages to get published). Those limits can frustrate me, as there’s always a lot of things I would like to get off my mind and share with others that won’t fit into a journal article or book manuscript. The Restless Russianist, then, should serve as an open, informal space for venting ideas and sharing stuff I come across that, I dare hope, might interest you as well.