Russian Society and the Conflict in Ukraine: Masses, Elites and National Identity
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This chapter looks at how Russian society reacted to the conflict in and with Ukraine. The main object of interest is popular views of the conflict and its context, and in particular the way these views are conditioned by nationalism and the national identity discourse. The mass support for the Kremlin cannot be explained as just a result of the official propaganda. It hardly creates any new meanings: rather, it feeds on the mass common sense. The way the ordinary Russians comprehend the conflict in and with Ukraine is fundamentally conditioned by nationalism, combined with the distrust of the West, but this nationalism is not necessarily xenophobic and aggressive. While the concept of Russia as a divided nation is key to the understanding of Russian national identity and foreign policy, it is also extremely vague and open to a number of incompatible interpretations. It can be read in ethnic nationalist, imperialist and even civic terms. As a result, Russian nationalism can, in principle, be compatible with a rather broad range of actual policies.