Flash Points
Themed journeys through our archive.

How the World Forgot About Russian Imperialism

And why recovering this history matters for understanding the war in Ukraine.

Russia's assault on the South Caucasus in the 19th century
Russia's assault on the South Caucasus in the 19th century
A painting depicts the Battle of Ganja, part of Imperial Russia's assault on the South Caucasus, in 1826. Franz Roubaud/Museum of the History of Azerbaijan

“Russia’s nature as an imperial power is incontrovertible,” Artem Shaipov and Yuliia Shaipova write. “So why has this fundamental, foundational fact about Russia been all but ignored in the West for so long, including among those who study and analyze the region?”

“Russia’s nature as an imperial power is incontrovertible,” Artem Shaipov and Yuliia Shaipova write. “So why has this fundamental, foundational fact about Russia been all but ignored in the West for so long, including among those who study and analyze the region?”

Shaipov and Shaipova suggest that the answer lies in the way Russian studies is taught in the West. But regardless of the reason, the war in Ukraine has sparked a newfound awareness of Russia’s imperial project, past and present. The essays below explore the nature of Russian imperialism and its relationship to the country’s latest war of conquest.—Chloe Hadavas


Georgian soldiers
Georgian soldiers

Georgian soldiers escape their burning armored vehicle on a road near Gori, Georgia, during the Russo-Georgian War on Aug. 11, 2008. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

What the Fall of Empires Tells Us About the Ukraine War

Russia’s war can only be understood as a bloody post-imperial conflict, Anatol Lieven writes.


A portrait of Alexander Pushkin.
A portrait of Alexander Pushkin.

A portrait of Alexander Pushkin. Bridgeman Art Library

From Pushkin to Putin: Russian Literature’s Imperial Ideology

Russian classical literature, chock full of dehumanizing nationalism, reads disturbingly familiar today, Volodymyr Yermolenko writes.


The beginning of the conquest of Siberia in shown in a 19th-century painting.
The beginning of the conquest of Siberia in shown in a 19th-century painting.

“Yermak’s conquest of Siberia,” a 19th-century historical painting by Vasiliy Surikov, depicts a Russian attack on Siberian Tatars.Universal History Archive/Getty Images

It’s High Time to Decolonize Western Russia Studies

Why, Artem Shaipov and Yuliia Shaipova write, has it taken a war of conquest for experts to recognize Russia’s nature as a vast imperial enterprise?


Putin's face is shown on a large video screen in front of a crowd waving Russian flags.
Putin's face is shown on a large video screen in front of a crowd waving Russian flags.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a video screen in Moscow’s Red Square as he addresses a rally and concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine on Sept. 30.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Why Putin’s Denunciations of Western Imperialism Ring Hollow

Russia is among the world’s most ambitious imperial nations, FP’s Howard W. French writes.


Russian servicemen in Ukraine
Russian servicemen in Ukraine

Russian servicemen sit on benches in Melitopol, Ukraine, on July 14, 2022.Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

For Opposition to Putin’s War, Look to the Fringes of His Empire

The dirty secret of the Russian military is that long-conquered subjects are the Kremlin’s cannon fodder, Alexey Kovalev writes.

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