Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Marina Henrikson (University of Manchester, UK)

The Discursive Construction of the Russian 'Us': Citizenship and Compatriot Policy during the 2008 War in Georgia

One of the main arguments in the Russian foreign policy discourse, designed to justify Russian actions during the 2008 war in Georgia, was the protection of Russian 'citizens' and 'compatriots' in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A large part of the residents of the two break-away republics had been given Russian passports in the years before the conflict. The current literature on the 2008 war discusses the notion of Russia protecting its own citizens abroad and the lack of a firm legal base supporting such an argument. Yet what is missing is a thorough examination of the purpose and effects of inserting both the concepts of citizenship and compatriots into the narrative of self-defence and protection, and how the overlapping of the two contributed to the Russian nation building process. A discussion around the usage of these concepts is highly relevant today in light of the developments in Ukraine. This paper looks at official Russian foreign policy discourse as found in the speeches, interviews and meeting transcripts of mainly Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and Sergey Lavrov from the 2008 war and its aftermath. I will study how the compatriots law and policy relate to the Russian 'passportization policy' and examine whether the residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia who acquired Russian passports in the years preceding the conflict were categorised similarly to or differently from 'compatriots' without Russian citizenship. I will argue that the notion of protecting Russian 'citizens' was backed up by a legal argument while 'compatriots' is generally vaguer and relatively emotionally charged, often with ethnic connotations. The need to protect Russian 'citizens' was a more useful argument for the Russian leadership due to the concept's stronger legal weight within international law and its more neutral essence, speaking both to the international community and certain segments of the domestic Russian audience that would not like to see ethnic characteristics as deciding who belongs to the Russian 'us'.