This article explores ambiguities in the historical and contemporary use of the concept of “Russification”. The author looks and different “fields” of Russification. In particular, linguistic, cultural, bureaucratic and territorial fields are distinguished. In each of these fields, the processes of “Russification” have never been unambiguous and the results differed from region to region. Next, the author explores the agents of Russification. These are initially divided into governmental and societal. Traditional divisions between state and society, characteristic of the Russian society, played out in the process of Russification too. Correspondingly, the lack of unity in what concerned strategies of Russification was reflected in attempts to focus on different criteria of Russiannes. Thus, either Orthodoxy, or Russian language and culture were preferred. Even here, different ethnic or national groups faced different criteria of “having become Russian”. What sufficed for a Chuvash, was insufficient for a Pole. An important aspect of Russification was real or perceived competition from non-Russian influential cultures. In the Western borderlands such culture was Polish, in Volga region Tatar, and in the Baltics German. This was reflected in the government’s willingness to provisionally tolerate national movements, as long as they were mainly directed against these competitors (e.g., Latvian against German but not Russian).
The author concludes that traditional approaches to a single Russification policy on the scale of the Empire have become outdated. Instead, the author suggests a situational approach that explores each particular case of Russification in its context. At the same time, even if the scale of the empire does not provide for a single narrative of Russification, it does reveal common features, such as inconsistency and fragmented nature of the process. Moreover, a comparative approach that takes into consideration experiences of the Habsburg, Ottoman and Hohenzollern empires is warranted.