Nation-Building in Times of Conflict: The Discursive Construction of Russian National Identity through the Russo-Georgian War

  • Marina Henrikson

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the discursive construction of Russian national identity through the 2008 war in Georgia with a focus on how this process was influenced by the Russian leadership's desire to gain the support of both the domestic and international audiences for its actions outside its borders. These actions involved forceful military intervention, the recognition of the independence of the two Georgian break-away republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the decision to place Russian military troops in the two republics during the aftermath of war. The study critically examines the official Russian discourse, with a focus on particular visions of national identity that this discourse utilized. The study demonstrates how the official discourse in the context of the 2008 war contributed to the construction of Russian national identity and thereby seeks to highlight the performative power of language.By placing considerable focus on the internal dimension of the Russian leadership's conduct in the international arena, i.e. the consolidation of the national community in the event of war, the thesis contributes to an oft overlooked element of Russian foreign policy initiatives. Consequently, it seeks to challenge the tendency to explain Russian actions with regard to the war as a natural result of a neo-imperialistic identity - a tendency that fails to take into account how national identity can be constructed in its more immediate context. By making use of Rogers Brubaker's concept of nationalism as an event, the study discusses the increased force of nationalism during war and demonstrates how this was clearly the case during the 2008 war in Georgia. The analysis concentrates on three main identity visions within the official Russian discourse. Firstly, it examines how contemporary Russia was constructed as a great power, partly as a response to the claims that it was an imperialist state. Secondly, it discusses the role of certain historical concepts, i.e. the Cold War and the Soviet Union, within the discourse and elaborates upon the act of politicising history. Thirdly, the study analyses the Russian leadership's protection narrative that emphasised the responsibility to protect Russian citizens and compatriots in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is demonstrated how these different identity visions were intertwined, resulting in a rather contradictory official discourse that speaks to many different audiences simultaneously, while foregrounding the first of the above-mentioned identity visions, namely of Russia as a great power.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorVera Tolz-Zilitinkevic (Supervisor) & Stephen Hutchings (Supervisor)


  • Russo-Georgian War
  • History Politics
  • Compatriots
  • Great Power
  • Nation-Building
  • Russian National Identity
  • Imperialism
  • Discourse Analysis

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