Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences
The collapse of the USSR significantly increased the research interest in «empire
studies» and the imperial nature of the Soviet Union. The scientists focused
their attention on questions, such as: can the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic
be identified as an empire and what type of empires does it belong to; what
were the logic and conditions of the formation of the Soviet empire, and peculiarities
of its functioning at different historical stages, what were the relationships
between its structures, the specifics and mutual influences of imperial and
peripheral/colonial identities, etc.
The debate about the Soviet Union as an empire is objectively complicated by
a lacking scholarly consensus regarding the classification criteria and typological
features, as well as the definition of the term «empire» However, most scholars
agree that the key is the nature of the relationship between the centre (metropolis)
and the periphery (colony), in which the former has actual sovereignty over
the latter, e.g. subordinate periphery.
At present, there are three established approaches to addressing the imperial
nature of the USSR, with a varying degree of support. Most scholars, especially
in North America and Europe, refer to the Soviet Union as an imperial-type state.
Some scholars consider it a «hybrid»: an empire and a nation-state at the same
time. Among the researchers in Russia and Ukraine, there is a national-state-oriented
view of Soviet history that excludes the imperial essence of the USSR.
Modern scholars propose various typological definitions of the Soviet empire:
multiethnic, neo-Russian, colonial, post-colonial, post-theocratic, continuous,
totalitarian, empire of affirmative action, the empire of nations, authoritarian
disciplinary and others. Different, sometimes diametrically opposed, opinions
are expressed regarding the status and role of the USSR in the Soviet Union, especially
regarding its coloniality: from declaring Ukraine part of the «Eastern
Slavic metropolis» within the «Great, Little and White Russia» to confidently defining
it as a typical periphery.
In general, the scientific problem of the colonial status of Ukraine within the
Soviet Union, as well as the imperial status of the latter, requires a broad scientific
debate, using proven research methods and a wide range of historical sources.
This is especially true of modern Ukraine, where the interpretations of the Soviet
period of history in the historiography still rely on the traditional national-oriented
view and a priori exclude the imperial essence of the USSR.
Keywords: USSR, Soviet Ukraine, empire, еmpіrе studies, colony, historiography,