AUC Studia Territorialia (Acta Universitatis Carolinae Studia Territorialia) is a peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on Area Studies. It covers political, economic, social, and cultural affairs of North America, Europe, and post-Soviet Eurasia in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The journal was founded in 2001; currently, it appears biannually, both electronically and in print. It publishes original scholarly articles, book reviews, conference reports and research notes. The journal is a publication of the Institute of International Studies at Charles University’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

AUC STUDIA TERRITORIALIA, Vol 22 No 2 (2022), 39–60

Russia vs. Ukraine: A Subaltern Empire Against the “Populism of Hope”

Valeria Korablyova

published online: 27. 04. 2023


This article discusses the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine from a postcolonial perspective. It argues that the structure of coloniality in the region is tripartite: besides Russia and Ukraine, the “West” is present as the main significant Other for both sides. With regard to the West, Russia is a “subaltern empire” and Ukraine is a “double subaltern,” peripheral to more than one center of power. Within this complex of imperiality and subalternity, Russia is engaging in a “catching-up imperialism” driven by resentment against the West. Russia has subsumed neighboring states, or parts of them, in brutal violation of the existing international order. Its leaders claim it is only mimicking the hegemon’s (i.e. the West’s) imperialist modus operandi. This geostrategic pattern is captured by Erik Ringmar’s notion of “recognition games.” Fighting in those “deadly games,” Zelensky’s Ukraine is breaking out of its place as a mute subaltern. The rhetorical aspect of Ukraine’s response to Russian aggression can be called a horizontal “populism of hope.” Ukraine has attained global visibility and recognition in the Northern hemisphere as a beacon of grassroots democracy, resilience and freedom. Russia, however, has rebranded itself as the spearhead of a global fight against Western hegemony. The outcome of this military and discursive standoff will largely define a future normative international order displaying new hierarchies of symbolic power.

keywords: postcolonialism; catching-up imperialism; populism of hope; recognition games; normative order; Ukraine; Russia

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Russia vs. Ukraine: A Subaltern Empire Against the “Populism of Hope” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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ISSN: 1213-4449
E-ISSN: 2336-3231