I would imagine that this is a tad politically sensitive, but am looking for an objective answer (not a political debate).

In everyday Russian, when someone calls themselves русский, it is safe to assume that they are of Russian origin, as opposed to perhaps Belarusian? Or does the term encompass a slightly wider sphere in the mind of the average Russian speaker? Additionally, can someone of perhaps half Russian origin describe themself with such a word, or does it generally imply wholly Russian origin?

  • Be warned, anyone who'll try to turn this into political flame will not be welcomed.
    – shabunc
    Dec 4, 2015 at 1:28
  • @shabunc is it acceptable for me to ask this question? I certainly do NOT wish to start a heated political/racial debate. I am more interested in focusing on the general use and meaning of the word, from an academic perspective in order to better my understanding of the Russian language.
    – JosephG
    Dec 4, 2015 at 4:47
  • It is very sad, but word "русский" is used mostly to identify race :(( . We don't use this word to identify Russian citizens or Russian speaking people. Also, if someone say "я - русский", then mostly you can be sure, that he is racist. Anyway you should not be too careful with word "Russian" since "Russian" ≠ "русский". Dec 4, 2015 at 5:37
  • @Jgolden1 no worries, it's completely OK
    – shabunc
    Dec 4, 2015 at 5:56
  • @Astronavigator What's racist about an ethnicity having a name for itself? Dec 4, 2015 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


We should examine three distinct cases. The first case is that of the numerous Russian-speaking communities outside of the Russian Federation, which do not consider themselves to be ethnic Russians. This is similar to how Irish and Scots speak English but do not consider themselves to be Englishmen. A notable quantity of Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Belorussians have no problem with speaking Russian yet identifying themselves as non-Russian in regards to their ethnicity.

The second group is Russian-speaking communities outside of Russia that do consider themselves to be ethnic Russians, as is the case in Moldova and in the Baltic countries.

The third group consists of native people from the inner Russian republics, including the Tatars, Bashkirs, Erzya, etc. The situation of such people is similar to that of those in Brittany, France. These people have a strong and distinctive sense of national pride, and they don't identify as ethnic Russians while they are within Russia. However, when speaking with somebody who is outside of their country, the majority will casually use term Russian when identifying themselves.

In official language, however, it is more common to use term "россияне" rather than "русские".

So, being back to your question - it heavily depends on context. In particular, Belarusians prefer not to call themselves Russians. But, once again, it depends on how person identifies themselves.


As a noun русский means "of Russian ethnicity". A half-Russian can call himself so, but it would be contestable, for instance, half-Russian African can hardly be called "Russian" becasuse of total dissimilarity in appearance. A half-Russian Jew calling himself русский may be attacked for allegedly attempting to hide his true ethnicity.

Also русский can mean belonging to Russian state, Russian subject, but this only when referring pre-1917 Russian Empire. Some people who are sympathizing with monarchy and "good old days" or want to make their words appear as 19th century style may use the word in this meaning but it is not mainstream Russian. Modern Russian uses российский instead. Such usage in referrence to modern Russia may be offensive to both Russian nationalists (who would contest that modern Russia's regime belongs to Russian ethnicity) and non-Russians who would say that Russia not necessarily should belong to ethnic Russians alone.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.