Grigory Dukor / Reuters Putin makes a speech in Moscow's Red Square, May 9, 2014.

Putin's White Guard

Why Russia's Former Nobility Is Supporting the Kremlin

Last December, an emotional defense of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine began swirling around the Internet. Amid the volleys of opinion about Moscow’s actions, the provenance of this particular open letter stood out: its authors were descendants of some of the most powerful Russian aristocratic families that fled the country after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

"Knowledge of the recent past, namely the past of the pre-revolutionary Russia, gives us the opportunity, and with it the duty, to expose the obvious historical falsifications that led to the current drama in Ukraine.” Titled “Solidarity with Russia,” the letter went on to criticize Western “aggressive hostility” toward Moscow: “Russia is accused of crimes, without a priori evidence it is declared guilty.” The authors said that they could no longer accept the “daily slander against modern Russia … its leadership and its president,” who, they write, subjected to sanctions and dragged in dirt against elementary common sense.

The authors blamed the Ukrainian government and pro-Nazi military groups for destroying the country’s war-ravaged east and killing its people, but they reserved their greatest ire for what they called a systematic attack on everything associated with the “Russian World.” “We are talking about the historical, geographical, linguistic, cultural, and spiritual realities of the great civilization that has enriched the world and that we are rightfully proud of.”

The letter was penned by Prince Dmitry Shakhovskoi—a well-respected Slavic scholar who lives in France—and his wife, Tamara, and was signed by more than 100 princes, counts, and others whose names ranked among the most storied in tsarist Russia—Tolstoy, Pushkin, Sheremetev. These families maintain a tight-knit community across Europe sustained by galas and black-tie reunions.

Not surprisingly, the screed prompted an avalanche of media coverage and commentary on blogs and Russian social media. Much of the reaction focused on what appeared to be a staggering paradox. As members of the so-called White émigrés who opposed the Reds during the civil war that followed the revolution,

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