Putin justified the annexation of Crimea with the need to protect ethnic Russians. This line is now also being used as an endorsement of the escalating disturbances in the east of Ukraine.
The whole theory is based on the premise that “Russian-speaking” is the same as “ethnic Russian”. However, the problem with this theory, is that language does not equal ethnicity.
3 out of 25 regions in Ukraine have a majority of Russian speakers - these are Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk . Of these regions, only Crimea has a majority (60%) of ethnic Russians.
However in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where the latest escalation of unrest is concentrated, the percentage of ethnic Russians was just 38% and 39% respectively.
In these regions, the use of language as a substitute for ethnicity provides a convenient, but false rationale for Moscow’s support for the actions being taken there by pro-Russian agitators.
This isn't only the situation in Ukraine. Census data from other former Soviet states affirms that this is the reality throughout the region. Russian is the first language for almost 20 million people in the 4 countries bordering Russia’s west, however only 10 million described themselves as ethnic Russians in their census returns. In Belarus, for example, 42% of the population speak Russian as their first language, but only 8% declare themselves as ethnic Russians.
It is obvious from these statistics that language and ethnicity are not synonymous. It is also clear that the Kremlin choses to make selective use of ethnicity and language stats in order to manipulate the conflict in Ukraine to its advantage.
These maps have been created by Tom Hobson - data analyst and geographic information systems specialist at Locus Insight, Innovation Centre Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland.