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Historical distribution, according to Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (1890—1907). Before the 1920s "Ukrainization", it was common to include under the term "Russian" all of the East Slavic languages. The top left map shows the distribution of "all Russian" speakers (i.e. East Slavic), top right "Greater Russian" (i.e. Russian, bottom left "Small Russian" (i.e. Ukrainian), bottom right "White Russian" (i.e. Belarusian). Solid red indicates a majority above 75%, dark red above 95%.
Russophone population in Ukraine (shown in red; Ukrainophone in blue).

A Russophone (Russian: русскоговорящий, русскоязычный; russkogovoryashchy, russkoyazychny) is a speaker of the Russian language either natively or by preference. At the same time the term is used in a more specialized meaning to describe the category of people whose cultural background is associated with the Russian language regardless of territorial distinctions.

There are an estimated 162 million native speakers of Russian worldwide (of whom 137 million or 85% live in the Russian Federation) and about 110 million people who speak Russian as a second language.[1]

There are sizable Russophone communities in many neighbouring countries that were parts of the former Soviet Union, including Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Estonia and Latvia. Additionally, there are large Russophone immigrant communities in Israel and various parts of the United States, Canada and Australia.

There is a common misnomer to refer to Russophones as "Russians". For example, Brighton Beach is often described as a "Russian community", while in fact the majority of Russophone Brighton Beach residents are Jews from Odessa, Ukraine. (So much so, that the area is also known as Little Odessa.) Ironically, a significant number of Russian cultural associations in the United States are affiliated with Jewish Community Centers, called Juykas by American Russophones.

Russian population in post-Soviet states

The share of the Slavic population by districts and cities of regional and republican subordination Kazakhstan in 2010
  > 50 %
  40.0 - 49.9 %
  30.0 - 39.9 %
  20.0 - 29.9 %
  10.0 - 19.9 %
  0.0 - 9.9 %
Russophone population in Estonia

Russophony in the post-Soviet states is a controversial phenomenon. In the Soviet Union, the languages of many different ethnic and indigenous groups were placed under pressure of Russification, as Russian was declared to be the language of inter-national communication, intended to unify the Soviet people and was used exclusively in all official and interstate affairs. Although native language classes (e.g. Latvian or Estonian) were obligatory for all students regardless of nationality in every Republic and Autonomy of the USSR alongside Russian, any significant promotion was impossible without command of Russian.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union this situation was reversed in the countries the "Near abroad" (Russian: ближнее зарубежье, blizhneye zarubezhye) — the term used in Russia for post-Soviet states — and the use of Russian was discouraged, with the notable exceptions of Belarus, Crimea, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan where Russian remains today an official language. The breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria have also declared Russian as official in the territories under their control.

See also


  1. ^ Russian, SIL Ethnologue (2013)
  • Pål Kolstø, "The new Russian diaspora - an identity of its own? Possible identity trajectories for Russians in the former Soviet republic." Ethnic and Racial studies, July 1996, pp. 609–639
  • Pål Kolstø, "The price of stability. Kazakhstani control mechanisms in a bipolar cultural and demographic situation", paper presented at conf. Democracy and Pluralism in the Muslim Areas of the Former Soviet Union at The Cummings Center, University of Tel Aviv, 7–9 November 1999 [2]
  • Autin, Claire, «Les États baltes. Le défi des minorités russophones», Géographie et cultures, No. 38, 2001 :5-24
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