Russians-in-Europe, or Russians-of-Europe?

Courtesy gnxp — and now cross-posted at Catholicgauze — this genetic map of Europe:

Read the original paper for more details, but for me the interesting thing is that the Russian race (like Russian culture, or the Russian state) is only marginally European. Of course, the Great Russian Die-Off will change the features of those Russians that remain in a generation or three.

It would be interesting to see Turks in this diagram.

17 thoughts on “Russians-in-Europe, or Russians-of-Europe?”

  1. At least they aren’t dying of asthma, if that graph is to be believed. Sucks to be German, though . . .

  2. also, it could be an artifact of which “russians” they sampled. e.g., russians on the western border might be much more european than those further inland in russia. genetic relatedness being a rough proxy for distance, if you sample apart widely it would produce more “clumpiness” than exists in reality (e.g., the germans were from dresden and munich, the belgians i think were french speakers, not flemmish, etc.).

  3. razib,


    Indeed, that Russians are marginally European people is trivially true, as Russia is physically on the margin of Europe. That they would have qualities “fully” European (for what that means) not influenced by central Asian culture/civilization/environment/genetics certainly would be an odd assumption.


    As Razib has noted his blog, while stone age mortality (death-rate) was higher, morbidity (sickness) was probably a lot lower.

    Russia now has a bad luck of being of having both at levels higher than the rest of the industrial world.

    But free & clear wrt asthma, at least.

  4. You might want to take another look at the genetic map you posted, which shows that the Russians are genetically largely identical to the Poles, and are even more closely related to them than Norwegians are to Swedes.

    The map does not include Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, in which the frequency of the N haplogroup are high. The said haplogroup is largely absent in Central Europe, but extremely prominent among these four nations, and somewhat less so in Russia and Belarus (still less in the Ukraine).

    One rather useful research on the subject is “Two Sources of the Russian Patrilineal Heritage in Their Eurasian Context” (

  5. Ahumocles,

    You might want to take another look at the genetic map you posted, which shows that the Ruussians are genetically largely identical to the Poles, and are even more closely related to them than Norwegians are to Swedes.

    You’re reading the principal components chart wrong.

    The only way one can say that Russian and Poles are ‘identical’ is to say that there exists an observed Polish outlier more typical of Russians than Poles, and that there exists an observed Russian outlier more typical of Poles than Russians.

    By this logic, “Americans” are identical to every other racial group in the world!

    Thanks for the link to the article in Cell!

  6. Just read the Cell abstract; it’d be interesting to find out if they looked at Cossack populations. I say that because, if my memory serves correct, they had their origins in stragglers from one of the Mongol invasions. If that’s so, their Y chromosome patterns should look very different from those of the Russian populace at large.

  7. Michael, they did look at the Cossack populations, specifically Kuban Cossacks, in the Cell article, which can be downloaded by non-registered users. It can be seen that they do not differ significantly from the rest of non-Northern Russians, except that haplogroup I (characteristic of entire Europe, particularly prominent in Scandinavia and the Balkans) is somewhat more frequent among them, whereas the frequency of r1a (chiefly Eastern, Central, and Northern Europe) is marginally lower.

    tdaxp, the first picture shows that the majority of Poles and Russians, not an outlier of either, essentially overlap in terms of both components. It means that the genetic distance between them is not significant, which is confirmed by the linked Cell article. It also means that in order to classify Russians as marginally European in terms of genetics, one has to consider Poles marginally European to an equal extent, and the Finns, Estonians, and Balts as essentially non-European due to the greater prominence of haplogroup N. Here is an excerpt from the article, which sums up the results of the research (see page 246), countering some of the points mentioned in the comments:

    “The extensive analysis of the Russian pool of paternal lineages presented here establishes the following general features: (1) insignificance of the oriental gene flow, highlighted by the lack of typical East and Central Asian
    haplogroups; (2) well-pronounced north-to-south gradients of specific haplogroups within historical Russian area; (3) split of its overall diversity into the northern and central-southern populations; (4) close proximity of
    the northern populations to the northeastern and eastern non-Slavic populations, suggesting extensive assimilation or even direct language change; (5) lower Y chromosomal variation all over the central-southern historic Russia versus high variation among northern Russians; (6) close proximity, reaching virtual overlap in a MDS plot, in the Y chromosomal variation between central-southern Russians with Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Poles; and (7) this significant intraethnic differentiation of North Russian populations is the only found exception to the rule; in the wider European context, the interethnic (mainly linguistic) differences strongly predominate. We conclude that the Y chromosome pool of Russians in their historic settlement area is predominantly a composite of their proto-Slavic heritage and, in particular in the Russian North, of extensive admixture with Finno-Ugric speakers.”

  8. Ahumocles,

    Thank you for your comment.

    It would be interesting to know more of what is going on with the apparently contradictory results. I don’t have full access to the EJHG article, but from gnxp [1]:

    An investigation into fine-scale European population structure was carried out using high-density genetic variation on nearly 6000 individuals originating from across Europe. The individuals were collected as control samples and were genotyped with more than 300 000 SNPs in genome-wide association studies using the Illumina Infinium platform. A major East-West gradient from Russian (Moscow) samples to Spanish samples was identified as the first principal component (PC) of the genetic diversity. The second PC identified a North-South gradient from Norway and Sweden to Romania and Spain…The next 18 PCs also accounted for a significant proportion of genetic diversity observed in the sample. We present a method to predict the ethnic origin of samples by comparing the sample genotypes with those from a reference set of samples of known origin. These predictions can be performed using just summary information on the known samples, and individual genotype data are not required. We discuss issues raised by these data and analyses for association studies including the matching of case-only cohorts to appropriate pre-collected control samples for genome-wide association studies.

    The principal components analysis reveals distinct “Polish” and “Russian” components.” [2]

    PCA Pol. Rus.
    Pol. 0.802 0.134
    Rus. 0.040 0.944

    my guess, in explaining the differences, is that the authors of the Cell article are engaging in something analogous to Lewontin’s fallacy [3], appearing to demonstrate that it is impossible to predict group membership from genetics by looking only at specific alleles, instead of how the alleles cluster.

    I would appreciate learning more about this, though.


  9. tdaxp,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I do not see what is contradictory about the data. The EJHG article analyses samples taken from Poles, Russians, Czechs, Swedes, Norwegians, and representatives of other nations and arranges the data on a chart in accordance with two abstract components (which, in turn, are constructed from other data unavailable to those not having full access to the article). The first component shows how the samples fare on a North-South gradient, the other on an East-West gradient. The picture shows that Russian and Polish samples are very similar to each other in both components: as you can see, the areas composed of the red “Russian” rectangles and gold “Polish” triangles overlap to a greater extent than Norwegian and Swedish samples do.

    The main point of the EJHG article is that it is now possible to identify a particular ethnic group by means of genetic analysis, even if the differences are as fine and minute as between Swedes and Norwegians – or between the Russians and the Poles, as noted in the commentary to the gnxp article. However, in some cases it is impossible to tell the difference even using such precise analysis. The table shows that the frequency of such occurrences is greater for Russians and Poles than even for Swedes and Norwegians, generally regarded as being extremely close to each other. When used together with the picture, it means that the reason for such frequency is that the nations are genetically very similar, like Norwegians and Swedes. It means that there is no isolated Polish outlier which would be very distant genetically from the bulk of the Russian population. This is fully consistent with the Cell article, as well as with the comments at gnxp (see the “my other weblog” link in the gnxp post).

    I don’t think the Cell article is engaged in anything similar to Lewontin’s fallacy. It analyses haplogroups, which is currently the most wide-spread of the precise methods of identifying the genetic distances between populations. It clearly states that there aren’t any notable Central or Eastern Asian admixtures among Russians, and that the main difference between Russians and Poles is that North-Eastern Russians have Finno-Ugric admixtures (shown by the frequency of the N haplogroup), whereas the rest, – the vast majority, – of Russians are genetically overwhelmingly similar to Poles.

    If one takes the EJHG, the gnxp commentary, the Cell article, and various physical anthropology sources like Carleton Coon’s “Races of Europe”, one can see that all of them show that the Russians are not marginally European at all, but are ordinary Europeans most similar to Poles, though also to other Europeans, such as the Germans, and very dissimilar to Central or East Asians. The actual Eurasians are, for instance, the Kazan Tatars (a highly complex Finno-Ugric, Turkic, Indo-European, and Mongolian background).

  10. Ahumocles,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I think we are disagreeing over relatively minor parts, as I largely agree with your comment.

    I think there’s a limit of how much we can get from this visual analysis of the PCA chart. It appears, from the image, that the Polish-Russian difference appears similar to the Belgian-British difference. The difference being, of course, that the Russian cluster is farther away from everyone else, at one extreme end of the first extracted component.

    From the original article, it should be possible to calculate actual effect sizes and errors between the groups.

    I’m not sure what “It means that there is no isolated Polish outlier which would be very distant genetically from the bulk of the Russian population” means. Certainly a discriminant function analysis would predict Polish or Russian group membership, with some error of course.

    It would be interesting to include other Eurasian groups in the same, and see if the outliers you are indicating represent simple overlap between European population, or rather introregression of other Eurasian signals into Europe through Russia.

    To say Russians are marginally European is trivially true, as they are at an extreme end of the first Principal Component. They are literally ‘at the margin,’ and an analysis that favors lack of false-positives over lack of false-negatives might begin by tightening the Component 1 criteria for prediction of European group membership.

  11. Most of you guys need to learn what PCAs are, how they’re constructed, and what they actually show. I would also recommend that you read the full article.

    The PCA above just shows the relative relationship between the groups on there in terms of the two major trends (out of more than 100), and the specific 300K markers chosen. It doesn’t show the absolute genetic relationship, not by a long shot.

    If we had Finns and Italians represented, for example, the positions of all the samples would change completely. The whole thing would most likely look more like the PCAs from Lao et al. 2008 and Novembre et al. 2008.

    You can read more about this study, and others, on my blog.

  12. Davide,

    Thanks for the comment.

    The PCA above just shows the relative relationship between the groups on there in terms of the two major trends (out of more than 100), and the specific 300K markers chosen. It doesn’t show the absolute genetic relationship, not by a long shot.

    The principal components extracted are the first and second PC’s, yes? This is worlds apart from merely saying that 2 of the hundreds of extracted PCs show a trend.

    I am not sure why exploratory factor analysis (which could have removed error variance, and thus is much more interpretable) was not used.

    My university’s copy of EJHG has a six-month embargo. If you have the original pdf, you can email me a copy to, if you want. I would be appreciated!

  13. By that logic OP, Fins are from another planet

    Russians are slavs, and have genetics extremely close to north slavs

    Besides, the only way this map would be valid is if every European peoples (other slavs, baltics etc) as well as the peoples bordering europe (palestinians, anatolians, central asians, north africans, iceland and greenlanders etc) were included, as it stands, map shows a western-eastern split and that Russia is not synonymous with western europe which would be obvious geographically anyways

    Map actually implies that western europeans = ALL europeans

  14. That they are “only marginally European” is one ridiculous conclusion. No Asian ethnic groups (e.g. Han Chinese) are included as controls, and thus there really is no indication about the scale of the diagram —- they might actually be arbitrarily close to each other, but the diagram is zoomed in.
    If Russians are “marginally European”, then so are the Poles, Czechs and all other Norther Slavs. And even more marginal are Italians, Finns and Spaniards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *