Staunton, September 20 – By his incautious remarks about the absence of a state tradition in Kazakhstan and his invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has unintentionally called attention to and cast doubt on one of the most fundamental myths of the Russian state and people, that they descended from Kyiv rather than as is in fact the case from the Mongol horde.
Russians have long been accustomed to see their state tradition as extending from “Kievan Rus to Vladimir Rus to the yoke to Moscow Rus to the Russian Empire to the USSR and then to the Russian Federation,” Moscow commentator Vitaly Portnikov writes on Grani.ru.
And because of this widely accepted myth, he continues, Russians are not prepared to recognize that Kyiv “was one of the most important centers of the Grand Principality of Lithuania” and that however much Russians want to believe that Ukrainians were “invented by Austrians, Germans and other Jews in fact Ukrainians invented Russians.”
By his dismissive comments about Kazakhstan, Putin has brought Russia to “the moment of truth” when Russians must face up to their own involvement with and indeed formation by the Mongol horde and recognize that all the pretentions of the Moscow principles to land in Europe are “based on one single myth, the myth of Kievan Rus.”
Orthodox priests from the banks of the Dnepr promoted this myth, historians like Karamzin who himself sprang from a family with Mongol roots did so as well, and Muscovite rulers were all too willing to take it up to justify their claims to being part of Europe and having a right to subordinate Ukrainians and many others.
Not everyone accepted this myth immediately, Portnikov continues, but “by the beginning of the 20th century everyone in Russia already believed that Ukraine is Russia” and rejected the idea that Ukraine had an independent identity or existence. And then, Russians “tried to show Ukrainians they are Russians” and Ukrainians to “escape from this alien myth.”
When these Russian efforts failed and when Ukrainians recognized that they were their own people with their own goals, what did Moscow do? It invaded to seize parts of Ukraine which were never part of the Kievan Rus mythology: Crimea which had been a Muslim khanate and Novorossiya which had been a steppe.
And in doing so, Moscow made it too obvious to hide that where the population it had earlier moved into these regions ended so, too, did Russian influence. And the Kremlin compounded this by attacking what Russians had imagined as the center of Kievan Rus as “western agents” or worse.
In doing so, Putin and his regime showed themselves to be what they are: “fragments of the Horde” and not descendants of Kievan Rus. And as a result of the blood that has been shed in that cause, there is now a yawning gap between Russians and Ukrainians, one that will never allow the two peoples to see themselves as “brothers” or accept the Kievan Rus mythology.
They will thus “never again” see themselves “as a single whole in the civilizational sense.” And that, Portnikov says, “and on that in fact marks the final death of empire,” even if the descendants of the horde are being slow to recognize such an outcome.