The Lost Kingdom:
The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation
By Serhii Plokhy
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Given the events of 2022, I would strongly recommend this 2017 book, which documents – with many interesting and instructive details – how Russia’s imperial myth has been constructed over many centuries, in particular the last 200 years. It highlights, for example, how Russian and Soviet history books taught successive generations to look down on neighbors like Ukraine. For those who are wondering how the invasion of Ukraine became possible, and how to end Russian imperialism, Plokhy’s book offers evidence-based answers.
IN THE VERY HEART OF Moscow, ACROSS THE SQUARE FROM THE Borovitsky Gate of the Kremlin, stands one of the tallest monuments in the Russian capital. The statue of a man in medieval garb, with a cross in one hand and a saber in the other, is eighteen meters high. The man is Prince Vladimir, as he is known today to the citizens of Russia, or Volodimer, as he was called by medieval chroniclers. He ruled from 980 to 1015 in the city of Kyiv (Kiev), where he is known today as Volodymyr, and left a lasting legacy by accepting the Christian religion for himself and his realm—the medieval state of Kyivan Rus’, which included vast territories extending from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Volga River in the east.
Many in Moscow believe that the impulse to erect the monument—whose height and central location make it more prominent than the one to Prince Yurii Dolgoruky, who is alleged to have founded Moscow in 1147—was based on a desire to glorify none other than St. Volodymyr’s namesake, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. After all, it was Archimandrite Tikhon, rumored to be Putin’s confessor, who headed the committee that chose the winner of the hastily organized competition. Moreover, the site chosen for the monument was in a historical zone protected by UNESCO and thus required a special permit from the Moscow City Council, which could be obtained only with the blessing of the Russian president.
But the real or imagined connection between Prince Volodymyr and President Vladimir Putin offers only part of the explanation for the importance of the monument and the reasons for its erection in the heart of Moscow. More than anything else the monument symbolizes the Russian claim for Kyivan heritage and underlines the importance of Kyivan Rus’ for the historical identity of contemporary Russia. Otherwise, what would a monument to a prince of Kyiv, the capital of the neighboring state of Ukraine, be doing in such a coveted space in the heart of the Russian capital? The timing and circumstances of the monument’s construction further stress the importance of Ukrainian themes in Russian history and politics. The first stone in its foundation was laid in 2015, soon after the Russian annexation of the Crimea, and was taken from that peninsula in the middle of the Russo-Ukrainian war. It was brought to the Russian capital from the site of the Byzantine city of Chersonesus, the legendary place of the baptism of Prince Volodymyr in 988.
The monument was officially unveiled on November 4, 2016—the Day of National Unity, a statutory holiday in Russia—by Vladimir Putin himself. The Russian president delivered a speech in the presence of the head of the Russian government, Dmitrii Medvedev, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the widow of Russia’s most celebrated national writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Vladimir Putin praised Prince Volodymyr as a “gatherer and protector of the Russian lands and a prescient statesman who laid the foundations of a strong, united, centralized state, resulting in the union of one great family of equal peoples, languages, cultures, and religions.” Putin pointed out that the prince’s choice of Christianity “became the joint spiritual source for the peoples of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, laying the foundations of the morals and values that define our life even to the present day.”
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