(Economist) Andrei Zorin, a professor of Russian at the University of Oxford, explains how national mythologies foment conflict

Today, when Russia and Ukraine are on the brink of a major war, that idea of kinship may seem preposterous. Yet few conflicts are as deep and irreconcilable as family feuds. The omens are especially bad when one of the “brothers” believes in his natural right to be in charge of the whole family and the other is independent-minded and rebellious. Remember the Bible, where human history begins with a fratricide.

The family tensions between Russia and Ukraine are aggravated by a dispute over their heritage. Russia’s understanding of history idealises Kyiv as “the mother of all Russian cities”, and the source of Russia’s religion, culture, alphabet and a network of dynastic and military connections. The huge statue of the Kievan prince Vladimir, who baptised Old Rus, was erected in 2016 near the entrance to the Kremlin. If this claim on Kyiv’s past were to be renounced, not only would Russian history be shorter by at least a quarter of a millennium, but Russia would also, more importantly, be deprived of its European identity.

Russia’s historical narrative is to a large extent defined by miraculous transformations that turn even the most humiliating defeats into apocalyptic triumphs. The traditional stories of major Russian wars–be it against the Poles in the 17th century, the Swedes in the 18th, the French in the 19th or the Germans in the 20th–all follow the same pattern. After initial defeats that put the country on the brink of utter ruin, a strong leader mobilises the nation and imposes a devastating defeat on the enemy.

Mr Putin appears to be exploiting this tradition.

Read it all.


Posted in Foreign Relations, History, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine