On the eve of the invasion, Putin gave a remarkable history lesson in an hour-long speech, claiming that Ukraine was not an independent State at all, but an artifact of the Soviets.
Until the 17th century, he falsely claimed, there had lived people who called themselves Russians. Only Lenin and Stalin created today’s Ukraine by assigning to them lands, especially in the east, which were in fact Russian.
The truth is, that in 862 AD Slavs went to Sweden and requested princes who would rule over them. This resulted in the Kievan Rus, the Land of the Rus.
Putin does not like to hear this, but the chronicler Nestor, a monk in the cave monastery of Kiev in 862, described the goings-on of his Slavic ancestors as follows: „There was no justice among them, and tribe rose against tribe, and strife was among them, and they began to fight even one another. Finally they said among themselves, ‚Let us seek a prince to rule us and judge us righteously.‘ Then they went across the sea to the Varangians, to the Rus.“
His is still our most important source for the emergence of the Kievan Empire, the so-called Rus. In his „Nestor Chronicle“ written around 862, Nestor says that a delegation of Slavs and Finns came to the Varangian chieftain Hrørikr (famous ruler), whom they called „Rurik“ or „Rjurik“.
Their united appearance obviously impressed the notoriously quarreling tribes of Northern Russia. „Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us as princes,“ Nestor claims. „And three brothers were chosen together with their clans, and they took with them all Rus and came here. The eldest, Rurik, settled in Novgorod, the other, Sineus, in Bjelo-Osero, and the third, Truwor, in Isborsk. And after these Varangians the Russian land was named.“
We know that subsequently the north of the country was populated by Slavic, Finnish and Estonian tribes in the 9th century AD. Around 820, Germanic warriors and traders called Vaeringjar (followers) or Varangians arrived from southern Sweden and from the island of Gotland. They formed a part of the general Norman expansion that extended to the Mediterranean through the Russian river systems of the Duna, Dnjepr und volga to the Black Sea and hence to Constantinopel, which they called Miklagard, which means “Great City”.
From Sweden they chose the eastern route (austrvegr) to Russia and established a flourishing trade here. From the locals they collected interest in kind – „a squirrel skin from any hearth“, as Nestor reports. The Varangians already knew the inner Russian rivers as a trade route to the Byzantine Empire and thus to the Orient.
This early medieval empire, the „Kievan Rus“, which stretched from the Baltic to the Crimean peninsula, was ruled by a Germanic noble, merchant and warrior class. According to most linguists, the name „Rus“ is the Slavic transposition of the Slavic word „ruotsi“. This is how they referred to their neighbors to the west, the Swedes.
Of course, all this was considered anathema by the early Soviets. Stalin had university teachers who dared to mention Nestor, sent to the Gulag. And Putin, as good a Stalinist as it gets, totally agrees. He is on a crusade to right a great historical wrong – a wrong that can be traced back more than a century.
Ukraine, he said in his long, rambling, and highly emotional speech had previously been populated largely by Russians who felt Russian. By creating ethnically separate republics on Russian territory, the founders of the Soviet Union separated Russians from one another, setting off a time bomb that exploded after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.
It is this confused and confusing worldview that drives Putin today and gives him the self-legitimization to launch the largest war of aggression in post-war European history. Yes, Putin’s actions are those of a madman – but his madness has historical method. It would not be the first time that an autocrat tries to rewrite history in his own name.