I do not know how you came to power and what happened to your predecessor: If he ran away from the country, was killed during a riot or is in jail, waiting for the court hearings. I do not know if you control the territory up to Volga, Ural or the Pacific Ocean and if there is a civil war going on in Russia. I very much hope that the last empire in Europe will break down in a peaceful way as it was with the Soviet Union. However, the actions of your predecessor leave little chance for that, and it means that we will all have to see a lot of blood.
The war initiated by him will be tragic for my country and fatal for yours. But, afterwards you will have a chance to build a completely new Russia. To do so, you have to avoid the mistakes your predecessor made. As a former communist, he did not believe in God, he believed in “economic interests.” As a former KGB serviceman, he did not believe in people, he believed in “global conspiracies.” These and many other things were his mistakes. As a historian, I would like to warn you against repeating those mistakes.
1. History is made by people, not secret services, and people are led by ideas, not economy.
2. There has never existed any “single Old Russian nation.” The same is actually true about Old Ukrainian or Old Belorussian nations. For the 250 years of living together in the relatively united Kyiv state, from Prophetic Prince Oleg to Mstyslav the Great, the annalistic tribes remained what they were: Polanes and Slovens, Kryvychi and Viatychi, Ulychi and Radymychi.
3. Formation of the modern Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian nations started, as everywhere else in Europe, in the XVII century. Their ethnic basis consisted of very different Eastern-Slavic tribes, often mixed with representatives of other nations. For Russians, these were Finno-Ugric peoples and Tatars; for Ukrainians – Tatars, Poles and Jews; for Belarusians – Poles, Jews and Lithuanians.
4. What was later to become Russia emerged in the end of the XV century as the last settlement of the Golden Horde. As the successor to the Sarai, Moscow began its advance to the East – towards restoring Genghis Khan’s legacy and establishing the order that he was trying to create in the world. According to this order, an individual is always subordinated to the interests of the state, and the state – to the interests of war.
5. Consequently, the idea of the “Third Rome” emerged in Muscovy, which would define the other vector of its expansion: to the southeast, the eternal fight for the Black Sea straits, which only seemed to make sense then. The campaigns of Vasily Galitzine and Grigory Potemkin, the Pruth River catastrophe of Peter the Great, and the tragedy at the Shipka Pass, the end of the union with Adolf Hitler and beginning of the Cold War – these were the consequences of a centuries-long longing for the shrines of Constantinople and Jerusalem.
6. In the XIX century, the Pan-Slavic idea begins to motivate Russia. As with the Aryan idea that inspired the Third Reich, it was based on equaling an existing historic linguistic affinity with a mythical racial union in the present. Ironically, the ideological denial of the Orthodox union in favor of the racial union was one of the factors stimulating the development of the Ukrainian national identity.
7. In the ХХ century, the ruined empire was united because of an attractive communist dream and the brutal Bolshevist terror. This dream opened for Moscow the way to world domination, and the terror provided enough obedient cannon fodder for it. And only the encounter with another crazy obsession – Nazi – stopped the Soviet expansion in the middle of Europe.
8. In the beginning of the ХХI century, your predecessor, trying to reverse the course of history and reunite the Russian Empire in its former borders, employed all the ideas that inspired its rulers. But the surreal hybrid of “Orthodox Communist Pan-Slavic Horde,” flavored with some Euro-Asian geopolitics, cannot survive when facing the real world. The ideological second hand good cannot propel history, though it can unfortunately drain it in blood.
In 1920, Gazi Mustafa Kemal, later called Atatürk, the “Father of Turks,” convinced the Turkish Parliament to adopt the National Covenant which transformed Turkey from the decaying Ottoman Empire and Islamic caliphate into a prospering nation state.
Again, Russia is to decide its future path. Yes, the problems of national attitudes and the historical tradition remain. Yet, at the end of the day, the modern Western world is just a reincarnation of the ancient world. And it was created by the same barbarians who destroyed the ancient Rome.
Five hundred years ago, the victors in your country were Horde ancestors whose genealogy goes back to the tyranny of Andrey Bogolyubsky. Yet Russia also knows a different tradition: the tradition of the medieval republics of Novgorod and Pskov. Going back to those models is your chance. Do not waste it.