By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone, AP News reported. On the call, Biden pressed Putin about Russia’s involvement in a cyber attack on American infrastructure and the arrest of a political figure of Putin’s opposition.
According to AP News, President Biden’s first phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Biden took office involved some tough questions. “According to the White House, Biden raised concerns about the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Russia’s alleged involvement in a massive cyber espionage campaign, and reports of Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan,” the article said.
“The Kremlin, meanwhile, focused on Putin’s response to Biden’s proposal to extend the last remaining U.S.-Russia arms control treaty.”
The article suggested that Russia and the United States will, for now, be guided by “a desire to do no harm but also no urgency to repair existing damage.” The 21st century will add another eventful page to Russia’s colorful history, which includes a daring declaration of independence from Mongol rule in 1480.
The End of Mongol Rule
In a lecture for The Great Courses, Dr. Lynne Ann Hartnett, Associate Professor of History at Villanova University, explained that centuries ago, the Mongols ruled Russia. Local princes in Moscow—then a small town—curried favor with the Mongol Khans and earned exclusive rights to collect taxes on their behalf. This led to Moscow thriving and expanding rapidly.
“Timing is everything; the fortunes of the Muscovite princes rose just when those of the Mongols began to decline,” Dr. Hartnett said. “Prince Dmitry of Moscow (who ruled 1359-1389) consolidated his rule over neighboring rivals as succession crises were tearing at the heart of the Mongol Empire.
“Dmitry stopped making regular tribute payments to the Khans, and when the Mongols sent a force to Moscow to teach the upstart prince a lesson, Dmitry won a surprising victory in 1380.”
Dr. Hartnett said that Dmitry’s victory was so momentous that he was lauded as a national hero. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t live to see Russia declare independence. That wouldn’t come for another century.
A Weak Spot in the Armor
The Mongols returned and sacked Moscow two years after Dmitry’s victory, but his initial win helped the Russian populace realize that the Mongols weren’t invincible. One of his heirs, Ivan III, established Russian independence a century after the fateful battle. With it came purpose and a large sense of responsibility.
“The Byzantine Empire had fallen to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453, and Russia was now the only independent Orthodox dominion in the world,” Dr. Hartnett said. “This fed Ivan’s sense of having an imperial destiny and a holy mission. And over time, Ivan and his heirs increasingly believed that Russia was more than just a state: They believed it was a great Christian empire.”
Many nations have felt a national and divine imperative to spread their culture beyond their borders, so it’s no surprise that Russia, aware of the great cities of Rome and Constantinople, saw similar potential for itself. Dr. Hartnett said that this glorious past and imperial agenda is what attracted Vladimir Putin when he accepted power from Boris Yeltsin.
This article contains material taught by Dr. Lynne Ann Hartnett for her course Understanding Russia: A Cultural History. Dr. Hartnett is an Associate Professor of History at Villanova University. She earned her PhD in Russian History at Boston College.