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Russia’s submission to China

Putin’s homage to Xi Jing Pi

Frederick Lauritzen

10th November 2023


Putin claims Russia is a vassal state to China. He said on the 4th November 2023:


“After all, he [Alexander Nevsky] went to the Horde, bowed to the Horde khans, received a label to reign, including, and above all, in order to effectively resist the invasion from the West. Because the Horde behaved arrogantly, cruelly, but they did not affect the main thing: our language, traditions, culture, which was claimed by the Western conquerors. […] He thought about saving the Russian people. Much the same thing is happening today.”[1]


Putin is presenting himself as a new Alexander Nevsky, Grand Prince of Kiev (1246–1263) and Grand Prince of Vladimir (1252–1263). He has submitted to China and therefore has preserved Russian culture, just as his predecessor had submitted to the Mongols. The resistance against the West refers to the fight of Alexander Nevsky against the Teutonic Knights and specifically to the battle of Lake Peipus (5th April 1242) during which the heavily armoured Prussian knights rode their horses over the frozen lake. The ice broke, they sank, drowned, and died. The scene was admirably depicted in the film “Alexander Nevsky” by Sergei Eiseinstein (1938). The film is part of the Soviet personality cult of Stalin. Putin is thus presenting himself as a new Stalin and Alexander Nevsky. This is not new.


The idea that the Golden Horde protected Russian culture is new and revolutionary. Putin claims the same is happening today. He is thus referring to China as the new power in Asia, as the Golden Horde, the Mongol Empire, had been in the thirteenth century.


A vassal is someone who has autonomy but not independence. Russia now, according to Putin, can define internal matters, but not foreign policy. He is not alone in this rose-coloured view of such medieval past. Pope Francis had referred to the Pax Mongolica during his visit to Mongolia on 4th September 2023.


The reality was not rosy. A near contemporary historian, subject of a Mongol kingdom, records the words of Gengis Khan, ruler of the Mongols: “The greatest enjoyment of a man is to overcome his enemies, drive them before him, snatch what they have, to see the people to whom they are dear with their faces bathed in tears, to ride their horses, to squeeze in his arms their daughters and women” (Rashid Ad Din Hamadani, Jāmiʿ al-tawārīkh).


Alexander Nevsky accepted a Mongol yarliq, a document of submission, in order to become Grand Duke of Vladimir in 1252. Putin’s claim that the situation is the same today would indicate that he has submitted to the Road and Belt Initiative and that China will define the economy and foreign policy of Russia. Putin will deal with internal matters such as culture. Putin’s visit to Beijing in October 2023 was not to be among equals, but to pay homage to his new ruler: Xi Jing Pi.


Russia is, in Putin’s words, a vassal state to China.


[1] The original in Russian: Ведь он [Александр Невский] ездил в Орду, кланялся ордынским ханам, получал ярлык на княжение в том числе и прежде всего для того, чтобы эффективно противостоять нашествию с Запада. Потому что ордынцы вели себя нагло, жестоко, но они не затрагивали главного: наш язык, традиции, культуру, на что претендовали западные завоеватели. <…> Он думал о том, чтобы сохранить русский народ. Во многом то же самое происходит и сегодня.

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