Staunton, Nov. 5 – Alexander Nevsky, the medieval Russian leader who allied with the Mongols to fight the Teutonic knights and the Roman Catholic Church, has always been controversial because he seemed at odds with the Orthodox Christianity and European ties of the Russians themselves. Indeed, his own brother opposed what he was doing for that reason.
But Alexander Nevsky has been a hero and his brother a traitor for most Russians because he won a victory and kept Russia from further integration with the West. Stalin used Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film as a means of mobilizing them, and now Vladimir Putin is doing something similar.
Instead of acknowledging the contradictory nature of what Nevsky did, Putin is celebrating it, arguing that by turning to the east even though it was not Christian, the medieval prince succeeded in defending Russia and the Russian traditions against the West and especially Western Christendom (publizist.ru/blogs/113970/47092/-russian.eurasianet.org/россия-путин-объяснил-почему-ходит-на-поклон-к-«восточным-ханам»).
Now, the current Kremlin leader, hopeful of exploiting the powerful image of Alexander Nevsky, says he and his government are doing the same thing by turning to the east and especially to China, a shift that will help Russia repel and then defeat the West as the sainted Russian prince’s alliance with the Mongols did so many centuries ago.
Putin’s attempt to present himself as the continuer of Nevsky’s strategy is intriguing because it suggests that there is an undercurrent of concern among Russians that the current turn to China represents a threat to Russia and its traditions and that the current Kremlin leader feels compelled to invoke Nevsky to counter such worries.