It has never existed "Russian” ethnic group, tribe, people or nation.
Moreover, according to Constantine Erusalimskiy, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor of the Department of Socio-Cultural Research at The Russian State Humanitarian University, a specialist in the field of medieval and modern eastern Europe history, of Cyrillic manuscripts and book industry’s history:
“By the end of the XVI century the phrase "Russian nation" is not found in any source, and from the end of the XVI century this phrase was used only outside the Moscow principality!”
How has it happened that there are people who call themselves “the Russians”, but such nation doesn’t exist? What's the matter?
It’s about religion.
Through reforms and not without ruse of Jaroslav Mudry, Kiev became the metropolis - the new capital of the Christian world. It is thanks to him the Christian Church with the centre in Kiev was called Russian, and all believers of the church were called Russians! Without having agreed with the Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1051 Jaroslav assembled bishops and appointed Hilarion as a metropolitan. And when in 1054 the Christian church split into the Orthodox Church centred in Constantinople and the Catholic Church with the centre in Rome, Kiev, in fact, became a separate Russian denomination with the centre in Kiev. And all the people of Kiev, Novgorod and Polotsk were named the Russians, but only by religion.
Moscow, being the Orthodox, rooted in the Assyrian Church of the East which set itself against the West, namely Rome.
For that reason Moscow left the Union of Florence in 1438, and in the same time left the Christian church, and anathematized all the Uniates.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, John III, with the active assistance of the Moscow Church, announced that after the fall of Constantinople the only Moscow could claim its inheritance, and therefore he called himself the heir to the Byzantine throne, and told to dignify Moscow as the Third Rome. In addition to the Constantinopole’s throne inheritance, John III claimed the throne of Kiev, which he determined to swallow together with the Russian Church.
It is for the reason that Moscow became, in fact, the Orthodox Caliphate, there wasn’t any place for national question in its doctrine. All was focused exclusively on religion. Therefore, it was impossible to think in ethnic categories in such political and religious Moscow culture.
And the people, the Moscow people ... Who are the people in the Moscow principality? All the people, without exception, belonged to the knyaz, it means that they were slaves of the knyaz. But it is known that the slaves have no nation.
However, the ethnonym “Russian nation” came into use in the Moscow principality, above all, from the Ukrainian cultural context of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the middle of XVII century which was the centre of Russian religion at that time. As I have already mentioned the term "Russian people" is much wider than ethnicity, because it included many different nations: Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians, Lithuanians – Baltics and Slavs, all those who were of the same faith, Russian faith.
The national issues were not raised in Moscow up to the reforms of Peter I. That’s why till the middle of the XVII century we can detect in the chronicles only such pseudo ethnic concepts as "the Orthodox people", "the Christian people", "the Moscow Christians". Moscow's rulers of that time were not interested in people’s origin, nation, ethnic group, they were interested in people’s religion.
At the same time, as you can see, the spin doctors of that time experimented with the names, trying to bring a new exclusive name for Moscow people, emphasizing their religion – Orthodox. The first usage of the term "Russian" one can find in the works of Ukrainian educator Meletiy Smotritsky, who used it in relation to the people.
Also the term was mentioned by the knyaz Konstantin Ostrogsky. He was Kurbsky’s collaborator, who attracted to the work Moscow printer Ivan Fedorov. The knyaz Constantine Ostrogsky used the term "Russian" properly, he used it to describe the nations of Rzechpospolita, but not Moscow!
Until the XX century, in Muscovy, and then in Russia the term "Russian" wasn’t used as the name of the titular nation. Moreover, in Muscovy the term "Russian" appeared only in the second half of the XVII century and is due to the fact that the Ukrainian booklore began to penetrate Moscow.
The Russians didn’t become Russians even during the times of Peter I. There is the confirmation in a quote by Field Marshal Boris Sheremetev’s report that was sent to Peter in the summer, 1703: "... Russian peasants are unpleasant to us, a lot of refugees from Novgorod, and Valdai, and Pskov, and they are kinder to the Swedes than to us!"
What does it mean? It means that people of the Russian religion resisted the Moscow invaders! By the end of the XVII century the Russian Church in Kyiv had been completely absorbed, historical sources had been destroyed, books had been burned. Priests who refused to recognize the primacy of the Moscow Orthodox Church were executed.
Because of a huge amount of Russian religious people there was developed a new ideological formula that explained the absorption by the Russian Church: "The Russian means the Orthodox, the Orthodox means the Russian". These words had some logic, it was comfortable, and also any explanation was required.
At the beginning of the XIX century all the lands where people of Russian faith had lived were captured, a big problem faced Russia. The Russian Empire did not have any legal grounds to attack Europe at that moment!
The ideologists of the Third Rome understood that the fundamental idea of people’s religious division exhausted itself and there was a necessity to create something new. It was necessary to find something uniting, something that could cause the Just War.
And the idea of Pan-Slavism came into being. It was alike emerging at the same time the idea of Pan-Germanism.
Mikhail Pogodin was engaged in the development of the Pan-Slavism’s idea in Russia in the late 1830s. He put forward the following basic theses of the concept:
- The true faith of the Slavic world is Moscow Orthodoxy
- The primacy of Russia among the Slavs
- Unifying mission of mother-Russia
- • Russia is a defender of the Orthodox faith, the protector of all the Slavs
At the same time while it was implementing into Slavic peoples’ minds the idea that the Russians were "Russians", the titular nation of the Slavic world was imposing the statement on the Empire’s population that they were the exact "Russian".
It has to be said that the draft of the political union of the Slavs under the heel (supposedly protection) of the Russian Empire was being developed also in the XVIII-XIX centuries by Andrew Samborski, Vasily Malinovsky and was promoted as the Slavs release projects from the Ottoman, Austrian German rule and the creation of the Slavic federation. It was in the frames of the Russian Empire .
Around the middle of the XIX century, knowing that the Russian Church had been forgotten, a new object of propaganda became a myth "Holy Russia", and that’s why the idea of "Russian-ness" became popularized.
In parallel, more often it was raised the question of a just war of the Orthodox Caliphate for Constantinople, which was occupied by adherents of different faith. The term "Russian" settled down to the soldiers of the Empire during the numerous wars with Turkey, which were throughout the end of the XIX century.
After the fall of the Empire, the term "Russian" was picked up by the Bolsheviks. It became one of the most important features of the reference person, a man of higher caste. Perfect Bolshevik was a worker-proletarian, communist, and definitely the "Russian". Over time, the "Russian" became a household name again, and every citizen of the USSR could define himself as "Russian."
According to the idea of Pan-Slavism Russia lent helping hand suffering under the yoke of the Ottoman, Austrian and German peoples. The "Russians" (Bolshevik-proletarians) lent a hand to the oppressed people, and offered to come to their aid, to help to overthrow their government, and like they become a part of the largest in the history of mankind "prison of nations."