Ukraine’s policy of appointing foreigners to senior government positions has been one of the boldest and most controversial steps taken by the country’s post-Euromaidan authorities. Critics have slammed the trend as an insult to the Ukrainian nation, claiming that it implies a complete lack of suitably qualified local candidates. Supporters have tended to counter this argument by pointing to the strong performance of most foreign appointees, and the absence of corruption allegations surrounding them.
Kyiv Rus revisited
While the relative merits of recruiting foreign specialists into government remains the subject of heated debate, few have recognized the historical dimension of the issue. After all, if we are to believe the ancient chronicles, the entire Kyiv Rus state arose thanks to similar experiments in governance. According to ‘The Tale of Bygone Years’, which is widely acknowledged as the primary source of information on the origins of East Slav civilization, the foundations of the Kyiv Rus state lay in an invitation to foreign tribal leaders to take over the running of what was a naturally wealthy but chaotic region. “Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it,” recounts the chronicle. “Come to rule and reign over us.”
This ninth century appeal to a group of Scandinavians would eventually result in the creation of the Kyiv Rus state, which in turn became one of the mightiest powers in early medieval Europe. There are clearly question marks over the credibility of this account, given the fact that it appeared centuries later and was written to order for Kyiv princes who traced their ancestry directly to the Scandinavian recipients of the alleged invitation. Nevertheless, it remains the founding myth of East Slav civilization and the cornerstone of the heritage which modern Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia all lay claim to.
Mongol Muscovy and modern Russia
For centuries, mainstream histories in most countries unquestioningly accepted Moscow’s claims to be the sole heir of the Kyiv Rus state. However, there is little beyond Orthodox Christianity that the modern Russian state appears to share with ancient Rus. The political traditions in today’s Russian Federation and the long-standing Russian preference for authoritarian strongmen both point directly away from the Kyiv Rus inheritance and towards the legacy of the Mongol yoke, when Muscovy first rose to prominence by doing the bidding of the Khans. Indeed, Moscow did not appear on the map until the twilight years of the Kyiv Rus and played no role in the state’s heyday. Russia’s famously antagonistic and insecure attitude towards Europe is also at odds with the sophisticated continental diplomacy of the Kyiv Rus state, epitomized by Kyiv Prince Yaroslav the Wise’s marriage policies, which earned him the unofficial title ‘Father-in-Law of Europe’.
Ukraine's oldest political tradition?
The emergence of independent Ukraine over the past two and a half decades has sparked an ongoing battle with Russia over the Kyiv Rus legacy. Ukrainians accuse Russia of stealing their history, while Russians scoff contemptuously at Ukrainian pretentions. Like all historical controversies, this one has no definitive answer. Even so, Ukraine’s claim to be the heir to the ancient Rus state has very real contemporary political resonance because it provides the Ukrainian nation with a thousand-year inheritance that flatly contradicts Kremlin attempts to portray it as an ‘artificial nation’ with no history of its own. This is something opponents of Ukraine’s current crop of foreign-born ministers and state officials might want to bear in mind. Far from being a shameful departure from political norms or an indication of Ukraine’s inability to govern itself, the decision to recruit international experts is actually very much in line with the oldest traditions of Ukrainian statecraft.