Herzen said that Nicholas I was “Genghis Khan with a telegraph”. As a continuation of this tradition, Stalin was compared to Genghis Khan with a telephone. Putin now carries the torch as spiritual successor to Genghis Khan.
The Mongol impact on Russian history is huge. Uncontroversially, the staggering devastation and massacre that the Mongol invaders brought to Russian lands were unprecedented. Russia, if not conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century, could have followed a similar path to that of the west. Instead, following the destruction of Kyiv, it was isolated from Europe for 250 years. While the ideas of freedom and justice were gaining strength in Europe, Russia was institutionalizing serfdom, which was another direct result of the Mongol rule.
Was this profound discontinuity in Russian history a tragedy, or something to celebrate? Historians fall into two main camps: Westernizers lament Russia's backwardness and wish it was more like Europe. Eurasianists argue that Russia owes a lot to the Mongol tradition, and in many ways Russia in its various historical incarnations (Imperial, Soviet, and now Putinist) is the spiritual successor of the Mongol Empire.
The Westernizer perspective is well known westerners by default. The Eurasianist position, however, is interesting and generative, and helps gain a better perspective on Russia's uniqueness and self-image.
Eurasianists celebrate the Mongol legacy
The Tatar-Mongols unified many Russian princedoms into a single country:
- Karamzin described the Mongol invasion as a “blessing” as it played a key role in unifying the Russian principalities.
- Verdansky refused the traditional view that modern Russia emerged from Kievan Rus. He emphasized the importance of the Mongol period, during which the vast Eurasian plain was united under a single rule
They isolated Russia from the ills of the West for 250 years:
- Tatars, by isolating Russia from the West, in fact protected it from the illnesses of Latin Europe. The invasion had devastating results in the beginning; however, the Russians learned to coexist with the Mongols in harmony and peace. From the invaders, they adopted positive features such as strength, courage, faith, and religiosity, all of which promoted the development of the Muscovite state.
- Vernadsky criticized the efforts of Peter the Great to westernize Russia, arguing that Peter distorted the Russian natural character and polarized Russia into a Western-oriented elite that stood in profound conflict with the Eurasian peasants
They extended the practice of serfdom in Russia, making the people more malleable.
- According to Vernadsky, one of the social impacts of the Mongol invasion was the creation of serfdom as an institution in Russia. The foundations of the relatively free Kievan Rus’ were destroyed during the Mongol rule
- (That said, Slavs were already often victims of serfdom at the hands of western conquerers, who would raid Slavic territories for slaves during the Middle Ages, see Late Middle Ages.)
They fostered Russian commerce with the east.
- The Mongols secured the commercial and cultural relations of Russia with the Orient.
Their rule quashed commoners ambitions for upward mobility.
- The Mongols, by crushing the town assemblies, destroyed the democratic balance. The power of princes grew steadily as their authority could not be questioned by democratic town assemblies
- The Mongols trained the Russian people to take orders, to pay taxes, and to supply soldiers when ordered by their masters. Carrying these obedient characteristics over into later centuries, the Russian people became excellent subjects for future Russian Tsars
- Trubetzkoi also argued that the important moment in Russian history was not the overthrow of the Yoke but rather the extension of Moscow’s power over a large part of the territory once under control of the Horde – in other words, the replacement of the Tatar Khan by the Muscovite Tsar
Isolation from the west strengthened Christian Orthodoxy
- Mongols also made an indirect contribution to the development and strengthening of orthodoxy in Russia by protecting weak and divided Russia from its more powerful enemies such as Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, as well as the “crusades” of the Teutonic Knights, who were determined to wipe out the Orthodox heresy
Russia borrowed administrative practices from the Mongols.
- Figes argued that the Mongols had a sophisticated system of administration and taxation, from which the Russian state would develop its own structures, and this is reflected in the Tatar origins of many words like dengi (деньги), kazna (казна),
Mostly cribbed from The Legacy of Genghis Khan - The Mongol Impact on Russian History, Politics, Economy, and Culture notes