KYIV — Ukrainians would like to rename Russia — and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is interested in the idea.
A petition has been circulated urging the Ukrainian government to officially change Russia’s name to “Muscovy,” a term which originated in the 13th century and referred to large swathes of modern-day northwestern Russia.
The move is part of a Ukrainian push to diminish what the Russians claim as their historic origin story. Senior Russian officials have already slammed the plan and criticized it as being a provocation.
The recent row has its roots in a historical dispute over whether Russia or Ukraine can claim to be the legitimate successor of Kyivan Rus — the first state of the Eastern Slavs, which converted to Christianity.
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Zelenskyy responded to the petition by saying the issue needs careful historical and cultural consideration with regard to possible international legal consequences — but didn’t rule it out.
“Taking into account the above, I appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine a request for its comprehensive processing, in particular with involvement [of] scientific institutions, and informing me and the author of the petition about the results,” Zelenskyy said.
Valeriya Shakhvorostova, the petition’s author, said the name change is justified as it will destroy Russia’s false narratives about common ancestry with Ukraine, as well as its encroachment on the history of Kyivan Rus.
“For foreigners, the names ‘Rus’ (as Kyivan Rus was marked on the ancient maps) and ‘Russia,’ ‘Russie,’ and ‘Russland’ look almost identical, as if it is the name of one state that has undergone certain changes over time and […] translations into different languages,” Shakhvorostova wrote in the petition to Zelenskyy.
“This leads to confusion at the international level. Fiction books are being written, films are being shot where Russia is presented as Rus, which is unacceptable,” she added.
Renaming the country would strike at the heart of Russia’s cultural tradition and vision of history, Shakhvorostova added.
Peter the Great renamed the Moscow Kingdom or “Muscovy” as the Russian Empire in 1721. With his war-time victory over Sweden, Peter annexed huge parts of today’s Ukrainian territory and took historical artifacts to Russia from Kyiv. But some current Russian historians deny that, saying Czar Ivan Grozny (also known as Ivan the Terrible) renamed the Moscow Kingdom as the Rus Kingdom in the 16th century.
Whether it gets the go-ahead or not, the Kremlin was incensed by the Ukrainian move.
“That is another evidence of the attempt to create ‘anti-Russia’ from Ukraine,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.