An incongruous claim I

President Putin said this during the Valdai club meeting about ten days ago:

Perhaps you are not aware that in 1922, part of the land that you just named, land that historically always bore the name of Novorossiya… Why this name? This was because there was essentially a single region with its centre at Novorossiisk, and that was how it came to be called Novorossiya. This land included Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolayev, Kherson and Odessa Region. In 1921-22, when the Soviet Union was formed, this territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine.

I’ll focus on this part first: “there was essentially a single region with its centre at Novorossiisk, and that was how it came to be called Novorossiya”. It sounds like, “That state had Kansas City as its capital, and that’s how it came to be called Kansas.” Of course Kansas City has never been the capital of Kansas and most of Kansas City as actually in Missouri. The state was so called after the Kansas river.

Likewise, Novorossiysk, the Russian port on the Black Sea, was founded in 1838, by which time the term Novorossiya had been in use for 80 year or longer: the first Novorossiyskaya governorate existed in 1764-83. The city of Novorossiysk was never the capital of Novorossiya. It was not even part of the region as originally defined, although it could be considered part of an enlarged New Russia settlement area at the turn of the 20th century.

Perhaps Putin was referring to Dnepropetrovsk, founded as Ekaterinoslav in 1776. It was called Novorossiysk and served as the principal city of the second Novorossiyskaya governorate in 1796-1802. But it was named after Novorossiya, not the other way round. Anyway, it’s rather unlikely that Putin was referring to that Ukrainian city rather than the Russian Black Sea port.

By the way, it should be easy to see why Ekaterinoslav was renamed twice within a decade: Paul I, who inherited the throne in 1796, was not much fond of his mother, Catherine the Great (Ekaterina in Russian) and was only happy to remove her name from the map of his domains when and where possible. His eldest son Alexander I was, in contrast, a big fan of his grandma. In 1801, Alexander inspired the palace coup that ended in Paul’s violent death. Predictably, Novorossiysk became Ekaterinoslav again in 1802.


  1. Ah yes, Paul I. Built the Engineers’ Castle to keep would-be assassins out and was murdered by people he’d let in mere weeks after the house-warming.

    I thought of this when I read of Beria’s downfall, the parallel being somebody who ascended to the throne only to be deposed a short time later (in Beria’s case, outflanked by the unlikely but wily Khrushchev) and summarily shot.

    I don’t think it is too far-fetched to see Sechin, or another groomed Putin lackey, lasting mere weeks in the job once Putin either walks out or is carried out of the Kremlin. Russia has form in this area.

    • That’s one reason why people close to Putin say “no Putin, no Russia” – they don’t want to end up like Beria, not even like Malenkov and Molotov. But Beria was also feared by everyone so Khruschev had no problem recruiting allies.

      Paul ruled for 4.5 years, not that little, but much less than his mother and either of his august sons, Alexander and Nicholas. Paul spent years fearing for his life and freedom, since he thought his mother Catherine was planning to kill or imprison him. He was horribly unlucky: his paternal grandmother, Peter’s daughter Anna, died giving birth to him; his father was killed by a lover of his mother’s; he would be killed by the elder brother of his mother’s last lover.

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