- Russian President Vladimir Putin said an old map proves Ukraine isn't a real country.
- But the document in fact shows the area near Kyiv labeled as "Ukraine."
- Putin has cited his much-criticized belief Ukraine isn't a real country in justifying Russia's invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday cited a 17th-Century map of Europe to back his discredited thesis that Ukraine isn't a real country, a claim that he's used to justify Russia's unprovoked invasion.
But, even on the terms of Putin's thesis, there was a problem: the document clearly marks part of the territory as being "Ukraine."
In a meeting with the chairman of Russia's constitutional court, Valery Zorkin, the two pored over a map made by a 17th century cartographer for France's King Louis XIV.
The Kremlin published a video of the encounter, in which Putin and Zorkin hold the map up as proof that a Ukrainian nation is a historical fiction.
—max seddon (@maxseddon) May 23, 2023
The map Putin inspected appears to be a copy of one made in 1674 by French cartographer Hubert Jaillot, showing parts of eastern Europe and Asia, with cities and territories marked out.
Here is a screengrab from the Kremlin video, and underneath a clearer copy of the map from France's national library.
Putin seized on the map to back one of the core arguments he has made in support of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine — that it's not a real country and so should be incorporated into Russia.
"The Soviet government created Soviet Ukraine. This is well known to everyone. Until then, there was never any Ukraine in the history of humanity," Putin said.
In fact, the map does clearly show Ukraine. Below is a zoomed-in version of the section highlighted in red above.
The text translates to "Ukraine or land of the Cossaks", and sits next to the Dnipro river that runs through modern-day Ukraine. The capital Kyiv, spelled Kiow on the map, is also visible nearby.
Back then, what was to become Russia was known in parts of Europe as the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, while Polish nobles ruled large swaths of what is now Ukraine.
In a thesis published just before the 2022 invasion, Putin claimed that Ukrainians and Russians are "one people" who have been divided by conspiring foreigners, framing his invasion as a means to reunite them.
Historian Bjorn Alexander Düben, writing for the London School of Economics, said that in the 17th century, when the map was made, Ukraine had a distinct culture and language from Russia, and Cossack tribes were emerging who asserted their independence from Polish rulers and Moscow.
In 1790, the Russian empire absorbed much of what is now Ukraine. Ukraine briefly became independent after the 1917 Russian revolution, but was soon absorbed into the Soviet Union.
It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that Ukraine became an independent nation again, a development which Russia accepted at the time.
But "Ukrainian de facto political entities struggling for their autonomy or independence had existed long before that," Düben wrote.