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7 SUPERHERO warriors of Russian tales

Let’s explore the most famous heroes of Russian epic poetry.




Originally appeared on NICHOLAS KOTAR

Everywhere you look these days in the entertainment world, you see superheroes. And although we may (finally) be getting to a state of “superhero fatigue,” it won’t last long. The idea of the superman,  the perfect hero, has always fascinated people. In Russian culture, the role of the superman is played by the great warrior, the bogatyr.

My own novels play with the idea of the bogatyr as protector of the land. But rather than just having this superhuman guy beat up on bad guys all the time, I follow the old Russian models in exploring the failings, the humanness, of these superhuman warriors.

I’ve already written a bit about the historical models for three bogatyrs. Today, I found an article about the seven most famous heroes of Russian epic poetry (click the link for the original Russian article). As usual, at least some of the details I share with you will make their way into my novels.

Pretty much all Russians know the names of the famous “three warriors”—Ilya Muromets, Alesha Popovich, and Dobrynia Nikitich. But they weren’t the only ones. Let’s also explore some of their lesser known brethren.

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

Where did bogatyrs come from? The epic poems of their exploits, part of Russia’s rich oral tradition, were first written down in the 19th century. Before that, they were passed on, usually from grandfather to grandson. Each storyteller had his own version of the tales.

Generally, historians recognize two categories of these tales—the “elder” tales and the “younger” tales. The elder tales are ancient, belonging to the pre-Christian period. In these tales, the bogatyrs are basically gods, warriors, or even shape-shifters with superhuman strength.

The “younger” bogatyrs, though they are very strong, are human. Nearly all of them live in that half-legendary time of Kievan Rus when Prince Vladimir reigned (980-1015). This and many other details from the chronicles suggest that most of the events that became legendary did have their historical origins.

  1. Sviatogor—the Giant Warrior 

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

A terrifying giant, the oldest of the “young” bogatyrs, Sviatogor is as large as a mountain. In most of the tales, he has grown so huge that the earth can no longer hold him, and he lies half-buried, waiting for death. There are reasons to believe that Sviatogor is a Russianization of the Biblical Sampson, although it’s difficult to determine exactly what his origins are. His most important purpose in the stories is to pass on the ancient power of the “old” bogatyrs to the most popular representative of the new—Ilya Muromets.

In my new novel, The Garden in the Heart of the World, the warrior-giant comes alive in a race of warriors who belong to the old order of the world, the order of earth-magic. Essentially, they are the pagan holdovers in a land that is quickly learning to become monotheistic.

  1. Mikula Selianinovich 

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

We find him in two epic poems, one with Sviatogor, and another with Volga Sviatoslavich. Mikula is remarkable not so much for his strength as for his limitless endurance. He is the first peasant bogatyr, a great warrior-ploughman. His great endurance, together with Sviatogor’s titanic strength, indicate that their story probably came from old myths about the god of the earth and the patron-god of farmers. But if Sviatogor is a representative of the old, “mythic” world, Mikula is personification of the beauty of the farming lifestyle, into which he pours his considerable strength.

  1. Ilya Muromets

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

Ilya Muromets is the most important protector of the Russian land against enemies (most of whom were nomadic Asian tribes that harassed Rus for centuries). Although he is definitely a historical character, his story is still mythical. He sat paralyzed for thirty years, then received his power from Sviatogor directly. He captured Nightingale the Robber, then freed Chernigov from the Tatars. And that’s only the beginning of his story.

In addition to his physical strength, he has remarkably strong morals. He is calm, firm, simple, non-acquisitive, fatherly, restrained, generous, independent. Even so, he has a temper that sometimes gets the better of him. In one famous story, he gets angry at Prince Vladimir and retaliates by knocking the crosses off of St. Sophia Cathedral with an arrow. After a while, his character’s religiosity began to take center stage (maybe he felt the need to atone for knocking off the crosses from the cupola?) He did, eventually, become canonized as a monk-saint.

The probably history of Ilya Muromets is something like this. After many years of being a great warrior, he was seriously wounded. So he decided to change his sword of metal to a spiritual sword, and became a monk in the Kiev Caves Lavra. This is a traditional end for a Russian warrior—to live his days in battling physical enemies, but to end them in spiritual warfare.

This aspect of Ilya Muromets is something that fascinates me personally. My own “bogatyr” character in my novels, Voran son of Otchigen, follows that traditional trajectory from warrior to monk.

  1. Dobrynia Nikitich

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

He is the bogatyr with the lion’s heart. Even his name indicates his gentle heart. Though he has great physical strength, he “will never insult a fly,” he is “the protector of the widows and the orphans, and of all damsels in distress.” Dobrynia is also an artist at heart—he has a beautiful singing voice and plays the gusli (Russian harp). He is also one of the old noble-born bogatyrs, a model of the prince who is also master of the druzhina (warrior band). He also knows manners and etiquette very well.

  1. Alyosha Popovich

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

He’s often connected in the popular imagination with Ilya Muromets and Dobrynia Nikitich. He is, as it were, the youngest of the “young” bogatyrs, and so is not quite as much a superman as the rest of them. He is cunning, egotistical, and likes to make money for himself.

So, on the one hand, he is remarkably bold and courageous. On the other, he is proud, meddlesome, crude. He likes to provoke people and is easily angered. Ultimately, he becomes a slave of his shortcomings. In particular, if Dobrynia is a protector of women, Alyosha tends to take advantage of them, though he is never a particularly successful lover.

Of all the bogatyrs, he ends up the most pitiful.

  1. Mikhailo Potyk

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

One of the lesser known warriors, he fights the serpent of evil, the Biblical enemy of all mankind. Of all the bogatyrs, he is perhaps the only one that may be associated with hagiographic literature (there was a Bulgarian saint, Michael from Potuka, who was one of many warrior-saints to have battled a serpent and won).

He is a restless man, a wanderer and a pilgrim. It’s possible that his name was originally “potok,” which in the old Russian means “landless” or “nomadic.” In some ways he is an idealized pilgrim, an image that holds an important place in the Russian imagination. There is also a version of the tale written by Alexei Tolstoi that imagines Mikhailo as a time-traveling warrior.

In my own first novel, A Lamentation of Sirin, the Pilgrim-wanderer is almost an institution, someone who is given great honor when he visits. One of them ends up being much more than any of the other characters in my novel expect.

  1. Churila Plenkovich

7 Superhero Warriors of Russian Tales

He is a mercenary bogatyr. Other than the “elder” and “younger” bogatyrs, there’s another category of supermen that were “out-of-towners” or mercenaries. Churila is one of these. Their names always indicate the place they come from. In the case of Plenkovich, he comes from Surozh, on the Crimean Peninsula. Unlike nearly all other bogatyrs, Churila is a fop, an old Russian Don Juan. The tales describe him as having “skin like snow, eyes like a falcon’s, eyebrows black as sable.” To keep his complexion pleasingly pale, he actually has a servant following him around with a parasol, to protect him against the sun.

The famous Russian critic Vissarion Belinski noted that Churilo was the most “humane” of all the “young” bogatyrs, especially with respect to women. It seems he has dedicated his life to them. He never utters a single crude word or expression. On the contrary, he acts in some ways like the traditional knight of the Western troubadour tradition.

Women-storytellers preferred his tales to nearly all others.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch



While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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Even a Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’

Too many reputations and other interests are vested in the legend for it to vanish from American politics anytime soon.

Stephen Cohen



Authored by Stephen Cohen via The Nation:

Russiagate allegations that the Kremlin has a subversive hold over President Trump, and even put him in the White House, have poisoned American political life for almost three years. Among other afflictions, it has inspired an array of media malpractices, virtually criminalized anti–Cold War thinking about Russia, and distorted the priorities of the Democratic Party. And this leaves aside the woeful impact Russiagate has had in Moscow—on its policymakers’ perception of the US as a reliable partner on mutually vital strategic issues and on Russian democrats who once looked to the American political system as one to be emulated, a loss of “illusions” I previously reported.

Contrary to many expectations, even if the Mueller report, said to be impending, finds, as did a Senate committee recently, “no direct evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Russiagate allegations are unlikely to dissipate in the near future and certainly not before the 2020 presidential election.

There are several reasons this is so, foremost among them the following:

  1. The story of a “Kremlin puppet” in the White House is so fabulous and unprecedented it is certain to become a tenacious political legend, as have others in American history despite the absence of any supporting evidence.
  2. The careers of many previously semi-obscure Democratic members of Congress have been greatly enhanced—if that is the right word—by their aggressive promotion of Russiagate. (Think, for example, of the ubiquitous media coverage and cable-television appearances awarded to Representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Maxine Walters, and to Senators Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal.) If Mueller fails to report “collusion” of real political substance, these and other Russiagate zealots, as well as their supporters in the media, will need to reinterpret run-of-the-mill (and bipartisan) financial corruption and mundane “contacts with Russia” as somehow treasonous. (The financial-corruption convictions of Paul Manafort, Mueller’s single “big win” to date, did not charge “collusion” and had to do mainly with Ukraine, not Russia.) Having done so already, there is every reason to think Democrats will politicize these charges again, if only for the sake of their own careers. Witness, for example, the scores of summonses promised by Jerrold Nadler, the new Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
  3. Still worse, the top Democratic congressional leadership evidently has concluded that promoting the new Cold War, of which Russiagate has become an integral part, is a winning issue in 2020. How else to explain Nancy Pelosi’s proposal—subsequently endorsed by the equally unstatesmanlike Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and adopted—to invite the secretary general of NATO, a not-very-distinguished Norwegian politician named Jens Stoltenberg, to address a joint session of Congress? The honor was once bestowed on figures such as Winston Churchill and at the very least leaders of actual countries. Trump has reasonably questioned NATO’s mission and costs nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union disappeared, as did many Washington think tanks and pundits back in the 1990s. But for Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, there can be no such discussion, only valorization of NATO, even though the military alliance’s eastward expansion has brought the West to the brink of war with nuclear Russia. Anything Trump suggests must be opposed, regardless of the cost to US national security. Will the Democrats go to the country in 2020 as the party of investigations, subpoenas, Russophobia, and escalating cold war—and win?

Readers of my new book War With Russia?, which argues that there are no facts to support the foundational political allegations of Russiagate, may wonder how, then, Russiagate can continue to be such a major factor in our politics. As someone has recently pointed out, the Democrats and their media are now operating on the Liberty Valance principle: When the facts are murky or nonexistent, “print the legend.”

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Patriarch Bartholomew slaps down effort to solve Ukrainian Church crisis

Seraphim Hanisch



Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has a problem.

In October last year, by his order, two schismatic churches and their leaders were “rehabilitated” and the schismatic churches were combined and relaunched as a new national church, ostensibly for the people of Ukraine.

However, everything about this action was wrong.

The Patriarch attempted to reinterpret Church history and assumed the power to take over the situation in Ukraine, when Orthodox Christian ecclesiology says that no bishop (even a Patriarch) is permitted to impose his will outside his own See. Ukraine was not the territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, nor has it been for hundreds of years.

The people he lifted into power – Filaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich, both were formerly out of communion with canonical Orthodoxy, and Filaret is notable for having a terrible record with his priests, a common-law wife (forbidden for a bishop) and most notably, Filaret was also anathematized by the Russian Church for his actions.

Thirdly, the new church has yet to go on record with any statement at all about how its formation serves the will of God. This is because it cannot do so. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine exists as an ultranationalist thumb in the eye of Russia, even to the point some people in the new community said “now we have our own God. We don’t need the Russian God.”

This is a very bad sentiment because in the Orthodox Church there is only one God, and he does not pick between nations because of national identity.

To date, none of the other fourteen universally recognized Local Orthodox Churches has accepted the new Church and none of the local Churches are in communion with the OCU (Orthodox Church in Ukraine). Everyone who has said anything at all about this matter has rejected communion with schismatics, though a few monasteries on Athos did allow services with these people.

In essence, at this time the Patriarch has a new church on his back that no one wants but him. His statements that the other local Churches, namely Russia, will have no choice but to accept the OCU have not been proven right so far.

In fact, the pressure is running in the opposite direction.

Patriarch John X of Antioch, the oldest Christian Church in continuous existence, received a letter from Patriarch Bartholomew in response to the request by many leaders of local Churches to hold a pan-Orthodox discussion to resolve the dispute in Ukraine. According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, the letter amounted to a slap in the face, borne of Patriarch Bartholomew’s own petulance, arrogance, and pettiness (We have added emphasis):

In a letter to the Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Patriarch John X, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople declared that “he has good reasons” to refrain from a general Orthodox meeting on the Ukrainian church issue, reports the official website of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Bartholomew called the discussion of the religious situation in Ukraine “useless” and reminded the Primate of the Antiochian Church of his refusal to participate in the Crete Council of 2016, which Constantinople had been prepar[ing] for a long time.

“After the four Orthodox Churches, from a church and theological point of view without a reason, refused to be present at the Ecumenical Sacred Council, for which there are no excuses, and your ancient Church was one of them, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has good reasons to refrain from such a meeting at the pan-Orthodox a level that will be useless since it will only lead to the agreement that the participants will disagree with each other,” wrote the Patriarch of Constantinople.

According to him, the autocephalous nature of the OCU became a reward for the Church of Ukraine, and the Phanar returned “to the fold of the canonical Church” the members of the UOC KP and the UAOC who were “unfairly” outside it. At the same time, Patriarch Bartholomew assures that he returned the schismatics to the bosom of Orthodoxy exclusively “following church traditions and canons.”

In other words, the Patriarch appears to be digging in. This situation is entirely wrong according to Church canons. The Patriarch is acting as though he has jurisdiction over all other Orthodox Churches, which is a position remarkably similar to that perceived by the Bishop of Rome prior to the Great Schism of 1054 which split the Roman Catholic Church apart from the other ancient Orthodox Patriarchates.

The result of that split was a slow disintegration of Christian integrity in the Roman Church, the eventual development of Protestantism and the present result of a severely degraded form of Christianity in the West, where the law of God is not considered at all, and one can essentially believe or act however they want and find a “church” that will back them up, or they will start their own.

The current actions of the Ecumenical Patriarch have caused concerns, even fears, of a new split in the Orthodox Church, and with the present geopolitical climate being strongly anti-Russian, there is a lot of thought that the United States is influencing and encouraging the split in order to isolate both Russia and its Orthodox Church, which is the largest and strongest in the world at this time.

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