The history of Kyivan (Kievan) Rus′, the medieval East Slavic state that existed between the tenth and thirteenth centuries and extended from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea in the south, and from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Volga River in the east, has remained at the center of Russia's search for identity ever since the emergence of historical studies as a scholarly discipline in the Russian Empire. In fact, the first historiographic debate in the empire, which took place in the 1740s and pitted one of the founders of historical studies in Russia, G. F. Müller, against Russia's preeminent scientist and linguist, Mikhail Lomonosov, focused on Kyivan Rus′ history. At the core of that debate, which subsequently became known as the “Varangian Controversy,” was the question of whether the first Kyivan princes and the state they created were Germanic (Varangian) or “Russian” (East Slavic). The debate has now been going on for more than two centuries, gaining new impetus in the years of World War II and the Cold War, and turning on the definition of Russian identity and that of other Eastern Slavs vis-à-vis the West.
With the rise of the Ukrainian movement in the Russian Empire in the 1840s, the history of Kyivan Rus′ turned into a battleground between followers and opponents of the Slavist Mikhail Pogodin.