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Russo-Polish Wars


RUSSO-POLISH WARS. From the 1480s to 1667 Muscovy fought a series of devastating wars along its western frontier, first with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Muscovy's wars with Lithuania had four principal causes: disputed claims over the right to collect tribute and taxes in border districts and competition for the fealty of influential Orthodox princes; the question of ecclesiastic jurisdiction over Lithuania's large Orthodox population; Muscovy's gradual absorption of the Republic of Novgorod; and involvement in the struggle between the Crimean Khanate and the Golden Horde over the Pontic Steppe.

The 1480s saw a series of border clashes between Lithuania and Muscovy, particularly along the Novgorod-Pskov front. The death of the Polish king and Lithuanian grand duke Casimir finally gave Muscovite Grand Prince Ivan III the opportunity to launch a major invasion of Lithuania (14921494). Casimir's successor was forced to renounce his claims to Novgorod, Pskov, and Tver' and to cement the peace by taking Ivan's daughter Elena in marriage. But the peace did not last. In the Second Muscovite-Lithuanian War (15001503) Muscovite armies seized about a third of Lithuaniamost of the former principalities of Chernigov (Chernihiv) and Novgorod-Seversk and about half of the Smolensk region. One crucial objective eluded Ivan III, however: the capture of the Lithuanian fortress of Smolensk, which commanded the roads and waterways to Moscow, Kiev, and Riga. Grand Prince Vasilii III therefore resumed the struggle for mastery of Smolensk in a Third Muscovite-Lithuanian war (15121522). Smolensk fell to Muscovite forces in 1514, but the war wound down in stalemate.

The Muscovites invaded Lithuania again in the second phase (15631571) of Tsar Ivan IV's Livonian War. Ivan's objective was to seize control of the entire course of the Western Dvina in order to blockade Riga into submission, but he also hoped to force King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland to cede him the rest of Livonia in exchange for his withdrawal from Lithuania. The Muscovite invasion instead had the effect of finally pushing the Lithuanian nobility into accepting Sigismund's proposal for the union of Lithuania and Poland in a Commonwealth (1569). Sigismund's successor Stephen Báthory drove the Muscovites from Livonia and Lithuania (15791580) and invaded northwestern Muscovy, forcing Ivan to cede Livonia to the Commonwealth and Sweden in exchange for an armistice (1582, 1583).

Polish-Lithuanian intervention in Russia's Time of Troubles initially took the form of private adventurism by magnates and border governors who perceived in the political upheaval an opportunity to recover some of the borderlands lost in 1503 and 1522. They abetted the two False Dmitriis (16031606, 16071610). After the defeat of the second, his Muscovite supporters and some powerful boyars decided to overthrow Tsar Vasilii Shuiskii and place King Sigismund III's son Władysław on the Russian throne. Shuiskii's overthrow in July 1610 permitted Polish forces to enter Moscow, but the resulting Polish military dictatorship provoked several Muscovite provincial governors and gentry leaders to join with Cossack elements in a national liberation army, which defeated the Poles in October 1612. Three months later Michael Fedorovich Romanov was proclaimed tsar. Eventually the Treaty of Deulino (1618) established an armistice in exchange for the return of Smolensk, Chernigov (Chernihiv), and Seversk to the Commonwealth.

Michael's government, intent on recovering these territories, invaded eastern Lithuania in 1632 with an army of 33,000 men. This war (16321634) marked the largest experiment to date with Russian troops in reorganized Western-style "new formation regiments" trained and officered by Swedish, Dutch, and English mercenary officers. Some twenty towns fell to the Russian army, but their long siege of Smolensk failed and their commanders were forced to sue for armistice in exchange for safe evacuation.

From the mid-1630s Ukrainian churchmen and Cossack leaders had pleaded for Russian support for their rebellion against the Commonwealth. Moscow held back until 1654, when Bohdan Khmelnytsky agreed to place the Zaporozhian Host and the territories it heldKiev and all Ukraine east of the Dnieperunder the tsar's protection. But the greater inducement to military intervention was the opportunity to recover Smolensk. The Treaty of Andrusovo, ending the Thirteen Years War (16541667), partitioned Ukraine along the Dnieper and restored the Smolensk region to Russia. This was the last great war fought between Russia and the Commonwealth, in large part because of the rising danger to both from the Ottoman Empire; the two signed an "eternal peace" in 1686.

See also Cossacks ; False Dmitrii, First ; Ivan III (Muscovy) ; Ivan IV, the "the Terrible" (Russia) ; Khmelnytsky, Bohdan ; Khmelnytsky Uprising ; Lithuania, Grand Duchy of, to 1569 ; Livonian War (15581583) ; Lublin, Union of (1569) ; Michael Romanov (Russia) ; Poland to 1569 ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Russia ; Sigismund II Augustus (Poland, Lithuania) ; Stephen Báthory (Poland) ; Time of Troubles (Russia) ; Ukraine ; Vasilii III (Muscovy) .


Fennell, John Lister Illingworth. Ivan the Great of Moscow. London, 1961.

Ignatev, A. V., ed. Istoriia vneshnei politiki Rossii, konets XVXVII vek: Ot sverzheniia ordynskogo iga do Severnoi voiny. Moscow, 1999.

Platonov, S. F. The Time of Troubles: A Historical Study of the Internal Crises and Social Struggle in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Muscovy. Translated by John T. Alexander. Lawrence, Kans., 1976.

Brian Davies

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