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Peter and Friends:
An Examination of the Effect of Personal Relationships on Peter the Great’s Foreign Policy
From the launching of his Grand Embassy in 1697 to the end of his reign, Peter I of Russia had constant interaction, both diplomatic and military, with his neighbors to the West. These dealings would have a profound effect upon the course of Russian and European history, as they transformed Russia from a regional power to an Empire whose authority all of Europe had to acknowledge. This period is central to the historiographic debate about the nature of Russian expansionism. As John LeDonne notes in his Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, “it is almost an axiom…that Russia was always on the defensive, and the…vast empire…resulted from the need to secure protection against the encroachments of malevolent neighbors.”1 LeDonne, looking as far back as 1650 and as far forward as the Polish Revolt of 1830-31, convincingly argues the opposite, that the Empire was concerned with expansionism on its own accord. But what role does Peter, one of the most enigmatic figures of Western history, personally have in this debate? Although his period of expansionist activity makes up less than one sixth of the length of LeDonne‟s time of study, it was arguably the pivot point of Russia‟s policy. Was his expansionism largely accidental, or was it the result of careful planning? By answering this question about Peter specifically, one can hope to have a better answer to the larger question beyond his reign.
John P. LeDonne, The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831(Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1.
This paper argues that Peter was originally driven to action by entangling alliances and relationships on a highly personal level. He does not appear to have treated foreign conflicts any differently than the drama within the Russian court that dominated his childhood. It was these relationships, and not the idea of a “Grand Strategy” of Western expansion, that provided the impetus for Peter‟s first expeditions. However, by looking at those same interactions, one sees an evolution in Peter‟s strategy over the course of his reign. As the Great Northern War commenced and developed in its early stages, not only were his actions less personally motivated, but he also exploited his existing relationships to better fit a discrete policy of expansion, rather than having them force his hand. His dealings with Augustus II the Strong of Poland exemplify both his initial attitude and the effect of his change, and thus provide the primary focus of the paper. However, other figures, such as Johann Patkul of Livonia, are examined as well. While this progression could have been as much a result of the growth of Peter‟s maturity as it was of the growth of Peter‟s strategic vision, it nevertheless was a critical point in the evolution of Russian expansionism that provided a successful framework for his successors. Before examining Peter‟s relationships with foreign leaders, however, one must first examine both the geopolitical situation and the tumultuous succession conflict that he inherited at the beginning of his reign. Although he was proclaimed Tsar as early as 1682, he did not begin to rule until 1689, and did not rule alone until 1694.2 In this
Paul Bushkovitch, Peter the Great : The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725, New Studies in European History(Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 170.
twelve-year period, there was substantial military action taken by Russia against the Ottoman Empire, specifically the Crimean campaigns of 1687 and 1689. Thus, Peter did not inherit a tabula rasa of foreign policy and expansionism; he was already in the middle of a war with the Turks when he took power. Nor did he receive a clean slate within Russia: the 1680s featured constant infighting between the Narishkins, Peter‟s family, and the Miroslavskys, the supporters of his half-brother and co-Tsar, Ivan V. As a result, Peter survived his teenage years through alliances with powerful friends and family members. An example of a particularly peculiar alliance is that with Patrick Gordon, a Scottish mercenary who began to spend extensive time with Peter beginning in 1688. This relationship, the first of Peter‟s personal foreign alliances, in a manner of speaking, proved to be vital for Peter one year later. Gordon helped to erode the support among the foreign officers for the regent Sofia Alekseyevna. Without their backing, Sofia was forced to cede control to Peter.3 Through relationships like these, one can see that it was unlikely Peter saw military action as something distinct from personal alliances. Rather, in the early years of Peter‟s reign, his exploits within the army were somewhat of an outgrowth of his childhood pastimes. He not only transformed his “toy army,” for which Gordon provided soldiers, into two real guards regiments, but he also used them as a “reservoir of leaders for the rest of the reign.”4
Ibid., 156, 164-66. Ibid., 178-89.
Peter‟s apparently blurred view of the political, the martial, and the personal is crucial to an understanding of the first military action that he took during his reign, the Azov campaign of 1695-96. If one examines this expedition without its proper context, it appears to lack the personal motivation that I assert dominated his early reign: while taken in conjunction with the rest of the Holy League in the Grand Turkish War, the Azov campaign was Russian alone. It did not involve any relationships with foreign leaders. However, in the framework of extant conflicts, both foreign and within the state, an examination reveals the lack of Peter‟s strategic involvement with Azov. Peter wrote after the conflict that it was not his idea, and there are “no sources pointing to factions…having a foreign policy aspect. The many dissentions…seem all to be personal rivalries.”5 Thus, although Peter did lead the army south to Azov and may well have had a tactical hand in the campaign, it had nothing to do with his strategy. Rather, it was the first of many Russian foreign interventions in Peter‟s early reign that had more to do with personal alliances and infighting than any larger vision. But it was Peter‟s next action, the launching of the Grand Embassy, that most firmly solidified the role that personal relationships would play in his reign. The original impetus for the trip, whose participants included Peter, a handful of trusted advisors, and 250 others, was to find allies for further action against the Ottomans.6 The tour proved a failure in that respect, as England and other major Western powers were more interested
Ibid., 183. Paul Dukes, The Making of Russian Absolutism, 1613-1801, Longman History of Russia(London ; New York: Longman, 1982), 61.
in the upcoming War of the Spanish Succession. Peter‟s diplomacy, while steeped in the Russian tradition, was heavily based on personal appeals. It is admittedly unfair to criticize Peter for not using representatives to conduct diplomatic relations, as the Russian traditional diplomacy mentioned above was as ineffective as it was idiosyncratic and xenophobic. Foreign leaders and representatives detested working with Russian representatives, who had no authority and had to be warned not to “plunder and ruin houses” or “engage in violence.”7 However, the idea that Peter would directly converse with other foreign leaders to reach agreements is in keeping with the idea that he saw the courts of Europe as an extension of the Russian court. Just as personal relationships drove the action behind the throne of the Tsar, so could those relationships drive foreign alliances and treaties. Unfortunately, the powers of Europe did not see it Peter‟s way. However, the Grand Embassy remains a critical point in Peter‟s reign for two other reasons. The first is that it provided him with further motivation to westernize the country. But the more immediate effect was his interaction with Augustus II of Poland on the Embassy‟s travel back to Moscow, in Rawa Riga. Historiographically, Augustus, originally from Saxony, is one of the most maligned kings of Poland‟s history. Regardless of whether he deserves such a dubious distinction, this characterization has clouded the nature of his interaction with Peter. For instance, Louise B. Roberts opens an analysis of Peter the Great‟s Polish policies in this manner:
Avis Bohlen, "Changes in Russian Diplomacy under Peter the Great," Cahiers du Monde Russe et Soviétique 7, no. 3 (1966): 346.
During the reign of Augustus II. Poland suffered from the incapacity of a ruler who was unable to make himself either a leader or a master. When Peter the Great in the course of the creation of a European Power found Poland in his path, this fact intensified the difficulties of a country always subject to the paralysing influence of her constitution and the rivalry of families. Peter's method of dealing with the central link of the TurcoPolish-Swedish chain which stretched between Russia and the West is usually described as a "policy of influence." For such a policy, a man of Augustus' selfish greed, instability and recklessness was a perfect tool. 8 The idea that the relationship between Peter and Augustus was always as predatory as Roberts describes is heavily teleological: by the end of the 18th century, Russia was a Great Power and Poland was wiped off the map completely. But the end of the 17th century saw a very different situation: Augustus had gained the kingship after the death of John III Sobieski, an effective ruler whose victory in the 1683 Battle of Vienna helped to drive the Ottomans permanently out of central Europe. Russia‟s future dominance over Poland was by no means a certainty or even probable. Tellingly, Roberts provides convincing arguments of a predatory relationship between Peter and Augustus, but only includes specific examples after 1710, ignoring all events that transpired between Peter‟s and Augustus‟ first meeting and the Battle of Poltava. There is also the assertion that Peter orchestrated the election of Augustus in 1697. According to Andrzej Kaminski in his study of Russo-Polish relations from 1686 to 1697, many scholars take Peter‟s influence on the election, a surefire sign of Russia‟s influence in Poland, for granted.9 Kaminski asserts that this belief is false, and provides
Louise B. Roberts, "Peter the Great in Poland," The Slavonic Review 5, no. 15 (1927): 537. Andrzej Sulima Kaminski, Republic Vs. Autocracy : Poland-Lithuania and Russia, 1686-1697, Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies(Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by Harvard University Press for the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1993), 256.
more evidence that the late 17th century Peter was strongly influenced by his childhood experiences. In this case, it was a fear of all things Polish that prevented him from getting involved in the election, an oversight that Kaminski says “defies rational explanation.”10 This mistaken view on the part of Russian historians may also be explained by an overly teleological viewpoint: Peter may have eventually been skillful at foreign interactions, but he was certainly not at that juncture. When he finally did decide to get involved, it was in the form of an aggressive letter that disparaged the other candidates, and likely damaged Augustus‟ chances if anything.11 As a result, instead of examining Rawa Riga as a function of an influenced election that did not happen, or as a function of a diminished Polish state that had not happened yet, it is instead prudent to examine the situation as it was when the two contemporaries met in 1698. Augustus was in his 28th year, his fourth as Elector of Saxony, and his first as King of Poland. Peter was in his 26th year, his seventh exercising some rule over Russia, and his fourth exercising sole rule after the death of his mother. Augustus was known as “the Strong;” there are many (possibly apocryphal) stories about his feats of strength, such as one about his killing a bull with his bare hands on a 1688 visit to Spain.12 Peter was over six and a half feet tall, significantly taller than average today and nearly unheard of at the time.13 Many of the vices that historians point to as
Ibid., 263. Ibid., 267. 12 Tony Sharp, Pleasure and Ambition: The Life, Loves, and Wars of Augustus the Strong, 16701707(London: I.B. Tauris, 2001), 11. 13 Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, A History of Russia, 6th ed.(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 200.
Augustus‟ central faults were just as prevalent, if not more so, in Peter: both were known to have strong predilections for alcohol and women. Tony Sharp notes that they even shared a preference for a particularly vicious drink, Tokaj, a Hungarian wine.14 All of this suggests that, at the very least, the two rulers would have found much in common when they first met. And it is likely that they would have felt some sort of kinship as well. According to the sources at that time, this was indeed the case. A member of Peter‟s Grand Embassy said, “I cannot begin to describe to you the tenderness between the two sovereigns.”15 Sharp describes the interaction in detail: They behaved like a pair of regal lager louts. Having exhibited their prowess as drinkers and muscle-men, they turned their fuddled heads to future prospects, should peace with Turkey be forced upon them. The favored candidate for a thorough „duffing-up‟ was the Swedish Empire. This was simply random thuggery.16 The ensuing conflict, the genesis of which Sharp describes here as if it occurred on a playground, was the Great Northern War, a 21-year conflict that involved many of the major powers of northern Europe. Is it inappropriate to describe the War in such a way? At its beginning, certainly not. The metaphor of Augustus and Peter as ordinary bullies who attack simply because they enjoy it is a common one in the history of the period, and it is one that is likely more apt than those who use it realize. The evidence of their interactions shows that Peter
Sharp, 9. I. Grey, Peter the Great (London: 1962), 133, in Sharp, 163. 16 Sharp, 163.
perhaps did not see the wars of Europe as any different from his Toy Army that he had still played with less than a decade before the meeting with Augustus. An invasion of Sweden was completely and utterly tangential to Peter‟s immediate goals since he had gained full control of Russia. There is evidence that Peter wished to have a port on the Baltic eventually, but no sources exist that suggest he would take action before finishing the Ottoman conflict.17 Thus, the three-day meeting with Augustus at Rawa Riga, while not changing the entire scope of Peter‟s foreign policy, at the very least demonstrated its malleable potential. Moreover, given their shared interests, it was unlikely that there was a great deal of serious discussion. The initial decision to invade Sweden was one, from Peter‟s perspective, that was capricious in nature, and one that was born out of a friendship instead of a grand vision. He even went against the recommendations of his most trusted advisors, Franz Lefort and Boris Golitsyn, as well as nearly all of the boyars, who were uncomfortable with supporting a Polish king.18 Not only was Peter not acting predatorily in his alliances, but he was also the prey in a few cases in the buildup to the Northern War. There were undoubtedly great advantages for Russia in acquiring a Baltic port, as it would greatly increase trade with states in Northern Europe. However, access to the Black Sea would have been more advantageous. Augustus was in a similar position: he desired the Swedish possession of Livonia, but did not want it any more than other, similar states, such as Ducal Prussia,
Bushkovitch, 214-15 Ibid., 211
Moldavia, and Wallachia.19 Other states and persons, specifically Denmark and Johann Patkul, respectively, were the primary initial agitators of actions against Sweden, and wished to include Russia and Poland in their designs. After meeting with Augustus, Peter headed back to Russia to crush an uprising amongst the musketeers. In October 1698, two months after Rawa Riga, he met with Paul Heins, the Danish ambassador to Russia. At that point, Sweden was to Denmark what the Ottoman Empire was to Russia: the Danes saw Sweden as their primary target but knew they could not successfully attack without foreign support, ideally from two other fronts.20 This was Heins‟ objective when he and Peter met that month. Like seemingly all of the meetings in which Peter made important decisions, it was secretive but highly informal: they met overnight in Heins‟ home with only a translator accompanying them. Heins proposed the idea of a treaty against Sweden amongst Denmark, Poland, and Russia, to which Peter was receptive.21 Heins and Peter were able to keep the decision away from the boyars and the rest of Peter‟s advisors, and by late November 1699, not even Boris Golitsyn knew whether there was a treaty. But perhaps the greatest example of the way in which someone manipulated Peter on a personal level for their own ends was with Patkul. The degree to which he, a Livonian nobleman who wished to wrest control of the province away from the Swedes, was responsible for the war is debatable. At the time, he was considered to be one of the
Robert I. Frost, The Northern Wars : War, State, and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721, Modern Wars in Perspective(Harlow, England ; New York: Longman, 2000), 228. 20 Ibid. 21 Bushkovich, 216.
biggest, if not the biggest, agitatiors of the war. Sharp and Buskovitch agree with this assessment,2223 while Robert I. Frost sees him as a secondary player, an unreliable pawn of Denmark and Saxony.24 In any case, the effect that he had on Peter is astounding given their respective positions of power (or lack thereof). He, along with Heins and Georg Carl von Carlowitz, Saxony‟s envoy to Russia, led Peter along the path to war. But while Heins and Carlowitz had a King‟s power to buttress their agitations, Patkul had none, and his motivation to gain back Lavonia must have been plainly obvious to Peter. Because had a highly specific goal for the war, he wished to manipulate Peter to do only what was necessary: Patkul was heavily concerned about the prospect of Peter taking control of Livonia for himself, to the point that he advised Peter to start trading with Asia instead of going after a Baltic point. He even went as far as making a secret deal with Augustus that would make him the leader of Livonia after Poland had taken control of it.25 The idea that Peter would agree to listen to someone who had not only had no tangible power, but also whose motives were so obvious and against those of his own, shows his severe lack of forethought and overall strategy at the time. Granted, he did choose to invade Livonia despite Paktul‟s protestations, but his sound defeat at the hands of Charles XII demonstrated how unprepared the Russian army was at the time. At this point, after Peter‟s defeat at Narva, there is no evidence of a Russian Grand Strategy. Peter had been too motivated by personal relationships rather than the
Sharp, 155-172. Buskovitch, 216. 24 Frost, 228. 25 Sharp, 169
cold tactics and strategy necessary for an overarching plan. If there ever were one prior to the turn of the century, it doubtlessly involved access to the Black Sea, a plan that Peter abruptly abandoned when he allowed his newfound kinship with Augustus to set his sights on expansion into the Baltic. One might try to say that. at the very least, Peter‟s actions represent a desire to expand in general, without affinity to a particular area. But even that claim is dubious, as Peter inherited a Tsardom that was expanding on its own, more often out of decentralized actions and personal quibbles than of a particular strategy of expansion. Within the next ten years, this changed. By the midpoint of the Great Northern War, Peter‟s personal relationships with foreign leaders no longer unduly affected his strategic vision or his tactics. The course of the Russian Empire, while crucially influenced by its victory in the Battle of Poltava, was also altered by changes in the composition of its leader. In the second part of this paper, I will attempt to find the point or points at which these changes occurred, and contrast their effects with the way in which Peter led in the early years of his rule. It does not appear that Peter‟s change happened as a result of one particular incident. Most of the history written about a Grand Strategy places most of it after 1709, making it tempting to point to that year, and more specifically the Battle of Poltava, as the source of a turning point. However, as much as the Battle was a watershed moment in Russian and European History, that does not mean that a study of Peter‟s behavior should revolve around it. There two other critical incidents that demonstrate a distinct change in
Peter‟s outlook. The first is Peter‟s reaction after his lost at the first battle of Narva. The second is the 1703 Treaty of Warsaw as well as the whole of relations with Augustus during this period. This is not to say that a post-Poltava Peter is not worth examining – on the contrary, as it provides an observer with the transformation that Peter underwent. Narva is worth examining first, however. The defeat there was, as much as Peter and many contemporaries tried to play it off, jarring. The conventional wisdom of the time was that Russia was backwards, but in reality its army was not of a radically inferior composition.26 However, Peter needed to quickly reshape it to compete with Sweden. With all parties involved having underestimated the tactical genius that was Charles, Denmark and Poland were quickly put on the defensive as well. What Peter had at his advantage was that Charles was similarly motivated by personality. So convinced (and perhaps rightfully so) that Augustus the Strong could not be trusted in war or in peace, Charles declined to capitalize on his victory at Narva and instead invaded Poland with the express intent of bringing Augustus to justice. Perhaps the pre-Northern-War Peter would have fully gone to the aid of his ally. It is true that Peter did provide some amount of financial and military aid to Augustus,27 but his real focus was now building and westernizing the Russian state. Peter took advantage of the course of the war in Poland to strengthen his army, navy, and Baltic presence. The army started to develop the “Strategic Penetration” strategy in which
Frost, 231-35. Dukes, 64.
highly mobile armies could devastate opposing forces.28 He was now even heavily focused upon the more mundane aspects of governing that were still integral to the improvement for the army, as by 1701 he had become more deeply involved in the state‟s finances, even while he was traveling with the army.29 However, he still let his personal fondness for allies dictate his military policy. For instance, during this time, Alexander Menshikov started his rise to power. Menshikov had endeared himself to Peter on the Grand Embassy as a drinking companion.30 Crucially, the relationship with Augustus started to change as well. At this point, it is difficult to tell whether Peter‟s limited support for Augustus was born out of genuine help for him or as a tactic. Given the evidence, though, the manner in which and the degree to which Peter supported Augustus between 1701-1706 demonstrates a tactical approach. Firstly, it was of great advantage to Peter for Augustus not to be captured. Charles‟ invading Poland was an action singularly focused on the deposition of Augustus and the installation of another monarch thought to be more trustworthy. Said an English observer of Charles, “[h]e still continues in his dethroning humour, and I do not see who can hinder him.”31 Peter himself likely realized this, and saw that as long as Charles was forced to chase Augustus around Europe, the longer he would have to organize his army for the remainder of the conflict with Sweden. Thus, one must see any aid given to or agreements signed with Augustus in that light. The next formal agreement between the
LeDonne, 38. Bushkovitch, 227. 30 Ibid., 229. 31 F.M.A. de Voltaire, History of Charles XII: King of Sweden (London: 1912), 13, in Sharp, 184.
two leaders, the 1703 Treaty of Warsaw, is indicative of the shifting relationship while Augustus was on the run. Instead of signing a treaty that was equal to both sides, Peter took advantage of Augustus‟ precarious position to enforce conditions that would help Russia win the war. The most important aspect of the treaty was that Augustus would commit the whole of the Polish commonwealth to the Russian cause, and that the conflict would be fought on Polish soil. In return, Augustus would be given 12,000 Russian soldiers and 300,000 rubles annually expressly for the purpose of assembling a Saxon Army.32 The promises that Peter gained from the treaty were quite valuable, but perhaps more interesting was that which he gave up. Because all of the resources allocated to Augustus were for his army, one can assume that the signing of the treaty was intended to prolong Augustus‟ capture and dethronement. As a result, not only did Augustus‟ concessions provide a buttress against a possible Swedish invasion into Russia, but Peter‟s did as well. Peter‟s reforming of the army is usually what gets the most credit for his victory at Poltava. However, his Polish policy was of equal if not greater importance. When Kaminski denied that Peter had an influence in the election of Augustus, he also went as far to assert that Peter‟s fear of the Polish led him to a severe miscalculation in strategy in the Great Northern War.33 Frost, however, disagrees:
The Great Northern War was largely won and lost in the Commonwealth long before 1709, for, despite the fact that Charles won every battle that mattered until Lesnaia in 1708, he was comprehensively outmaneuvered by Peter, who showed a far surer grasp of
Sharp, 202-03. Kaminski, 275.
Polish politics than Charles, or, indeed, any of Peter‟s predecessors. For the Great Northern War was as much a Polish civil war as a Swedish-Russian conflict.34
The actions of Peter during the conflict show an attention to overall strategy that was missing from his foreign relations of the late 17th century. He demonstrated that he had learned from his late, failed intervention into Polish politics at the time of Augustus‟ election. By the Battle of Poltava, he had made a full transformation. Before, he was a leader who treated the entire world in the same way that he did his childhood Russian court, but now he was a capable bureaucrat and an excellent strategist. From this point forward, nearly all of Peter‟s actions came from a larger, strategic impetus. The brief yet nearly disastrous Turkish conflict after Poltava illustrates the drastic change that Peter had made in the previous ten years. By this time, he had set up a system of government that was far more successful than the previous structure, which was highly centralized yet unorganized. Peter set up a hierarchical form of government made up of gubiernas. There were only nine of these over the entire Russian territory, and each of the governors was able to make their own appointments, collect taxes, and even oversee recruitment for the military.35 Peter, obviously, was in charge of making the appointment to governor. Thus, while Peter was still in absolute control over the state, he was also able to enjoy the benefits of a more decentralized government – evidence that he was focused more on a grand strategy. Despite all these advancements in governing, however, Peter was still greatly disturbed when Turkey declared war on Russia in late 1710,
Frost, 264. Bushkovitch, 271-80.
because it meant that he would be less able to run the country.36 Peter‟s perspective on this course of events was far different than it would have been ten years before. Perhaps the clearest difference is the reaction to a new front in a military conflict. Where Peter was willing to switch his focus by a factor of thousands of miles before 1700, he now found the opening of a new front deeply worrying. The other great difference was his philosophy about leaving the government for a possibly extended period. When Peter left Russia for the Grand Embassy, he did not set up a specific power to govern in his absence: he simply left the system as it was, and the result was a rebellion which he violently crushed upon his return.37 This time, despite the extant improvement upon the previous system, he still felt the need to establish a new Senate to rule in his absence, and managed its initial assembly with surgical precision: “Peter ordered the senators to sit in the order he named them and to make unanimous decisions.”38 The result of the conflict, which was a swift defeat and peace treaty for Russia, is immaterial. The clash was a case study of a Peter the Great focused on effective governance without regard to personal biases. The peacetime foreign policy of Peter after 1709 was also far different from the Grand Embassy of his youth. At the start of the Northern War, Peter became the first Tsar to establish permanent diplomatic missions – by 1701, he had created six.39 Over the course of his reign, the diplomats of Russia were fully westernized and on par with any of
Ibid., 300. Ibid., 198. 38 Ibid., 303 39 Bohlen, 346.
the diplomats in Europe. Most importantly, the diplomats were “non-ideological and pragmatic,”40 meaning that they conducted state business as business and not as one would have in Peter‟s childhood or early reign. But the greatest example of Peter‟s change can be seen in his Polish involvement after Augustus was restored to the throne. The relationship, which had moved to be advantageous for Peter during the first part of the Great Northern War, was now fully predatorial, having reached the infamous level that caused scholars to misinterpret their initial interactions. Peter deftly used the lack of allegiance that the Polish Republic had to its Saxon King. In the two initial treaties after Augustus‟ reinstatement, Peter promised Livonia to him both times. However, there were two conditions that made this acquisition quite difficult. The first was that the province would remain in the hands of the Russian military until the end of the war, and the second was that the Polish Republic would have to recognize Augustus‟ claim to the province.41 This presented a paradox for Augustus: the Republic was composed of those who resented any Russian involvement in Poland. Thus, the continued Russian occupation of the territory, and the Russian military support that made Augustus‟ rule possible, made it impossible for the second condition to be fulfilled. Unlike his of the previous decade that, while uneven, were still beneficial to both parties, Peter himself meant to cripple the ability of Augustus to rule: “[b]y the time
Ibid., 358. Roberts, 540.
of the confederation of Tarnogrod it was clear that Peter was the author of the difficulties that made his alliance essential.”42 By 1717, Russia was involved by necessity in Polish affairs out of its own accord. The army was reduced to 24,000 men, which necessitated Russian intervention as Poland could no longer defend itself on its own. In the history of the Grand Strategy of Russia, this would be the creation of the first client state.43 This entangling alliance, unlike those in which Peter entered in his youth, was meant to be explicitly for Russia‟s gain. As Roberts asserts in her introduction, Peter took advantage of Augustus‟ greed. However, she does not sufficiently specify a timeframe for this relationship. He could not have done so in 1697, when he knew too little about Polish politics. Nor did he have the desire to in 1698, when he wished to make an alliance with a contemporary. But the first decade of the war allowed him to gain enough experience to dominate the state for the remainder of his reign. The evolution of Peter‟s relationship with Augustus is a microcosm of Peter‟s evolution as a leader. It began with ineffectiveness on Peter‟s part due to his childlike attitude towards politics and the military, yet also showed his potential as a powerful future leader. It continued through personal interaction and alliances. And it ended with a slow, Realpolitik exploitation of Augustus‟ flaws during the Great Northern War. Indeed, the paradox of the birth of the Russian Empire, and of the evolution of Peter the Great,
Ibid., 545. LeDonne, 62-64.
revolves around the War. Both Peter and the Empire began a transformation in the first decade of the 18th century that would serve as a critical point in their lives. The above arguments show the degree to which the opportunity to become a great power was very much an accidental one, in the sense that entangling personal relationships had very little to do with the development of a grand strategic vision of expansion. But the burning question left is the degree to which the grand strategic vision was itself a function of the accidental circumstance. In other words, when Peter developed a strategy to get himself out of his own mess, would not that strategy have to be a function of the original mess? Russia‟s “Grand Strategy” has the marks of personal alliances all over it. The Strategic Penetration with mobile armies of which LeDonne speaks began with Peter‟s response to his loss at Narva. The most obvious connection, however, is that of the relationship between client state and patron state. As LeDonne notes, “[r]elationships were, as a rule, intensely personal.”44 I believe that Peter‟s strategic vision, while a departure from and a maturing out of personal relationships, still contained them in two important ways: as somewhat of a metaphor, and indeed as actual relationships. The patron-client relationship is an example of the metaphorical personal relationship, and there are plenty of examples of the latter: leaders after Peter continued to be involved with Polish leaders. In the case of Catherine the Great and Stanislaw Poniatowski, it was a romantic involvement as well.
Granted, the idea of the importance of personality in a Russian leader does not start with Peter: from Ivan IV, Russia has been known for the often-curious (to put it generously) personalities of its autocrats. But since it was Peter under whom a strategic vision of expansion and foreign relation was born, the system bears his mark. Perhaps, then, it is no wonder that that Russia has continued to have powerful leaders whose personalities have dictated their rule. For instance, the Grand Embassy was hardly the last time a Russian ruler represented the state diplomatically when it would not have been expected: Alexander I did so at the Congress of Vienna, when other states were represented by diplomats. Even today, the personal relationships of Vladimir Putin with foreign leaders have affected the course of Russian policy. Whether this phenomenon is rather more a function of Russian culture than of Peter‟s maturing process is certainly up for debate. But through his personal evolution as a leader, Peter certainly provided a framework for Russian expansion and policy in which personality could play an effective role.
Bibliography Bohlen, Avis. "Changes in Russian Diplomacy under Peter the Great." Cahiers du Monde Russe et Soviétique 7, no. 3 (1966): 18. Bushkovitch, Paul. Peter the Great : The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725 New Studies in European History. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Dukes, Paul. The Making of Russian Absolutism, 1613-1801 Longman History of Russia. London ; New York: Longman, 1982. Frost, Robert I. The Northern Wars : War, State, and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721 Modern Wars in Perspective. Harlow, England ; New York: Longman, 2000. Kaminski, Andrzej Sulima. Republic Vs. Autocracy : Poland-Lithuania and Russia, 1686-1697 Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies. Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by Harvard University Press for the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1993. LeDonne, John P. The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Riasanovsky, Nicholas Valentine. A History of Russia. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Roberts, Louise B. "Peter the Great in Poland." The Slavonic Review 5, no. 15 (1927): 15.
Sharp, Tony. Pleasure and Ambition: The Life, Loves, and Wars of Augustus the Strong, 1670-1707. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001.
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