22 October 2008

Expansion & Invasion: Peter I & the Ottomans

By Christine Koehler

Peter I of Russia is more known for bringing his empire into the modern world. For the creation of a great navy and reorganizing his army along European lines; for learning Western ways, and for building St. Petersburg.

More importantly to him, he sought a sea outlet. At the time of his reign (1682-1725) Russia had only one port, Arkhangelsk's access to the White Sea. The Baltic Sea was controlled by Sweden, the Black Sea by the Ottoman Empire. Peter chose the Black Sea, though he didn't believe he could face the Ottomans alone.

Though he went on a Grand Embassy designed to ally the European monarch with him in his campaign, none accepted. Advantageous to his failed Grand Embassy were two things: he learned more of Western society and studied shipbuilding in Holland to the extent of building ships for the Dutch east India Company.

In the 1695, he organized the Azov campaigns. The 1st Azov campaign began in the spring of 1695. Peter ordered his army of 31,000 men (including Don Cossacks)and 170 guns to advance towards Azov. Meanwhile, a second Russian army of 120,000 men, (including Streltsy and Ukrainian Cossacks) marched toward the lower reaches of the Dnieper with the goal of diverting the Crimean Khanate's attention.

The siege failed. Peter returned to Moscow by spring 1696 built the Azov Flotilla consisting of about 30 ships. Calvary (70,000 men) marched for lower reaches of the Dnieper. On April 23-26, 75,000 men advanced towards Azov by land and by the rivers of Voronezh and Don. Peter and his galley fleet left for Azov on May 3. On May 27, the Russian fleet (two battleships, four fire ships, 23 galleys, and smaller support ships) reached the sea and blocked Azov. On June 14, the Turkish fleet (23 ships with 4,000 men) appeared at the mouth of the Don.

A short battle later, where the Turks lost two ships, they left. Peter besieged Azov from land and sea, and by July 17 the Ukrainian and Don Cossaks seized of the external rampart of the fortress. The Azov garrison surrendered on July 19.

These campaigns demonstrated the importance of having a navy, and marked Russia's turn into a maritime power. Russia's success at Azov strengthened its positions during the Karlowitz Congress (1698-1699), which concluding the Austro-Ottoman War of 1683–1697 where the Ottomans were defeated at the Battle of Zenta, and favored the signing of the Treaty of Constantinople (1700), ending the Russo-Turkish War of 1686-1700. This treaty allowed Peter to declare war against Sweden for possession of the Baltic Sea.

Azov wasn't convenient for the military fleet, so Peter chose a more appropriate site on July 27, 1696 at Taganrog.

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