Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine in the Kabinettskriege Era

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire by IIjam Repin
Dear Reader,

Today, we are faced with a crisis in the Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history. The origins of Russian civilization are found in the region which today encompasses Ukraine. Kyivan Rus' was the oldest great civilization the Russian sphere, and it was located close to modern Kiev. So, as a result of this crisis, we are going to look at the relationship between Russia and Ukraine in the 1648-1789 period.

Eastern Europe in 1648
 Oddly enough, in 1648, Russia was not in control of Ukraine. The Ottoman Empire and the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth controlled the area we think of as modern Ukraine today. You can see Kiev on the Dnieper. However, in 1648, on the eve of the Kabinettkriege era, the Cossacks who lived in Ukraine began to fight a war of independence.

Box art from Zvezda 
In 1648, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky led the Zaporozhian Cossack host in a war of independence against the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. Zaporozhian means, "the land beyond the rapids," or in this case, the fields of modern central Ukraine. These men fought for an independence against Polish domination, with the goal of creating a Cossack Hetmanate in Ukraine.

This began a period in Polish history known as the Deluge, in which Poland was repeatedly overrun by more powerful neighbors. The Cossacks succeeded in breaking Ukraine away from the Poles, but they failed to consolidate power effectively, and sought support from outside the Ukraine. After Khmelnytsky died, the Cossacks lost vision, and failed to finish their independence movement. The Cossacks fiercely resisted any influence from the Ottoman empire, and were caught in a larger struggle between east and west. Russia and Sweden were battling for control of the Baltic world, and the Cossacks of Ukraine became entangled in that struggle.

Adam Mazepa and Karl XII of Sweden
In the early 18th century, the struggle between Sweden and Russia reached a breaking point, and the decisive battle of that conflict, Poltava, was actually fought just east of Kiev, in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Cossack leader, Adam Mezepa, sided with the Swedes, in an effort to defeat Peter I of Russia. Thus, even in the eighteenth century, Ukraine was torn between the east and west. Mazepa and Karl XII of Sweden were defeated at Poltava, and Mazepa died soon afterwards.

This defeat ended the Swedish alliance, and brought Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence. Throughout the eighteenth century, the Zaporozhian Cossacks loyally served the Russian crown, and fought in all of the major Russian wars. Cossacks lived a free life, so serfs from neighboring areas often fled to Ukraine in order to become free.

In 1775, Catherine II of Russia disbanded the Zaporozhian host, "for their deeds and insolence of disobeying the will of our Imperial Majesty." Russian military units moved in, and disbanded the Cossack way of life. Cossacks were incorporated directly into the Russian military units, and an independent Ukraine became a thing of the past.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

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