How Russian diplomats saved Russo-Turkish alliance after Don Cossacks killed Ottoman ambassador in 1637

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Imperial Russian Cossacks, 1911

February 27, 2017 – Fort Russ News

The New Historical Bulletin – Translated from Russian by Kristina Kharlova

Excerpt from article “Russian foreign policy in XVII century: At the gate of “common” Europe” by E. Naumov

In the winter of 1633/34, the surrounded Russian army near Smolensk was freezing and starving. Under pressure from foreign mercenaries and no longer able to wait for reinforcements, Shein with Izmailov capitulated. On February 19, 1634 the Russian commanders bowed their heads before Vladislav [ruler of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth]. Russian banners fell to the feet of the king, and then, at his signal, were raised from the ground. After such a disgrace, leaving artillery and supplies to the enemy, the remnants of the troops (about 8 thousand) moved to the East. Pardoned by the winner, in Moscow, both voyevodas were executed on charges of treason.


Meanwhile, impetuous and ambitious Vladislav, elated with success in Smolensk, determined to take Moscow – and got bogged down in its outskirts. The famine was such that the Poles did not always have enough bread and water, and the king, having eaten a chicken for lunch, prudently saved the second half until dinner. The Poles carried big losses: the garrison of the fortress fought to death. 

Suddenly Vladislav received terrible news: Turkey has moved against Poland, deciding, as promised in Moscow to support the Russians. Vladislav immediately asked for peace. Russian Tsar Michael Fedorovich, did not refuse: there was no money, no forces to continue the war.

Осада Смоленска
The Siege of Smolensk

Negotiations began, reminiscent of trade: the Poles demanded an exorbitant price, the Russians refused. It ended amicably. According to the agreement signed at the river Polyanovka on June 4th 1634, Russia “forever” lost Chernigov and Smolensk lands (Poles returned to Russia only Serpeisk and the county), and Vladislav was obliged to forget that he was once called to become the Tsar of Moscow. So that the king’s memory did not disappoint, he was paid 20 000 rubles secretly: the Poles asked not to include this item in the text of the Treaty. Polish king ceded to the Russian Tsar the precious rights to the Russian throne for cheap, but, as a mockery, did not return the original contract of his 1610 election. The Poles, who for many years bragged about this agreement, now said that they could not find it! “Eternal” Polyanovka Peace Treaty, thus, was again considered by both sides as a temporary truce – until the best of times. Best for war.


In 1637 staggering news came to Moscow from the South. Don Cossacks, begging once again for the royal salaries (“We’re starving to death, naked, barefoot and hungry, nowhere to turn but your royal mercy… ” etc.) embarked on a mission. But this time not against Crimea, but against the Ottoman Empire! First caught and locked up the Turkish ambassador en route to Moscow, and then, suspecting him of espionage, killed him in the heat of the moment, along with all of his entourage.

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In June 1637 the detachment of ataman Mikhail Tatarinov of several thousand Cossacks with four cannons captured the 200 cannon strong Turkish fortress of Azov (the Turkish name: Sadd-ul-Islam a “bulwark of Islam”), strategically important as the “castle” at Don’s exit to the Azov sea [near present Rostov-on-Don]. All residents, except for the Orthodox Greeks, were killed by the Cossacks and sent a messenger to the Tsar with all of these news.

Moscow sent a letter to Sultan Murad with a standard explanation: Cossacks are thugs, you can kill all of them if you want, and we want “a strong brotherly friendship and love with you”. The proud Sultan did not need this “friendship”, and did not hesitate with a response: first, another raid “on Ukraine” [as it was called by Poles] made by Crimean Tatars, then (when relations with Persia allowed), the Sultan took his army on the great campaign to Azov.

In may 1641 a 200-strong army headed to Azov; it counted about 100 battering rams, which were served by hired European consultants; the Turkish Navy rushed through the sea of Azov. In Azov there were about 5 thousand Cossacks with their wives. During the siege the Turks made 24 attacks and after losing 30 thousand killed, retreated. There was only half of Cossacks remaining alive in the city, but they stood firm, sending to Moscow their representatives asking for assistance and recognition of Azov under Russia.

Learning about the incident, Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich granted Cossacks 5,000 roubles and convened Zemsky Sobor in 1642 to discuss the painful question: What to do with Azov? Although everyone was awaiting another visit of the Sultan to the city, only merchants were against the war, complaining about their financial ruin. Meanwhile, conducted by Moscow envoys “inspection” of the site of Azov showed that it was badly damaged, and will be difficult to defend. In addition, the Kremlin was not ready for the possible big war with the Ottoman Empire. And “Smolensk lessons” were still very fresh in memory. The last argument has prevailed, and the Tsar ordered the Cossacks to leave Azov. After a five-year “Azov hold-out” the Don Cossacks, having received this decree, were so angry that destroyed Azov to the ground. The Turkish army did not find a city.

Russian diplomats had to put out fires. They secretly sent salaries to the Cossacks, in Istanbul, as usual, the called the same Cossacks “thieves” and achieved their goal: Sultan Murad relented and sent a loving response letter to the Russian Tsar, “above all great sovereigns, the Tsar of Moscow, the Tsar and master of All Rus, loving friend Mikhail Fedorovich”. 

The Cossacks were offended: they were tired of Tsar’s back dealings with the Sultan. And decided to move from Don to Yaik. The king found out about it, and ordered to drive them from Yaik [Ural river].

Ural River

The Don Cossacks even managed to annoy Persia, attacked its border areas and badly looted them. Moscow ambassadors responded to the the Shah of Persia, Hefi, the same as to the Turks, and complained, in turn, about constant attacks on Georgia, of which Michael considered himself a patron. In 1636, the Georgian king Teimuraz turned to him with a request for protection. Moscow deliberated for a long time, but in the end agreed, and Teimuraz kissed the cross of the Russian Tsar. The first aid from Michael was limited to 20 000 roubles and sable skins.

Overall, in relations with its southern neighbors Moscow preferred to adhere to defensive tactics, because, firstly, behind Crimea there was always the mighty Ottoman Empire and, secondly, it was more pressing to secure free hands in the West. To reduce the danger of Tatar raids from Crimea (only for the first half of the XVII century Crimean Tatars kidnapped and sold 200 thousand Russians at slave markets), the government of Michael Fedorovich spent an exuberant amount of about one million rubles. At the same time, the authorities were busy strengthening the Tula defense line and in 1636 began to build a new one to the South – in Belgorod.

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