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How Peter I of Russia capitulated to Turks: Pruth Campaign


After the Poltava defeat, the wounded Charles XII of Sweden and Hetman Mazepa of Ukraine stayed in Moldova which was under the protection of the Ottomans. Mazepa died in the fall of the same year near the city of Bendery and Peter I kept on sending demands for the sultan to give Charles XII to him which the sultan ignored. A year later, Peter I set a specific date when he expected the sultan’s reply, which Ahmed III took as an ultimatum and declared war on Muscovy. It was a good thing for the Crimean Khan who, as the author of a Pulitzer prize-winning book “Peter the Great” Robert Massie writes, “had been stripped of his right to tribute from Russia by the treaty of 1700.”
One should probably pause here and imagine this well-hidden fact that Muscovy, the future ”Russia”, paid tribute to the Crimean Khans until 1700. Including Peter I himself: “The Tsar was reduced to paying an annual sum to the Khan, protection money which the Khan called a tribute and the Russians preferred to describe as a gift…” – Dositheus, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem sent Peter I a “singing jibe”: “The Crimean Tatars are but a handful, and yet they boast that they receive tribute from you. The Tatars are Turkish subjects, so it follows that you are Turkish subjects… The most prominent was the violent Russophobe Khan of the Crimea, Devlet Gerey, who had been stripped of his right to tribute from Russia by the treaty of 1700.”
It is a bit unusual in such a historic book to encounter phrases like “Russophobe Khan” because Muscovy had been paying tribute to the Crimean Khan for almost two centuries by that time already. The Crimean Khan was simply well aware of who he was dealing with, – his ancestor Devlet I Geray had to teach Ivan IV “The Terrible” a lesson by burning Moscow to the ground in 1571 for trying to cheat him with the tribute.
But here in 1711 and after the Poltava Battle, Peter I decided he was ready to attack the Ottoman Empire first. His plans were very ambitious: “Against the Turks, Peter’s plan, bold to recklessness, was to march to the lower Danube, cross the river just above the place where it flows into the Black Sea and proceed southwest through Bulgaria to a point where he could threaten Sultan’s second capital, Adrianople, and even the fabled city of Constantinople itself.”
With his large army of veterans from Poltava, Peter I was so confident it would be an easy conquest, he even took his wife with him.
Yet, as soon as his army crossed Ukraine and entered Moldova, Ottomans demolished two-thirds of that army and forced the Tsar, Tsarina, and the remains of their army of veterans into surrender near the Pruth River.
Robert Massie describes the reasons well in the following passage: “Could it have come to this? Yet, why not? Had not exactly the same thing happened to his enemy Charles (XII of Sweden)? And for an identical reason: Too proud, too sure of his destiny, he had ventured too far onto the enemy ground.
He was pinned down against a river and ringed by 300 cannons that could sweep his camp with just one massive strike. Most important, his men were so exhausted by hunger and heat that some of them could no longer fight.
Actually, the situation for Peter at the Pruth was much worse than Charles’ at Poltava: “the Swedish army had not been surrounded by superior forces, and the King himself had found a way to escape… He, the Russian Tsar, the victor of Poltava, would be overwhelmed and perhaps pulled through the streets of Constantinople in a cage.”
The conditions of the Grand Vizier turned out much milder than expected – Peter I was to demolish several Russian fortresses, return the city of Azov and Taganrog to the Turks, and dismantle the Black Sea fleet. Some historians insist that Peter I simply paid a sizable bribe to the Vizier of 500, 000 rubles from the State Treasury and not 150,000 of his wife’s personal money as the book suggests.
Robert Massie writes that Tatar Khan wept in frustration when the Grand Vizier signed the peace treaty. Charles XII was also in disbelief. Both were confident that Mehmed Pasha made a strategic mistake by not taking the Russian tsar into captivity.
Ukrainians surely agree with that, because humiliated Peter I on his way back to Moscow vented his anger by ordering the remains of his troops to plunder and burn several Ukrainian cities, such as Nemyriv and Bila Tserkva near Kyiv.



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