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The MuscoviteLithuanian Wars

The MuscoviteLithuanian Wars

The MuscoviteLithuanian Wars were a series of wars between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, allied with the Kingdom of Poland, and the Grand Duchy of Moscow. After several defeats at the hands of Ivan III and Vasily III, the Lithuanians were increasingly reliant on Polish aid, which eventually became an important factor in the creation of the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth. In the first series of wars in the 15th century the Lithuanians gained control of a lot of Rus' territories, from Kiev to Mozhaisk, but over the course of the series of wars, particularly in the 16th century, the Russians were able to expand their domain westwards, taking control of much of the lands that were once part of Kievan Rus.

14th century prelude

Russia and Lithuania had been involved in a series of conflicts since the reign of Gediminas, who defeated a coalition of West Russian (Ruthenian) princes on the Irpen River and seized Kiev, the former capital of Kievan Rus. By the mid-14th century, an expanding Lithuania had absorbed Chernigov and Severia. Algirdas, the successor of Gediminas, forged an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Tver and undertook three expeditions against Moscow, attempting to take advantage of the youth of the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitry Ivanovich, who nevertheless succeeded in fending off these encroaches.

The first intrusions of the Lithuanian troops into the Moscow principality occurred in 1363. In 1368 Algirdas carried out the first big expedition against Moscow. Having devastated the Russian borderland, the Lithuanian prince routed the troops of the prince of Starodoub Simeon Dmitrievich Krapiva and prince of Obolensk Konstantin Yuryevich. On November, 21 Algirdas had put to rout the Moscow sentry troops on the river Trosna. However Algirdas could not seize the Moscow Kremlin. The troops of Algirdas ruined the vicinities of city and captured huge amount of the Muscovite population. In 1370 Algirdas repeated expedition against Moscow. He ruined vicinities of Volok Lamskiy. On December 6 he besieged Moscow and started to ruin its vicinities. Having received the message, that the prince Vladimir Andreevich went to help Moscow, Algirdas returned to Lithuania. In 1372 Algirdas attacked the Moscow principality again and reached Lubutsk. However the Grand Prince of Moscow Dmitry Ivanovich routed the sentry troops of Algirdas and Lithuanians concluded with Moscow an armistice. In 1375 Algirdas devastated the Smolensk principality.

The Russians however wished to gain control of all territories that once were part of Kievan Rus, many of which were at that time under control of Lithuania (including today's territories of Belarus and Ukraine). Further, Moscow wished to expand its access to the Baltic Sea, an increasingly important trade route. Thus the conflict between Lithuania and Russia was only just beginning.

Vasily I vs. Vytautas

Conflicts resumed during the reign of Dmitry's son Vasily I, who was married to Sophia the only daughter of Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania. In 1394, Vytautas devastated the Grand Duchy of Ryazan, leaving many settlements in ashes. In 1402, he quarrelled with his son-in-law over control of the Duchy of Smolensk. After Vytautas captured his capital, Yuri of Smolensk fled to Vasily's court and tried to enlist his assistance in regaining Smolensk. Vasily hesitated until Vytautas advanced on Pskov. Alarmed by Lithuania's continuing expansion, Vasily sent an army to aid the Pskovians against his father-in-law. The Russian and Lithuanian armies met near the Ugra River but neither commander ventured to commit his troops to battle. A peace ensued, whereby Vytautas kept Smolensk.

First war (14921494)

The roles switched during the reign of Ivan III who set out to regain the family possessions of the House of Rurik, the lands formerly making up the state of Kievan Rus.

Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV, putting pressure on Ivan III, reached an agreement with Akhmat, the khan of the Golden Horde. In 1472 khan attacked Moscow principality and destroyed the city Aleksin. In 1480, planning the big campaign against Moscow, khan passed through the Lithuanian territories of his ally Casimir to the LithuanianMuscovite border on the river Ugra. In November, after the Great stand on the Ugra river, khan turned back. It put an end to the Tataro-Mongol Yoke in Russia.

Ivan constructed an alliance with Mengli Girai, the khan of Crimea, and attacked Southern Lithuania in 1492. The Russians managed to take hold of many towns, until a truce was concluded in 1494. Under the terms of the truce, Alexander of Lithuania married Elena, daughter of Ivan III.

Second war (15001503)

Hostilities were renewed in 1499 after a number of Orthodox feudals in Lithuania complained about religious oppression (Alexander Jagiellon was an eager Catholic who despite of given obligations even tried to convert his wife Elena, the daughter of Ivan III, to catholicism) and switched sides together with their lands while Moscow accepted their loyalty oath. The Russians promptly overran such citadels as Toropets and Dorogobuzh but failed to take Smolensk. After Ivan dealt a crippling blow to Lithuanians at the Battle of Vedrosha, they were constrained to cede to Russia the lands around the upper Oka River, the cities of Vyazma, Chernihiv and Novhorod-Siverskyi with nearby lands (near Desna River), as well as the lands east of Smolensk (approximately a third of the lands of Grand Duchy of Lithuania). After this series of defeats, the magnates of Lithuania which was in personal union with the Kingdom of Poland requested Polish aid. Poland agreed to lend its Lithuanian ally aid, which would lead to a long series of wars between Poland (allied with Lithuania) and Russia.

Third war (15071508)

The armies of Moscow ally Crimean Khanate invaded Lithuanian lands in 1506 and were soudingly defeated by the Lithuanians led by Court Marshal of Lithuania Michael Glinski in the Battle of Kletsk.

In the meantime, King Alexander died and the thrones of Poland and Lithuania where inherited by Sigismund I the Old; Russia in turn was inherited by Vasily III who renewed hostilities against Lithuania. The Crimean khan was not pleased with the successes of Russia and decided to switch his allegiance to Poland. Before Sigismund would become fully involved in the conflict, the Lithuanian magnate Michael Glinski rebelled and attempted to turn Vilnius to Russia in 1507.

The war lasted until 1508, with Glinski being defeated at Vilnius, and subsequently at Minsk and Orsha, and retreating together with his slowly moving Russian allies before the advancing PolishLithuanian army; the war eventually ended with the inconclusive 'eternal peace treaty' on 8 October 1508 which maintained the territorial accords of the 1503 treaty.

Fourth war (15121522)

In 1512 Russia invaded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania again. At first the Russians failed to capture Smolensk, but succeeded two years later when in 1514 the Russian army, assisted by Glinski, took hold of the key city after three months of siege. Thereupon Russia suffered a series of defeats in the field; first in 1512 Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Konstantin Ostrogski, ravaged Severia and defeated a 6,000-strong Russian force, and in 1514 after taking Smolensk again the Russians suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Orsha (on 8 September), whose importance was magnified by anti-Russian propaganda in Europe.

Despite their victory the PolishLithuanian army was unable to move quickly enough to recapture Smolensk, although in the previous year (1513) the PolishLithuanian army had driven the Russians from Vitebsk and Polotsk. In March 1515 Russia formed an alliance with the Livonian Knights, but again failed to take Vitebsk, while Polish forces took Velikiye Luki and Toropets in 1516. In 1517 the LithuanianPolish expedition to Pskov ended in defeat at the siege of Opochka, but in 1518 Russian forces were beaten during the Siege of Polotsk, when according to the legend the Lithuanian forces were inspired by the sight of their patron saint, Saint Casimir.

In 1512 and 1517 the Crimean Tartars, the allies of Lithuania, devastated the Russian territories. In 1521 the Crimean khan Magmet-Ghirai carried out the ruinous attack on the Moscow principality. The Lithuanian troops led by Dashkovich participated in it and tried to take Ryazan.

In 1519 the Russian army ravaged the lands around Kreva, the Crimean Tartars attacked Lviv and Lublin, but no side could gain advantage. The war lasted until 1520; in 1522 a peace was signed, under the terms of which the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was forced to cede to Russia about a quarter of its "Ruthenian" possessions, including Smolensk. The Dnieper River was established as the new border between the countries.

Fifth war (15341537)

Upon Vasily's death, his son and heir, Ivan IV, was only three years old. The regent and government engaged in international strife. The PolishLithuanian monarch decided to take advantage of the situation and demanded the return of territories conquered by Vasily III. Grand Hetman Jerzy Radziwiłł launched an offensive with an army 20,000 strong to regain what Lithuania has lost in the past decades. The Lithuanian assault on Severia failed when during the winter of 153435 three Russian armies under Prince Ovchina-Telepnev-Obolensky and Prince Vasily Shuisky invaded Lithuania, advancing as far as Vilnius and Navahrudak and building the fortress of Ivangorod on the Sebezh River.

The following year Lithuanians were aided by Crimean Tatars, who ravaged the region of Ryazan, and Poles, commanded by the Great Crown Hetman Jan Tarnowski, whose 7,000 strong force defeated the Russians at Starodub and overran Severia with Homel. In response, the Russians routed the 40,000-strong Lithuanian army at Sebezh, built the fortress of Velizh and devastated the suburbs of Vitebsk. The resulting 5-year ceasefire (1537) granted Homel to Lithuania, while Russia kept Sebezh and Velizh. The truce was corroborated five years later, but negotiations for a more permanent treaty failed.


Latvia, 1997, Livonian Order's castle, von Plettenberg

Poland, 1968, Stańczyk after the Loss of Smoleńsk

Ukraine, 2005, Konstantin Ostrogski, Battle of Orsha

2003-2020 Dmitry Karasyuk. Idea, preparation, drawing up
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