Lecture #18 - The Rise of Russia - 38:35 (mp3)
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In this lecture, Professor Mosse clearly presents Russia as a unique case in the European context. With no regional or provincial authorities and no corporate cities, the tsar, according to Mosse, ruled immediately. This immediacy, combined with control over the Church, meant, again according to Mosse, that intermediate authorities never come to the fore, nor do any theories of resistance to authority arise. The only counterweight to the tsar came from the boyars, but here too Ivan IV was successfully able to establish limits to their power through executions and the redistribution of land.
Lacking any institutions that could guarantee stability, Russia fell into a form of chaos in the 17th century. In the backdrop of this instability and provincialism, Peter the Great (1689-1725) the second great ‘maker of Russia’, became tsar. Peter desired to bring European developments to Russia. While his campaign of Westernization did concern dress and manners, did so in an attempt to control the nobility. Nevertheless, his major interest was in Western technology, most importantly as it could be applied to the army and navy. Finally, his Westernizing reforms also included economic reforms in the form of mercantilism and the beginning of a civil service. Peter was eventually followed in the rise of Russia by Catherine II, a German princess whose lasting reform was the codification of law.
Mosse makes clear that Peter and Catherine’s rules were major points in the rise of Russia for their military and political successes. Under Peter, Russia successfully challenged Sweden and gained access to the Baltic. Under Catherine Russia pushed further west, participating in the partitions of Poland. The next thrust of Russian expansion came again under Catherine. In a conflict with the Ottoman Empire, Russia was able to annex the Crimea (in 1783) and had access to the Bosporus Straits. This success in the Balkans would have eventual consequences for the national movements in the peninsula.
Mosse ends with a brief explanation of Russia’s advantages in the “great power game.” These included its geographical position, which was logistically important. Its political structure – Russian absolutism, after all, could be coordinated for action with a good monarch. Finally, the West needed Russia for food; the Crimea especially provided significant amounts of grain.