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Russia's Rise as a European Power, 1650-1750

Jeremy Black looks at the establishment of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe and beyond.

Whilst the Western European powers founded great trading and colonial empires in the early-modern period the states of central and eastern Europe were involved in a bitter fight for survival. The struggle between European society and the powers to their east has been a major theme in the history of the last millennium. The century between 1650 and 1750 was a crucial one in this struggle. It saw the definitive stemming of the Ottoman tide, and the establishment of Russian hegemony in eastern Europe. By altering the political situation in eastern Europe the Russian victory served to change the nature of the European international system. The consequences of this success are still with us today.

The tremendous natural resources of Russia, not least its population and its size, have tended to lead to the assumption that Russian success was inevitable. This is most clearly seen in the discussion of Russo-Swedish relations. For Peter the Great it was essential to defeat Charles XII of Sweden and conquer Sweden's possessions on the eastern shore of the Baltic – Livonia, Estonia, Ingria – if he was to achieve his ambition of linking Russia to European developments. Peter's reign was dominated by the Great Northern War with Sweden (1700-21) and it is therefore understandable than this struggle between Russia and Sweden should be seen as the pivotal war that determined Russian success. Sweden was so much poorer that Russia and its resources in people so much less that it is easy to understand why many assume that the Swedish empire was doomed, its defeat by Peter inevitable.

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