It truly does not take much to change history. Every event, every character has a clear and laudible impact on wordly affairs. Some such impacts are as visible and as obvious as the sun in the sky, while others are less tangible - but no less momentous. And so it was, that in 1490 an organization was formed in Muscowy, quite contrary to our accepted history of Russia, an organization entrusted with running the affairs of state from behind the scenes. Why or how it was formed is anyone's guess. Any such guess is besides the point. This organization would shape Russian domestic and foreign policy for centuries to come. Its name was Ochi, and its actions during the lengthy period of 1492-1792 resulted in blooshed such as had never before been seen anywhere in the world. This is the story of the Russia under Ochi - and a world that will long remember them.
Of course, it all began in January of 1492. Ivan III ruled a small, impoverished state on the north-eastern flank of Poland-Lithuania. Not even a proper regional power, the burgeoning Russia would soon explode in a flurry of activity none would have suspected of it at this point in time. Naturally, for all great nations, there is a learning curve.
Tsar Ivan III - 1492-1505 - The Enabler
This period of Russian history is quite rightly known as the First Expansion of the "Russian Empire". Ivan III, a tyrant and, some say but not I, a madman, chose 1492 as the right time to massacre most of the nobles of Muscowy and absorb their private armies into his own, thereby allowing the onset of the first phase of his grandiose schemes for Russia. This ground-breaking event took place in February 1492, outside the gates of the city of Moscow.
Ivan, who had been a model conservative up until this point, began a series of major reforms, especially in the military. It was not long before the people understood why. Meanwhile, June 15 1492 saw Spain finally annex Granada, completing the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula and driving out the Muslim infidel, hopefully once and for all. Ivan III busied himself with moulding Muscowy into something he could use, leaving most foreign policy in the hands of Ochi (which he knew nothing about) through its agent; Valentin Oskakoi, the Master Diplomat of the Muscowian Court.
On September 3, this Master Diplomat ingeniously arranged a Royal Marriage between Prince Vassili III and Princess Helga of Denmark, securing for Russia an immensely powerful ally, with control over the potentially lethal Sweden and influence over Pskov and the Teutonic Order, the most ardent opposition to Russia at this time. Less than two weeks later, on September 14th, Ivan III sent a delegation to Kazan informing them that a state of war now existed between Russia and that country - citing no particular reason. The first phase of Ivan's plan was unfolding.
General-Duke Andrei Kirilenko, a notable survivor of the February Noble Purges, was ordered to lead an army of 20,000 men into Ryazan and to defeat the forces of Kazan encamped in that province. He failed ignomiously, losing almost 7,000 men in exchange for perhaps half that number. General Safi of Kazan was simply too well-versed in operational manoeuvre. Meanwhile, Oskakoi arranged another Royal Marriage, this time with Bohemia, on October 17th, giving Russia another potential ally in Central Europe.
On October 30th, General Striga-Obolenski lead an army of 52,000 into Kazan to crush the tenacious adversaries of Russia in one fell swoop, following the Ryazan debacle. It was to his bitter surprise that he found almost 48,000 troops of Kazan waiting in defence. The incredibly long and bitter battle swung back and forth, but victory finally came for the Russians on November 11th. More than 12,000 Russians were dead or missing, in exchange for roughly 39,000 enemy soldiers. Four days later, an offer of cease-fire from Kazan was haughtily refused. Ivan was not interested in a white peace. November 29th saw General Suvorov lead 18,000 Russians into Ryazan once again, where the enemy managed to muster 14,000 defenders. While that battle raged, another one began in Kazan, where 25,000 Russians fought an army of 14,000.
By December 2nd, Suvorov was the clear victor in Ryazan, having crushed his foes, albeit at some cost to his own forces. December 5th saw the siege of Kazan begin by over 21,000 Russian men-at-arms. A daring raid of less than 2,000 Kazan troops against Moscow itself was stopped by Ivan's personal guard on December 25th-26th, in a desperate defensive action. The war suddenly took on a rather less tasteful character, as Moscow itself came under threat.
With the year ending in the midst of heavy fighting, the winter was hard on both the Russians and the warriors of Kazan. On February 4th, Striga-Obolenski fought a 20,000 man army with his own piethy remnants; a mere 22,000 survivors from the previous year's campaigning. He was tactically defeated by the 13th, losing 7,000 men in exchange for 7,000-8,000 enemies. Furthermore, that day of defeat also saw the first day of the siege of Moscow. A small enemy army of less than 8,000 had managed to sneak past Russian lines and penetrate deep into Russian territory. Ivan was, suffice it to say, displeased at the sight of the enemy encampment outside his window.
In the outside world, the only major news at this time was that Turkey had declared war on the Mamluks on February 15th and that Denmark declared war on the Hanseatic League on May 27th. These wars began, while the conflagration devastating both Russia and Kazan continued. Finally, lightning offensives by newly raised troops led to the fall of Ryazan on October 3rd and of Kazan on November 6th. But sporadic and relentless resistance continued. The siege of Moscow continued. The ulcer draining Russia's manhood remained. December 22nd saw the Mamluks hand over 117 gold ducats and the province of Nuyssaybin to the Turks and consequently the Peace of Trebizond was signed by both sides.
The year 1494 began with Russia in rather desperate straits. Moscow was slowly, ever so slowly, sinking towards despair. General Striga-Obolenski was busy regrouping and raising new forces to lift the siege, but it was mid-April before he dared to unleash his offesnive against the Kazan scum. Some had already resorted to eating corpses in the Russian capital. Ivan was most certainly not pleased with the performance of Muscowy's armies.
On April 20th, a Royal Marriage between Moldovia and Russia was arranged, albeit with few practical implications. It did slightly lift the spirits of a stricken nation, however. The first battles for Moscow began on April 28, as Striga-Obolenski attacked the relatively small army besieging the Russian capital. Timely reinforcements finally brought victory for the Russians on May 10th and the entire city could finally breathe a sigh of relief. On May 13th, a peace was finally signed between Russia and Kazan. The province of Ryazan was handed over to Ivan, who finally had something to be happy about.
Needless to say, the rest of 1494 revolved around the reconstruction of a devastated countryside, a decimated military and a desecrated treasury. Moscow's fortifications were strengthened, while more troops were raised to ensure none of Russia's numerous regional enemies chose to take advantage of her weakness.
January 1st 1495 saw King Manuel I rise to the throne in Portugal. It also saw a continuation of the policy of reconstruction, revitalization and reinvigoration of Russia's military, economy and infrastructure. Ivan III had seen to the problems in the military personally, executing several prominent officers who had performed less than admirably during the last war. Thousands of new troops were raised and the cavalry corps of the army was replenished, as it had been devastated during 1492-1494. Training methods were revised, according to wartime experiences. Ivan hoped that his next war would go more smoothly.
On May 29th 1495, Persia and Spain declared war on Iraq, causing few ripples in international circles. August 1st saw the Hanseatic League hand over Holstein and 250 ducats to Denmark, in exchange for a piteous peace. The Danes were undoubtedly happy with the result of their over-long struggle against the League. Meanwhile, Tsar Ivan III chose August 22nd as the starting point for his next war. This time, Pskov was the target. Ivan wanted it annexed. Amazingly, it was Pskov on September 15th that struck first, attacking Tver in a daring forced march. Russian commanders were awe-struck, but they were most certainly not paralysed. The year 1495 was seemingly a rather bloody one, as yet another European continental war broke out - this time Milan, Austria, Bavaria, Hungary and Wurtemberg all declared war on Bohemia.
When the Russian forces in Tver were finally defeated on September 30th, Striga-Obolenski quickly sent another 10,000 men for "another go" at the army of Pskov. While the battle of Tver had barely begun, the Battle of Pskov was raging and slowly winding down. A crushing Russian victory on October 19th saw off the forces of Pskov, but the province remained unconquered. Further battles on October 26th-28th resulted in Russian victories in Pskov. The Battle of Tver ended on November 12th, with yet another Russian victory. The swan-song of Pskov's armed forces was on November 19th, when the remnants of a once proud army were torn to pieces in the countryside of Tver by a 20,000 man Russian army.
But appearances can be deceiving. Russian victory at this point seemed assured. The forces of Pskov were weak, spread out and disorganized - so they started a guerrila war against Russian occupation forces and the besiegers of their capital city. So the war continued into 1496, with occasional combat between Russian veterans and Pskov irregulars. Throughout this period, the capital city of Pskov remained adamant in its resistance. Russia, however, was not particularly weakened by this conflict. Its small scale allowed Russia to slowly, but surely, rebuild its economy once again. Trade blossomed, as Danish merchants made Russia their destination of choice. Russian war-booty enabled the Tsar to spend ludicrous amounts of money on Danish goods.
Bad news came on March 3rd, when the Russian forces besieging Pskov had to retire, due to the atrocious conditions and a lack of supplies. An amy of more than 20,000 was, by this point, reduced to 7,000 men. It seemed as if Pskov's approach to the war was correct. However, when the Pskov irregulars followed the retreating Russians into Tver, the Russians did an about-turn and demolished the forces of Pskov in a small, yet pitched battle. On the international stage, the Persians and the Iraqis signed a return to status quo on May 27th.
It took several months for Russian forces to regroup, but when they did, they once again took to the offensive, defeating partisan bands across Pskov and once again laying siege to the capital on July 1st 1496. Token forces of Pskov's partisan "armies" were smashed on July 7th and then on July 20th again by the seasoned Russians. More skirmishes took place between August 15th and September 4th. The besiegers finally got tired of waiting for Pskov to fall over and die, beginning their assault on the capital on October 29th, the same day that Austria and Bohemia finally signed a peace treaty, ending their lengthy war.
By November 15th, however, it was clear that the assault had failed. The siege continued, as December 19th saw Poland-Lithuania, Spain, Persia, Lorraine and Naples declare war on Cyreanica and Turkey. Unbelievably, 1497 swung around with Pskov still independent. On January 13th, the above mentioned Polish Alliance also declared war on the Crimeans, in retribution for their support of the Turks. March 18th witnessed yet another spectacular Russian assault on the fortress of Pskov fail, however partisans were once again smashed in their attempt to relieve the city. Two days later, Crime made an amicable peace with Lorraine, no actual combat having taken place.
Finally, on April 5th, the beleguared population of Pskov opened the city's gates to the Russians, honorably surrendering themselves in the face of superior arms. That same day, the independent Principality of Pskov was formally annexed by Russia, much to the delight of Ivan III - and his Ochi overseers. The year 1497 saw three more peace treaties signed (April 25th peace treaty between Crimea and Persia, October 28th peace treaty between Cyreanica and Spain and December 18th peace treaty between Naples and Cyreanica) and yet another programme of reconstruction and redevelopment in Russia. Ivan was slightly less displeased with the performance of his armies this time around, only executing a few officers in a fit of rage over the two failed assaults on Pskov's capital. Another fortress was built in Novgorod, to strengthen its rather bland defences.
The year 1498 was much the same. Only three significant events interrupted the steady flow of new troops, new infrastructure and a heftier treasury that Ivan demanded before he continued with his schemes. The first of these events was Louis' XII rise to the throne in France on January 1st 1498. Tsar Ivan III sent him a state gift, a wonderful marble bust from captured Pskov, in his honor. The French monarch was extremely pleased, as reports would have it. The second monumental event took place on July 4th, as Oskakoi turned a Royal Marriage between Russia and Denmark into a full-blown military alliance. This would undoubtedly have massive reprecussions for the future, as Denmark was at this point a great power, with a mighty army and navy. Russia's enemies would think twice before doing something foolish. The third important event of 1498 was the September 3rd peace between Crimea and Poland-Lithuania, an end to a conflict that had devastated both southern Poland and most of Crimea.
The year 1499 saw little change from the previous year. The colonies of Arkhangelsk, Kola and Russia's other colonial provinces were somewhat further developed and a debt from 1494 was paid off by Ivan III - who was not at all happy to part with the money. But the improvements in the army continued at a startling pace and more and more troops were inducted into the Russian war machine. This time, Ivan wanted to strike at both a weakened Kazan and a fumbling Teutonic Order at the same time, perhaps absorbing them both in the process. On March 12th, the Turkish-Persian war was concluded, with Turkey getting Kurdistan. It was on June 13th that Ivan III finally declared war on the Teutonic Order. Denmark did the same on the next day.
TO BE CONTINUED....
(Thoughts? Comments? Thanks for reading!)