Tag Archives: Sweden

The Sinking Of Estonia 1994

20 years have passed since the one of the worst maritime disasters in peacetime naval history of the 20th century.  The ferry Estonia was on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm when got caught up in the storm, capsized and sunk with 852 people on board. 17 of them were from Latvia. Along with victims there 501 Swedes, 282 Estonians 10 Finns and 44 people from other countries including Canada and Nigeria. So it was an international disaster. The official explanation was that  the locks on the bow door had failed from the strain of the waves and the door had separated from the rest of the vessel, pulling ajar the ramp behind it. The bow visor and ramp had been torn off at points that would not trigger an “open” or “unlatched” warning on the bridge, as is the case in normal operation or failure of the latches. The bridge was also situated too far back on the ferry for the visor to be seen from there. While there was video monitoring of the inner ramp, the monitor on the bridge was not visible from the conning station. The bow visor was under-designed for the conditions Estonia was operating in (the ferry was designed for coastal waters, not open regions like the Baltic Sea), and the visor’s overhang focused the impact on a small area. The subsequent failure of the bow ramp allowed water into the vehicle deck, which was listed as the main cause of the capsizing and sinking. The report was critical of the crew’s actions, particularly for failing to reduce speed before investigating the noises emanating from the bow, and for being unaware that the list was being caused by water entering the vehicle deck. There were also general criticisms of the delays in sounding the alarm, the passivity of the crew and the lack of guidance from the bridge. So it was a human error that might cause the tragedy.

However, pretty soon the actions by the Swedish government and many unanswered questions led to speculations that grew stronger in the following years that denied the official explanation. The question was it not a human error that led to sinking but the human treachery and crime done by foreign service that caused this disaster. This article does not fully endorse the alternative explanations of the sinking, as they are not fully proven and might sound as conspiracy theories, but facts that lead to alternative explanation  are plausible and it’s up to anyone to themselves to believe them.

The questions aroused because of the Swedish government frantic efforts to block recovery of the victims from the shipwreck. All offers to retrieve the bodies were blocked and  promises from two consequent Swedish prime ministers to do so was fulfilled and after three months of the tragedy the government announced that the there will be no recovery and salvage operation.

Instead they hired a Dutch marine salvage firm Smit Tak BV that specializes in nuclear waste removal. A 350 million dollars were wasted to cover the ship in concrete. The wreck lies in the soft mud at 60-80 meters depth. The official reason for such action was to make the wreck a cemetery that is not accessible to anyone. But, why give the task to firm that specializes in nuclear waste management? And by covering the shipwreck in concrete may mean that the government has something to hide from the public. As shown in a future that was the case.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Soviet military and intelligence secrets became open to the western public. For the west the most interesting was the Soviet technology that was a mystery for many and still are for many. No wonder that many in the West are obsessed with collecting the Soviet artifacts of all kinds. But, it was not just the individuals that were interested in Soviet equipment it were Western military and intelligence agencies And the Baltic states were full of such equipment. In 2005 the Estonian parliamentary inquiry concluded that Estonia might procured to western agencies special equipment and high technology of the Soviet army. The transfers included space electronics, high technology directing and surveillance devices as well as anti-aircraft complexes and electronic control systems. In one case the Estonian intelligence agency was officially offered to sell a Russian space electronic device that enabled military reconnaissance with infrared cameras. Also even so-called nuclear briefcases could have been taken out of Russia. The Russian intelligence and military certainly disliked this.

The Swedish media have discovered and confirmed that ferry Estonia was used for Soviet weapon transfers from Estonia to Sweden. One of the disaster survivors remembers that immediately before Estonia  left Tallinn on its final voyage the harbor was sealed off and that the military convoy escorted two large trucks into waiting ferry. After that the car ramp and bow visor were closed and ship set sail to Stockholm. Former customs chief Lennart Henrrikson reported on Swedish TV that on two occasions shortly before the disaster Estonia had allowed vehicles carrying Soviet military equipment in to the vessel without inspections. He had been ordered to allow certain vehicles carrying Soviet military contraband to pass Swedish customs without inspection on September 14 and 20, 1994, but was not working the day Estonia sank because he was on vacation. The ferry was owned by Nordström & Thulin, and Estline that was owned by the Estonian government.

The Swedish and Estonian governments subsequently launched separate investigations, headed by Court of Appeal President Johan Hirschfeldt and Republic Prosecutor Margus Kurm, respectively. Both investigations confirmed that military equipment was aboard the ship on 14 and 20 September 1994, though it remained unclear if any such equipment was aboard the ship on the day of the disaster.

According to Henriksson a secret agreement between Swedish military supreme commander Owe Wictorin and Swedish customs chief Ulf Larsson was made to allow military contraband to enter Sweden without being inspected by the customs. Normally Swedish customs inspected every Estonian vehicle.

When the ferry arrived in Sept. 14, 1994, Henriksson spoke to the driver of the expected vehicle, a Volvo 745 station wagon driven by a Frank Larsson, a false identity.

When Henriksson told “Larsson” that customs was carrying out inspections, he “gavee a look, but I said the search would be faked,” Henriksson said. “We opened a few boxes and as far as I could see it was military electronics in them.”The customs slip showed the car belonging to a non-existent company called “Ericsson Access AB,” a fictitious subsidiary of AB LM Ericsson Finance. No address was given. The ending destination of the Soviet military equipment is not known. It could pretty much believable that such equipment may also be present on the last trip on the ferry.

A week later, on September 20 1994 a much larger shipment of contraband technology arrived and was allowed to pass without inspection. This time it was a van and, once again, Henriksson merely glanced into the boxes. On December 2, 2004, two days after the SVT 1 exposé, the Swedish military confirmed on Ekot radio that this secret agreement existed and is still in effect.

There are questions regarding the official explanation of the disaster. Some people called the official inquiry results the worst fraud in the naval history. The independent safety expert  Anders Björkman who wrote many books about the disaster said that there is no proof that the waves caused the opening of the ships bow visor and car ramp. A 4 meter waves could not do that by his mind. The ship never capsized it just sunk. It’s known that the visor was found separated from the wreck and taken out of water as a proof for official theory. There is speculation that the authorities removed the visor from the shipwreck to prove their fabricated theory. In reality the visor might had nothing to do with the sinking.

There are theories about the soviet equipment that was on board Estonia according to German journalist Jutta Rabe the United States Pentagon had ordered a  an advanced Soviet nuclear reactor for generating power in space. Leonard Caveny, deputy director of innovative science and technology of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) program at the Pentagon, traveled to Soviet space labs near Moscow, where a team of experts tested a tiny space engine that uses magnetic fields instead of fuel to move a spacecraft.

The Soviets had plutonium-238 and heat-resistant alloys completely unknown in the West, including one made of palladium and osmium able to withstand temperatures to 3,600 degrees Celsius. The Air Force was interested in the RD-170, reportedly the best liquid-fuel rocket engine in the world.

There have been many unofficial dives on the shipwreck. Three separate sets of tests had been carried out on metal fragments recovered from the wreck by divers.  Distortion in the metal showed there had been an explosion. Its denied by official Swedish research institutions.

To question who has caused the explosion and the sinking the point obviously links to whom were less interested of transfer of such important technology. Its either the Russian intelligence service or inside group of Russian nationalists within the intelligence ranks and military. A Felix Group that included Vladimir Putin and Igor Ivanov who were against the sale of soviet goods to US.

If so then the Swedish agencies knew this and tried to hide any sign of their own guilt. The official divers according to reports of Rabe were looking for black leather case among the cabins. Finally, the case was found in Cabin No. 6130, a cabin usually used by Captain Avo Piht. The diver reads from the case: “It says Aleksandr Voronin. Does that ring any bells up there?”. Voronin was a Russian space technology dealer.

Another mystery that points to the intelligence agency involvement is unexplained disappearances of Estonia crew members that officials have been rescued, but then disappeared. 12 such Estonian crew members that were on board have never seen again. They may have been subjects of government organized enforced disappearance. It is known that Sweden has organized such action with an Egyptian born terror suspect who was boarded on the private US jet. It may be the same jets were used to enforce disappearance of the crew members. These people were the main witnesses about the ship’s cargo, ship condition and ships sinking reason.

Final mystery is the disappearance of the Estonia captain Avo Piht. After the disaster many reported that he had survived.  It was reported in the media that the captain was in hospital in Finland. Bengt-Erik Stenmark, security chief of the Swedish Maritime Administration told Reuters that the international investigation committee had even interviewed Captain Avo Piht. Neither Stenmark nor Reuters has ever retracted this statement. The German television network ZDF broadcast a video clip on September 28 of Avo Piht and other survivors arriving at Turku University Hospital in Finland. This video was later confiscated by German intelligence agents, according to Rabe.  The captain and the main chief engineer Lembit Leiger were never seen again afterwards. His wife was told that he will arrive in Tallinn but he never returned.

These are the facts that lead to an alternative explanation of the sinking of ferry Estonia. Why the Swedish and Estonian agencies decided to transport secret military equipment on the civilian ferry ship and was the Russian secret service involved in the sinking remains unanswered question. It would be sinister madness to sink the civilian vessel with a thousand people on board to prevent the transfer of military equipment. There are no substantial clues of how exactly the sinking was carried out. But the history of the Russian secret service proves that it is capable of such operation the innocent human life’s Russian or foreigner has been a little worry for Russian government in all of its history. And as the Swedish and Estonian government and agencies are still pretty silent about the tragedy and blocks access to new clues about the disaster. So as this continues the question why the ferry sunk is still unanswered and will lead to further speculations.


Comments Off on The Sinking Of Estonia 1994

Filed under Historical Articles

The Great Northern War 1700-1721

Peter I was main curator of Russian success in the Great Northern War

During the Modern ages the Latvian land was hit by three large international wars.  The Livonian war , Swedish-Polish war and the Great Northern War. All three wars were fought between rival empires in the Baltic region. The Livonian war made Poland-Lithuania as the main power in the Baltic region. Also Sweden took first steps to empower their dominance in the Baltic Sea. Russia did not gain anything, despite the fact that they started the war in the first place. Swedish-Polish war weakened Polish position in the region making Sweden the main player in the Baltic Sea. For 80 years Baltic Sea became “Swedish lake” because Swedes took power over many important Baltic ports. Swedish dominance was watched with envy from Poles but even more envious were rulers of Russia.

17-18 century was time of empire and absolutism. Kings of France, Austria, Spain and others took all power in matters of the state. The old feudal system was replaced by mercantile economy and colonization. European powers who in the past were less advanced than China started a wave of modernization that made them key players in the world scale. Europe became the center of the world. However at this time, Russia was still underdeveloped and far behind from other European rivals. Russia became united country under brutal rule of Czar Ivan IV Terrible who removed Mongols from power and started to interfere in European politics. However Ivan IV left no successor and Russia was thrown into civil war and attacked by the Poles.  Time of 1589-1613 was known as the Time of Troubles. In the end Russians managed to push away Polish invaders and elected Michael Romanov as Czar. He was succeeded by Alexis who first challenged Sweden in 1656. His army captured Dorpat (Tartu) but lost numerous battles near Riga and in 1658 was forced to give up. This showed that Russia needs strong modernization and political reform to equally rival the European powers.

Nothing much was done until new Russian Czar Peter I took power in 1682. Peter was a strong man with ambitions and will for knowledge.   He was crowned at age of ten years. His first year of title was colored in blood because of the inner family rivalries between ex wife’s of Alexis that resulted Strelsty uprising. Peter witnessed the bloody events and that left a deep scar in his personality. He was forced to wait many years for his full rights for power. At this time he got interested in ship building, army commanding and other military activities. In 1696 Peter I officially became the sole ruler of Russia.

Sweden in 1617 gained lands around Ladoga Lake that stripped Russia completely from the Baltic Sea. Peter I was obsessed with “carving a window to Europe”. The window was the shores of the Baltic Sea. Peter organized alliance against Sweden and succeeded by allying with Denmark and Saxony. In 1700 all three sides declared war on Sweden.

War first came to Latvian land when the Saxon army attacked Riga in February 1700.  Saxons attempted to capture Riga using disguise. At this time Riga was celebrating the Faslam celebration. Saxons hoped to disguise as peasants and enter Riga when its guards were at lowest attention. However they were discovered by Swedish patrol and alarm was raised. Then the Saxons attempted to cross the river Daugava and block the city. Finnish soldiers held the fortress of Dünamunde (Daugavgrīva) and inflicted heavy casualties on Saxons but were forced to surrender at the end. But the Saxons were too weak to make direct capture attempt on Riga and started a siege. Saxons lacked heavy artillery so the siege was hopeless.  In March Swedish king Carl XII ordered to send forces to Riga. A Swedish army came in March but did nothing despite the fact that their army was larger than the Saxons. In September Russians sent few formations to Riga but nothing happened. Then the Saxons decided to quit the blockade and return to Koknese. In November 19-30 Sweden defeated Russians in Battle of Narva. That was a heavy blow to Peter I but he was not ready to quit.

A Swedish army crosses the River Daugava to attack Saxons at Spilve

In 1701 Saxons again headed to Riga. A Swedish army prepared Riga for a coming battle very well. Carl XII was about to enter Riga himself to command the battle. His army arrived in June. He ordered to make landing boats to move troops and cannons across Daugava. When the king learned that strong wind has turned to the north, he ordered to send boats filled with humid burning straws and hemps in front of his landing force, to weaken visibility for the Saxons. In noun of June 9 Swedes crossed river Daugava and attacked the Saxons in grasslands of Spilve. In two hours Saxon army was split in half and was forced to retreat. About 400 Russian troops remained encircled in island of Lucavsala and fought for their lives two more days. Saxony was out of the game so Carl XII now decided to get down with Poland (king of Saxony Augstus Strong was also king of Poland) and then with Russia.

Russian army in 1701-1702 started to gain first victories in Estonian lands and in Vidzeme. The Russian army under command of Sheremetev destroyed Vidzeme. Russian army burned villages, churches and looted everything. People were captured and sold as slaves in Russian markets. Old people and children were killed and burned alive. Russian Feldmarchal Sheremetev reported to Peter I “Almighty God and Our Lady has fulfilled your wish. There is nothing to destroy in enemy land anymore. From Pskov to Dorpat, down by River Veliky, across the Lake Peipus to mouth of river Narva, across Dorpat and from Riga to Valka, everything has been destroyed. Castles have been blown up. Nothing has been saved except Pernau and Revel and some mansions near the seaside.  Everything from Revel to Riga has been cut out. Inhabited places are only found on the maps for now.”   Russians deported 12 000 people from their homes. Even more deadly was a Black Death epidemic that took the lives of 60% rural citizens.   Vidzeme and Courland was torn apart for many decades.

A Swedish army took too much time in Poland and in the depth of Russia. Peters I army grew stronger and confident and finally in 1709 Swedish army was destroyed in the Battle of Poltava. This marked end for Baltic provinces. Sheremetev’s forces marched to Riga. In October the hostilities started. Peter I himself came to Riga and ordered to siege. Riga was under heavy bombardment. Not only that – the explosion in Riga fortress caused heavy damage. In January 1710 encircled city lacked reserves of food and fuel. People died from starvation and frost. City streets were filled with bodies. The Siege continued until June because Russians themselves suffered from food shortages and heavy cold. The Russians decided to flat-out Riga and force it to surrender. In June 29 defenders of Riga finally decided to surrender. In July 10 last 5132 Swedish men most of them sick left Riga. In  July 14 Sheremetev entered Riga and received the keys of Riga. Fortress of Dünamunde resisted until August 8.

The war officially continued until 1721. But in Latvia it was all but over. Vidzeme and Riga were added to the Russian Empire. Peter I established a new capital in the territory that belonged to Swedes. It was named Petersburg. Peter I fulfilled his dream of making Russian empire and made Russia the global player in the  Earth. That was done by inflicting massive casualties on people of Estonia and Latvia. The Great Northern War was the most destructive wars in history of the Latvian nation. Only Second World War was more catastrophic to Latvia than Great Northern War.

Selected Sources:

Zeids, Teodors (Ed.) (1978). Feodālā Rīga. Riga: Latvijas PSR Zinātņu akadēmija. Vēstures institūts.

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1962) Latvijas vēsture, 1600-1710. Stockholm: Daugava.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda.

Frost, Robert I. (2000) The Northern wars: war, state and society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721. Harlow: Longman.

Comments Off on The Great Northern War 1700-1721

Filed under Historical Articles

Swedish Vidzeme

Swedish army Garrison gate in old Riga. A symbol of Swedish rule

After the war with Poland Sweden acquired Vidzeme (Livland) as a new part of its empire. Riga was also added to Sweden and became one of the main trade centers of Sweden. At the time of Swedish rule Vidzeme became economically stable and its population grow from 50 000 to 142 000. Because of somewhat liberal Swedish attitudes to Latvian peasants and their staunch policy on German landlords, Swedish times are sometimes called “The Good Swedish times”. However this is disputed by modern Latvian historians who see this as a myth.

The Swedish administration gave 40 percent of land to Swedish nobles; another part still belonged to the Germans. German landlords used widely serfdom to expand their labor.  Serfdom meant that peasant family who lived within the noble owned land were subjects of the noble. They could not inherit land they maintained nor could they leave it. Serfdom was a form of slavery in all parts of Latvia. However serfdom was not used in mainland Sweden so Swedish king Karl XI suggested abolishing it entirely in Swedish empire. That was met with resistance from German landlords who wanted to expand their rights to enslave local peasants.

To somehow control the situation in Vidzeme, Swedish government used the reduction policy since 1681.  About five-sixths of estates in Vidzeme were reclaimed by Swedish crown. This was done to increase the revenues for Sweden and it succeeded because tax incomes grow substantially. However German control over their estates did not weaken and it had no big effect on the lives of Latvian peasants. Serfdom was not abolished however in Swedish controlled estates the treatment of peasants were less bad than in private German estates.

Riga surrendered to the Swedish army in 1621. Swedish government allowed Riga to keep its privileges even if it meant that Riga could have relative autonomy from Sweden. An inconvenience for people of Riga was Swedish garrison, in times of Poles, Polish army stayed out of Riga. This caused conflicts between Riga town council and Sweden, more quarrels happened because of Riga privileges. Swedish absolute monarchy contradicted the feudal rights of Riga. The Swedish administration made much effort to hold control over Riga and weaken its autonomy. But Riga Town council managed to keep their rights. In 1645 Riga became the administrative center of Vidzeme.

Riga was under attack by Russian army during the Swedish-Russian war (1656-1661). Riga was besieged by Czar Alexis Mikhalovich himself. Riga was under Russian artillery fire but did  not suffer much damage. In outcome Russian army was defeated and the siege was lifted.

Riga under Russian siege in 1656.

One of the notable achievements of the Swedish rule was opening of the Dorpat (Tartu) university.  It was the first university in the Baltic region. The university was established by King Gustav Adolphus. Latvian language was also studied there because it was needed for new pastors who wanted to work in Vidzeme. Later times first Latvian students started to study there. From the graduates of Dorpat University the first Latvian national intelligentsia appeared.

In Vidzeme for the first time Christian Bible was translated into Latvian. It was done by Ernest Glik from Aluksne. In 1685 he made translation of the New Testament but the whole translation was released in 1689. This was a significant effort in development of Latvian language. This was also a good start to introduce Christian teachings to simple Latvian peasants who were still more or less pagan. Before that Bible was only available in Latin or German.

The relative peace in Vidzeme came to an end when Denmark, Saxony and Russia allied in a war against Sweden in 1700. Vidzeme once again became a battlefield and got new owner – Russia.

Selected Sources

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1962) Latvijas vēsture, 1600-1710. Stockholm: Daugava.

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1938-1941) Vidzemes 1638. gada arklu revīzija = die Hakenrevision Livlands 1638. 1-6 Vol. Riga. Latvijas Vēstures institūts.

Alexis Mikhalovich

Comments Off on Swedish Vidzeme

Filed under Historical Articles

Polish-Swedish war 1600-1629.

Swedish army on the pillage

After the Livonian war former lands of Livonia were split between Poland-Lithuania and Sweden. Sweden grabbed Northern Estonia with Tallinn. However as the Empire of Sweden grow stronger its lust for more land in the Baltic region grew. Sweden wanted the port of Riga for its trade supremacy in the Baltic Sea along with rich agricultural lands in former Livonia.

Just as a Hundred years war between England and France in Middle Ages this war broke out because of succession conflict. In 1587 by legal matters Swedish prince Sigismund III Vasa became the king of Poland-Lithuania, in 1594 he was crowned as a king of Sweden.  However this was not liked in Sweden because Sigismund was a Catholic but Sweden was Protestant Lutheran country. He was deposed from Swedish throne. However Sigismund did not give up and decided to start a war against Sweden.  This war crucial for the Latvian nation since the most of the battle action happened in territory of today Latvia.

In the first two years of war Swedes captured a large part of Polish owned Duchy of Pārdaugava. The Swedes took unsuccessful raids on Riga and were forced to retreat.  Polish forces led by Jan Zamoyski made counterattacks on Swedes and routed them back to Northern Estonia. At this time Vidzeme suffered an outburst of famine and bubonic plagues. Thousands died in war caused calamity.

Swedish army bombarding the fortress of Dunamunde. A 17th-century etching.

Sweden however was able to reassemble its army and send to Riga once again. Their army was highly trained motivated and well-trained. Poland lacked originality and funds to support its troops. Swedish forces at 1605 reached Riga and started the siege. The fortress of Dünamünde (Daugavgrīva) was surrounded and bombed by the Swedish army. At  September 23 main forces of Sweden reached Riga. Poles arrived at the spot and one of the famous battles at that time the battle of Kircholm (Salaspils) started. The Swedes was led by King Charles IX who took command of 10 800 men and 11 cannons. Most of the Swedish fighters were actually mercenaries from Germany and Scotland. Poles had 1 300 men of musketeers and pikeman. It also had a crushing force of 2 600 cavalry of Winged Hussars. These well-trained men with lances and decorative wings on their backs were the finest that Poles and Lithuanians could offer. Swedish cavalry had only pistols and poorer horses.

The Swedes were superior to Poles by 1:3 so Polish commander Jan Chlodkeiwitz devised a feint maneuver to move Swedes out of their high position.  Swedes thought that Poles were retreating and advanced only to get in line of fire by Poles. Then the Hussars unleashed their attack. 300 Winged Hussars charged and destroyed Swedish positions. After 20- 30 minute battle ended with Swedish defeat. Sweden lost 9000 men Poland only 1000. This was the most famous of all Polish victories.

Battle of Kircholm (Salaspils)

Victory however could not end the war quickly. Polish army did not receive payments and left the ranks for plundering. Victorious Hetman Jan Chlodkeiwitz was forced to lead a handful of mercenaries funded from his own pocket.  In 1608 Swedes returned to Livonia in 1608-1609 Swedes captured the fortress of  Dünamünde and Kokenhusen (Koknese). However at 1609   Jan Chlodkeiwitz again relived Riga and defeated Swedes near river Gauja. A truce was signed in 1611. During this time Poles were occupied in their war in Russia.

War restarted when “Swedish Meteor” Gustav II Adolphus at 1620 again set war path to Riga. Famous for his successes in Thirty years war Gustav II was one of the most talented commanders in that time. He at last captured Riga. Poles were unable to send reinforcements since their war in Russia ended in failure and more serious war was fought in the same time with the Ottoman Empire. So a truce lasting till 1625 was signed.

In 1625 Gustav’s forces captured all of Livonia. He did a crushing victory in battle of Wallhof (Valle) at January 7 1626.  Swedes stated that they had not lost a single man in battle when Poles lost 1 5000 men. Then war turned to East Prussia. The final battle was fought near Trzciana, Prussia. The battle was won by the Poles; however this does not prevent the Poles from signing a ceasefire.

The Truce of Altmark gave Sweden Riga and whole of Estonia and Vidzeme. Latvian lands now were split between two empires. Peace in the Latvian territory only lasted until 1655 when it was hit by First Northern war.

Swedish territorial gain at the result of war

Selected Sources

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1962) Latvijas vēsture, 1600-1710. Stockholm: Daugava.

Lagerqvist, Lars O. (2001) A History of Sweden. Stockholm: The Swedish Institute.


Comments Off on Polish-Swedish war 1600-1629.

Filed under Historical Articles

The Livonian War

Narva attacked by Russians in 1558.

15-16 century was a time of great change in Europe in both political and social fields. Feudal ways of ruling nations changed. Strong European countries became centralized with strong royal administration and armies became more powerful.  Once weak feudal nations slowly became empires. At this time the nation that was unable to make significant changes became prey to other much stronger nations.

Livonia had strong neighbors- Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was largest country in Europe spanning from the Baltic sea to the Black Sea. Sweden started to gain ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Denmark also rivalled for mastery in the Baltic. However even stronger and dangerous enemy was tempting to get Baltic region. It was Russia. In 8-9 century Kievan Rus was the first form of the Russian Empire, but it broke in many weak duchies. Duchies such as Pskov, Polotsk and Novgorod often tried to interfere Baltic region by attacking local tribes and forcing to pay fees for them. But they were too weak to conquer the Baltic peoples. When German Crusaders took Baltic lands by force, Russians were unable to do anything about it. Another weakening factor was Mongol invasion- in 13th century Mongolian Hordes destroyed Russian cities and imposed so-called Mongol-Tatar yoke.  Kiev fell in direct Mongolian rule, while Novgorod was more independent but still fed up with Mongols.  The Mongols created a country called the Golden Horde with Sarai as capital. Mongols controlled Russian Duchies with use of fees and taxes and tried not to make them too strong. However because of inner conflicts within the Horde the yoke got weaker. In 1380 the forces of Moscow defeated the Mongol army at the Battle of Kulikovo. This great battle however was more a result of an inner Mongol power struggle than effort of Russian liberation. Mongol power stayed and in 1382 the Mongols revenged by burning Moscow. But Mongols were crushed by Mongolian ruler Timur (Tamerlan) from Samarkand who destroyed Sarai but spared Moscow. In 1480 Moscow destroyed Mongol army at the Battle at River Ugra and no longer saw them as their senior rulers. Mongol yoke ended and Moscow became a prime duchy in Russia. The Russians learned many things from Mongols, such as brutal ways of ruling and the lack of justice.  Grand Duke of Ivan III captured Novgorod and Pskov. When 1455 Constantinople the center of the Orthodox Church was taken by the Ottomans, Ivan III declared that Moscow has become a Third Rome- the center of Eastern Christianity and heir of Roman Empire. That was beginning of the Russian imperialism.

Czar of All Russia Ivan IV the Terrible

Heir of Ivan III was Vasily III. In 1530 Ivan his son was born. In 1533 Vasily III was dead. Ivan IV was crowned as Czar of all Russia. Since he was child first years of his rule the power was managed by boyars. Ivan IV reached his prominence when he led the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.   Both cities were owned by the Mongols and that was the end of Mongol influence in Russia.

After the fall of Kazan Ivan IV took his eyes on Livonia. Ivan IV wanted free port to the west and connect trade routes from the Baltic to Caspian Sea. Only Russian port on the Baltic Sea was Ivangorod right next to Narva, but it was too small and shallow. Russia required Livonia to pay taxes for Dorpat (Tartu) to keep peace. But in 1557 Livonians could not pay money to Ivan IV triggering his anger. Russia at first could not invade Livonia because relations with Poland-Lithuania were not secured. But in 1557 Kazan was captured and Russian army got large reinforcements from local Tatar tribes. Livonia still was not paying the money. Before that Russians managed to defeat Han of Crimea and stop Sweden. Grip on Livonia was getting stronger and Livonian cities asked for Polish help. In 1557 Livonia signed anti-Russian alliance with Poland-Lithuania and Order was under Polish protection. Russia saw this as a threat to its security and in 1558 declared war on Livonia.

Livonia was invaded by Russian forces and large groups of Tatar Hordes. Narva surrendered to Russia first, next was Dorpat. Sweden, Poland-Lithuania tried to force Russians leave Livonia, but without any luck. Russians pillaged Livonia killed civilians and in 1559 the Livonian Order gave up their independence to Poland-Lithuania. Order became part of the Polish army and their lands were given to them. Ivan IV tried to persuade Poland-Lithuania to join war against Muslim rulers of Crimea, but Lithuania disproved such proposal and helped the Han of Crimea. In 1560  August 2 Russians completely destroyed the Livonian army at the Battle of Ergeme. In same time Ivan IV started repressions against its aides.  On August 7 Ivan IV lost his beloved wife Anastasia. It was a great tragedy for Ivan and probably caused mental breakdown. Some say that Ivan IV turned evil after this and deserved his nickname ‘Terrible’. Ivan married again many times and most of his future wife’s were killed by his orders.

Atrocities of Russian army in Livonia

During the next years’ wars with brief cease-fire continued. Russia confronted Poland and Sweden and was unable to win. In Moscow Ivan IV continued bloody repressions accompanied by orgies and heavy drinking. In 1563 Russians captured Lithuanian controlled Polotsk.

The war started to shift against Russia when Crimean Tatars won many victories in 1579. They even devastated Moscow. Meanwhile after death of Polish king Sigismund Augustus throne was taken by energetic Stepfan Batory who started many successful attacks against Russia. He recaptured Polotsk and head deep into the Russian land almost threatening Ivan’s IV safety.   Sweden chased away Russians from Estonian part of Livonia. In 1581 Swedish mercenary forces captured Narva making heavy blow to Ivan IV. In November 1581 Ivan did heavy blow for himself by killing his son Ivan in spike of anger. Ivan IV now lost his heir. His remaining son Feodor was sick with Down syndrome and unable to rule. This was end of Rurikovich dynasty. Next year Russia made peace deal with Poland-Lithuania and Sweden.

Livonian Confederation ceased to exist. Northern Livonia with Reval (Tallin) and Narve was given to Sweden. Rest of Livonia was given to Poland-Lithuania. The New Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was established, its Duke was the last Master of the Livonian Order Gotthard Kettler. It was an autonomous nation with Jelgava as a capitol. Rest of Latvia was under direct jurisdiction of Poland. Riga tried to resist and was independent for many years but was captured by the Poles.

Russia lost in her first attempt to get way to the west. After Ivan IV death Russia felled in civil war together with Polish invasion.  Peace in the Baltic was kept until 1600 when Sweden and Poland-Lithuania started wars for Latvian territory.  It was Czar Peter I who again tried to “carve a window to Europe” and succeed in 1721 realizing an Ivan’s dream.

Livonia after Livonian war

Selected Sources

Madariaga, Isabel de. (2005) Ivan the Terrible: First Tsar of Russia. New York. Yale University Press.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte


Comments Off on The Livonian War

Filed under Historical Articles