Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Smolensk War (1632-1634) and the Thirteen Years’ War (1654-1667) between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Muscovy contributed to the former’s decline and the emergence of Muscovy as a Great Power.

Summary of Event

In 1600, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth[Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth] was the largest state in eastern Europe, with frontiers stretching from the Baltic Sea almost to the Black Sea. The core of Muscovy Muscovy , consisted of what is now northeastern Russia. Ukraine Ukraine was dominated by the Tatar Tatars khanate of the Crimea and the Cossacks Cossacks —frontiersmen, runaway serfs, and adventurers of all kinds—unwilling to bow to king, czar, khan, or sultan. The Zaporozhian Cossacks of the Dnieper, however, had long been within the Polish sphere of influence. [kw]Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine (1632-1667) [kw]Ukraine, Polish-Russian Wars for the (1632-1667) [kw]Russian Wars for the Ukraine, Polish- (1632-1667) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Expansion and land acquisition;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Religion and theology;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Government and politics;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Diplomacy and international relations;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Poland;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Russia;1632-1667: Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine[1170] Polish-Russian Wars (1632-1667)[Polish Russian Wars (1632-1667)] Ukraine;Polish-Russian Wars for the Ukraine

The Polish-Muscovite rivalry had two aspects. Territorially, the borderlands between the two states, including the cities of Smolensk and Kiev on the Dnieper, were in dispute. Ideologically, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had come to embody the spirit of the Counter-Reformation in eastern Europe, but the Muscovy czars claimed the spiritual heritage of Orthodox Constantinople, which had been lost to the Ottomans in 1453. Poland’s staunchly Catholic king Sigismund III Vasa Sigismund III Vasa intervened in the Muscovite Time of Troubles (1584-1613) Time of Troubles (1584-1613) : In September, 1610, the Poles fought their way into Moscow, and, in June of 1611, they captured Smolensk after a protracted siege. The expulsion of the Poles from Moscow (August, 1612) led to the enthronement of Czar Michael Romanov, Romanov, Michael the first monarch of the Romanov Dynasty Romanov Dynasty . That the new government remained weak was reflected in the Peace of Deulino Deulino, Peace of (1618) with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (December, 1618), which left Smolensk in Polish hands.

For the Muscovites, however, the treaty was not the end of the matter. Czar Michael’s father, Metropolitan Filaret Filaret , the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Russian Orthodox Church and coruler of Muscovy with his son (1619-1633), was soon planning for a renewal of hostilities, hiring Protestant foreign mercenaries and raising new regiments. In 1632, a Muscovite army commanded by Michael Shein, Shein, Michael after some initial successes, settled down to besiege Smolensk. However, disease and hunger took their toll on the besiegers, troops had to be diverted against Tatar raiders and local insurgents, and before long, the besieging army found itself encircled by the Poles. In 1633, Filaret died, and the Moscow government opened negotiations. Shein himself surrendered to the Poles in February of 1634. By the Peace of Polianovka Polianovka, Peace of (1634) (June, 1634), Poland retained Smolensk and other towns taken during the Time of Troubles (1584-1613), but Władysław IV Vasa Władysław IV Vasa renounced claims to the Muscovite throne, which had been first advanced in 1610. Shein was tried and executed for treason, paying the price of failure. Muscovy’s new regiments were disbanded and their foreign officers expelled, thus ending the Smolensk War of 1632-1634 Smolensk War (1632-1634) .

Between 1648 and 1654, the Dnieper Cossacks, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Khmelnytsky, Bohdan revolted against Polish overlordship. The quarrels between Poles and Cossacks ran deep, fueled by the determination of the Polish magnates of the southeast to reduce the Ukrainians to serfdom, to strip the Cossacks of their independence, and to enforce Catholicism upon the Orthodox. The uprising was of unparalleled ferocity, as was Polish retaliation. The conflict raged back and forth, amid carnage and devastation. Neither Władysław IV Vasa nor his successor John II Casimir Vasa John II Casimir Vasa could suppress the rebellion, but Khmelnytsky’s forces could not retain the initiative, so he was forced to turn to Moscow. By the Treaty of Pereyaslavl (January, 1654) Pereyaslavl, Treaty of (1654) , the Zaporozhian Cossacks acknowledged the overlordship of Czar Alexis Alexis , although the treaty’s terms were interpreted differently by the signatories.

Thus, the czar became embroiled with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Thirteen Years’ War (1654-1667) Thirteen Years’ War (1654-1667) , involving campaigns of great ferocity fought over repeatedly devastated lands. Alexis’s prime objectives were to recover Smolensk and Kiev; Casimir’s objective was to lose as little territory as possible. Hostilities opened in the spring of 1654 with Muscovite forces in the north advancing into Lithuania, taking a number of towns. By July, they had captured Smolensk, and by the following year, they had taken Minsk, Vilna, Kaunas, and Grodno. In the south, in collaboration with the Cossacks, they had besieged Lviv and entered Lublin.

These Polish reverses, exposing Polish military weakness, soon tempted another predator. Charles X Gustav Charles X Gustav of Sweden launched a preemptive invasion of Poland, fearing that his own Baltic provinces would be exposed to Muscovite invasion and determined to force the abrogation of the Polish Vasa’s long-standing claim to the Swedish throne. By September of 1655, Charles X had occupied Warsaw, and by October, he had occupied Kraków. Many Polish nobles had defected to the Swedes, and John II was a refugee in Silesia. The greatest magnates in Lithuania, the Radziwills, submitted to Charles in recognition of virtual independence; Brandenburg’s Frederick William, the Great Elector Frederick William, the Great Elector , sought to occupy Ducal Prussia; and György II Rákóczi Rákóczi, György II , prince of Transylvania, was preparing to invade from the south. It seemed that one century before the First Partition, Poland was to be wiped off the map.

However, in a startling reversal of fortune, the tide turned, symbolized by the heroic defense of the shrine of the “Black Madonna” at Czestochowa against the Swedes (December, 1655). Charles had been too successful, and a hostile coalition consisting of the Habsburg emperor, Denmark, and the Netherlands was forming. Alexis, too, was fearful of Swedish expansion and was willing to negotiate with the Poles for recognition of his territorial gains. Muscovy was experiencing severe financial hardship, and the upheavals associated with the reforms of Patriarch Nikon were beginning. One improbable bargaining chip was that Alexis should succeed the childless John II as king of Poland.

In any case, the course of events gave Poland breathing space: Rákóczi’s incursion of 1657 ended in his forces being crushed by the Poles and their new allies, the Crimean Tatars. Frederick William abandoned his Swedish ally, and the Poles ceded Ducal Prussia to him (Treaty of Wehlau, September, 1657) Wehlau, Treaty of (1657) . The opportune death of Charles X in February of 1660 hastened the end of the First Northern War (1655-1661) Northern War, First (1655-1661) with the Treaty of Oliva (May, 1660) Oliva, Treaty of (1660) and the Treaty of Kardis (June 21, 1661) Kardis, Treaty of (1661) . Poland was free to concentrate on the eastern front, where circumstances were also changing in its favor.

Khmelnytsky had died in 1657, and his successor as hetman (leader) of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, Ivan Vyhovsky, Vyhovsky, Ivan disillusioned with the harshness with which Moscow interpreted the terms of Pereyaslavl, turned back to Poland, initiating the Treaty of Hadiach (September 16, 1668) Hadiach, Treaty of (1668) , which anticipated a Ukrainian principality as the equal partner of the Polish kingdom and the grand duchy of Lithuania. However, the bitterness between the Poles and Cossacks could not be assuaged, so the agreement was not implemented.

Several months earlier, a Muscovite army of some 150,000, commanded by Prince Alexis Trubetskoi Alexis Trubetskoi , was decisively defeated at Konotop Konotop, Battle of (1658) (June 19, 1658). There was panic in Moscow, and many fled the city, fearing a Polish-Cossack or Tatar advance, which never happened. Significantly, however, the defeat led Czar Alexis to begin modernizing his forces. Vyhovsky’s failure to follow up on his victory left the Muscovites firmly in control of the Left Bank. In October, the hetman resigned and retired to Poland.

Vyhovsky’s success at Konotop was repeated by his Polish allies, who, as a result of the Peace of Oliva, could divert troops eastward. Near Polotsk Polotsk, Battle of (1660) , Hetman Paweł Jan, Paweł Jan (c. 1610-1665) defeated Prince Ivan Khovansky, who left 19,000 men dead or captive on the field (June 27, 1660). The Poles recaptured Vilna, Grodno, and Mogilev (1661). In the south, 40,000 troops in the Ukraine were defeated at Chudnovo Chudnovo, Battle of (1660) by a combined Polish-Tatar force and had to capitulate (October 17, 1660). The failed army, which consisted of traditional gentry cavalry, further justified the case for radical military reform.

The Poles had regained the entire Right Bank except for Kiev, but they could make no headway east of the Dnieper. Plenipotentiaries eventually met at Andrusovo, near Smolensk. In the light of Moscow’s losses, Czar Alexis anticipated little good from the negotiations, but he was elated by the favorable terms his principal diplomat, Afansasy Lavrentyevich Ordyn-Nashchokin, Ordyn-Nashchokin, Afansasy Lavrentyevich extracted from the Poles. John II, however, was facing unrest at home, planning his abdication (September 16, 1668), and planning his retirement to France.


The Treaty of Andrusovo (January of 1667) Andrusovo, Treaty of (1667) , which included a thirteen-year armistice, laid out the future map of eastern Europe until the First Partition of Poland in 1772. By its terms, Muscovy gained permanent control of the Left Bank (much of what is now Ukraine), while Poland retained its traditional rights to the Right Bank. Kiev was to remain in Muscovite hands for two years only, but the Poles never regained it. Moscow kept Smolensk. In 1686, Alexis’s daughter Sophia Sophia , queen regent, signed a Perpetual Peace (the Treaty of Moscow Moscow, Treaty of (1686) ) with the Polish king, John III Sobieski John III Sobieski , which confirmed Moscow’s possession of Kiev and its right to intervene on behalf of the Commonwealth’s Orthodox subjects, marking the death knell of Poland as a Great Power.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davies, Norman. God’s Playground: A History of Poland. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. An excellent source for studies of seventeenth century Poland.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Florinsky, Michael T. Russia: A History and Interpretation. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1947, 1953. This detailed work is considered by many to be the best account of the complex history of early seventeenth century Russia. Includes a glossary, a bibliography, and an index in each volume.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Frost, Robert I. After the Deluge: Poland-Lithuania and the Second Northern War, 1655-1660. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A detailed chronological narrative and analysis of the political and military aspects of the Polish phase of the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Korduba, M., and W. Tomkiewicz. “The Reign of John Casimir.” In The Cambridge History of Poland to 1696. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1950. The authors provide a detailed narrative of John II Casimir Vasa’s reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Longworth, Philip. Alexis, Tsar of All the Russias. New York: Franklin Watts, 1984. The definitive biography of Alexis, an underestimated ruler.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Majewski, W. “The Polish Art of War in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.” In A Republic of Nobles, edited by J. K. Fedorowicz. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Essential reading for studies of Polish military history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stevens, Carol Belkin. Soldiers of the Steppe. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1995. Essential for studying the military history of seventeenth century Muscovy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. 3d ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000. An authoritative overview of Ukrainian history.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Alexis; Charles X Gustav; Christina; Frederick William, the Great Elector; John III Sobieski; Bohdan Khmelnytsky; Ivan Stepanovich Mazepa; Nikon; Michael Romanov; Sigismund III Vasa; Sophia. Polish-Russian Wars (1632-1667)[Polish Russian Wars (1632-1667)] Ukraine

Categories: History