Russia that Vladimir Putin built

 To readers,

In this series, I intend to give historic analysis of political, social and economic system of modern Russia. I consider this series of articles as a kind of Heartland of my previous series and as foundation to revelation of reasons and possible outcome of the confrontation between Russia and the West, including in Ukraine, Caucasus and Central Asia.

It is impossible to uncover and analyze the causes of this confrontation without understanding what state and what system Vladimir Putin has created and continues to build. Where is he leading Russia and other former Soviet states, including Ukraine and the Central Asian states that are inseparably connected to Moscow. Without understanding of hidden and visible features of the state system of Russia and the Russian civilization, it is impossible to foresee future development of the relations between the West and Moscow.

There is another task that I have set for myself, and that is to make the analysis of Putin’s Russia understandable and clear not only to the Russian readers, but also to the Western audience. This can be done only through comparison of two civilizations, Russian and Western, by taking into account the mentality, knowledge and understanding of the history and modern events by their peoples, including political and business elites. As an example of the Western mentality, I take Great Britain that made the most significant impact on the development of Western civilization in the XVIII, XIX and in the early years of the XX century.

Over the past five hundred years, starting from the middle of the 16th century, there has not been a single generation in Russia that has escaped a major war with the Western countries or Ottoman Empire, the modern NATO members. Each of these wars required the full exertion of the forces of the country and the people, not yielding in their consequences to the First or Second World Wars. We can say that every generation of Russians, starting from the 16th century, had its own world war.

However, it should also be taken into account that until the 16th century, in the 13th century, there was an invasion of the Great Horde. That invasion led to destruction of cities and villages, as well as 90% of the population in the regions subjected to the invasion, that was followed by three hundred years of yoke and oppression of the Russian people by the Horde.

All that led to the fact that the understanding of the world and politics by Russians is fundamentally different from the perception and understanding of the world by Western peoples, primarily by the elites.

In our time, the difference in understanding and assessments of events and motives that determine the actions of rivals is playing an increasingly significant and decisive role in shaping the policy of the West and Russia towards each other. This misunderstanding, spurred by the decline of education, increasing dependence on artificial intelligence, decrease in the level of political analysis and degradation of elites, lies at the heart of many conflicts in the modern world.

So, I decided to write two variants of the texts, and this should not surprise the readers who can read both versions. The Russian version is written taking into consideration perception by the Russian readers, and the English text takes into account the mentality and knowledge of Russian history and culture by the Western readers.

By the way, it so happened that I started writing this series with a story that originated in Kabul, and therefore the text below came as a commentary on the current events in Afghanistan.

                                                             Part 1

                              «The Great Game» or «The War of Shadows»

I begin with the story of how two empires, two civilizations found themselves in a situation of strategic confrontation and hybrid war, deliberately not setting such a goal and at first not striving for it, and at some moments not wanting it.

The state-forming peoples in these empires had a fundamentally different past, they developed different worldviews, attitudes and different mentalities. The term «hybrid war» in those days had not yet been invented, so in world history this «quiet», but long, lasting for centuries war, no less cruel than usual, was called the «Great Game».

I begin with this story also because the Great Game, quiet and ignited, changing forms, involving new territories and new participants and throwing them out of the game, has been going on for more than 250 years, and in our time, without realizing it, we are watching it and participating in it.

This Great Game is going on where it began: in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, Iran (Persia) and Afghanistan. The only difference is that the Great Game has spread to the territory of historical Russia — Ukraine and Belarus, and now extends to the heartland of Europe, including the UK. Welcome to the new technological and information era of 21st century!

The probability of further expanding of the Great Game zone increases, given the acceleration of the technological and information revolution and its inconsistency with the moral and intellectual level of the ruling elites …


                     Origins of the Great British Game against Russia

The term «Great Game» was born in Kabul in 1840, and meant a geopolitical confrontation, a hybrid war of the XIX century for the dominance in Asia between the two largest world empires of that time, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Russian Empire. That war was waged by their secret and diplomatic services using travelers, merchants, and if necessary, using military force, although it did not come to open clashes between the British and Russian armies.

In July 1840, in a letter to Major Henry Rawlinson, who had been appointed the new British agent in Kandahar, Arthur Conolly, a British intelligence officer and officer in the service of the East India Company, wrote: «You’ve a great game, a noble game, before you.”

Photo: Captain Arthur Conolly

The goal of the Great Game at its initial stage was one for the British — to stop the spread of the influence of the Russian Empire in Asia, primarily in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, Persia and Afghanistan, and to prevent the threat of a Russian invasion of India — the pearl of the British Empire.

The importance of India for Great Britain is illustrated, for example, by the fact that during the colonization of India by Great Britain, the Indian GDP was five times that of the British, and the subsequent growth of British industry and wealth was largely due to the conquest of the Indian market and wealth. In 1800, Indian GDP exceeded that of Great Britain by 4 times, and in 1850, when the Great Game was in full swing, Indian GDP exceeded the GDP of Great Britain by only 2 times. British GDP surpassed the GDP of its colony only in the twentieth century.

At present, in 2020, Indian GDP in purchasing power exceeds that of the UK three times… Every civilization has its own karma, and every karma has its own reasons…

By the way, it is the attempts of the British to find new path to India and China that Russia and Britain owe the establishment of the first direct contacts and the development of bilateral trade and diplomatic relations, and it was at that initial period that the main rules of the Great Game were set up…


                  In Search of Adventure, Wealth and the Frog People

In 1553, three English ships departed from the British coast in an attempt to find a pass to China and India through the northern seas. In Western Europe, it was little known about Eastern Europe and Siberia, and the information available at that time was no more accurate than the information about modern Russia in the Western mass media.

In those years, several books written by European travelers were published in Western Europe that described the possibility of getting to China and then to India by sailing around Siberia through the northern sea and then down the rivers.

In particular, Sigmund Herberstein, who travelled as the ambassador of the Austrian Emperor Maximilian to Moscow twice, in 1516-1518 and in 1526-1527, where he met the Russian Prince Vasily III, published a book «Notes on Muscovy».

In his book, Herberstein gave a number of precious testimonies about the Muscovy Kingdom, the life in Moscow, about the geography of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. He wrote: «The possessions of the Moscow sovereign extend far to the east — to the Irtysh River, from the mouth of which to the Chinese Lake three months away. From the Chinese Lake, hiding in dense forests, the Ob River originates. Black people come here and bring a variety of goods. Forests stretch to the Lukomorye region, whose inhabitants every year exactly on the day dedicated to St. George, November 27, die, and in the spring, on April 24, come to life like frogs. Where the end of this forest no one knows. «

Most of the other authors have never been to Russia and wrote their books on the stories of those who claimed that they had been to Russia. Mostly, they told about the Muscovy Kingdom what the Western readers wanted to read. This tradition has remained to this day…

Herberstein’s book served as one of the sources that generated of the idea to find a way to India free from greedy and cruel competitors, — Spaniards, French and Portuguese.  From those sources that were available to the British, they decided to go by sea through the northern seas, rounding the Moscow principality, and then descend along the rivers of Siberia, which flowed from south to north, and thus find a new route to India and China, free from the Spaniards, Portuguese and French. The British did not see the frog people as a serious threat to themselves.


                                   Death on the way to India

In 1551, in London, the brave and enterprising Englishmen, who sought success and wealth, created the Company of Merchants-Entrepreneurs «Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown». That Company engaged, among other projects, in finding the North-Eastern Sea Route.

The journey through the northern seas proved to be more dangerous than it seemed in London. And these dangers did not come from the frog people. As soon as the British ships passed the coastline of Norway and went into the unknown territories, the storm scattered the ships. Two of them, as it turned out later, moored off the coast of the Kola Peninsula.

The crews of two British ships could not survive the winter. Next spring, the ships were found by Russian fishermen. One ship was found deserted. In another, the fishermen found 83 dead bodies. The English sailors died all of a sudden, and their bodies were found inside the ship in the places where the sailors had to be during the voyage. The body of the expedition commander and captain Sir Hugh Willoughby was found in his cabin, at a table with maps. His diary was also lying on the table.

The crew may have been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, resulting from a decision to insulate their ship and block their stove chimney to fight the Arctic cold…

Photo: Admiral Sir Hugh Willoughby was an excellent military man, but he had no experience as sailor to pass the northern sea route and survive the polar winter

However, the captain of the third ship, Richard Chancellor, was more experienced and fortunate, and his ship «Edward Bonaventure» reached the island of Jagra, where there was a Russian Orthodox monastery and a settlement fishermen and hunters.

Photo: Edward Bonaventure

The 160-ton British ship made a strong impression on the Russian fishermen of the Far North, and Richard Chancellor managed to interest them so much that the local authorities decided to fulfill his request and report the arrival of the British to Ivan IV the Terrible, The Tsar of the Moscow Kingdom.

Photo: Richard Chancellor, captain of the ship «Edward Beneventura»

Chancellor decided to wait for the invitation from the tsar and to continue the journey in search of India with the support of the Russians. It took a long time to wait. The distance to Moscow from the town of Kholmogory (now Arkhangelsk), the capital of Pomors region on the coast of the White Sea, the northern province of Russia, where the British arrived at the invitation of the local authorities, exceeded 600 miles.

Photo: The voyage of Richard Chancellor and «Edward Bonaventure» to the Moscow Tsardom in 1553

Richard Chancellor, like many English adventurers, was impatient and after waiting for weeks, he went on a journey to Moscow to meet the Tsar’s messenger on his way. He covered 600 miles to Moscow by horse-drawn sleigh through snow and ice-covered country. The Tsar’s courier met him and conveyed to him the invitation letter and Tsar’s readiness to receive the British captain in the Moscow Kremlin.


                              Moscow through the eyes of the first Briton

On his way to Moscow, Chancellor made several observations that, unlike writings of most Western travelers, reflected Russian realities. He calculated that on his way on the snow and ice-covered road, he used to meet every day from seven hundred to eight hundred sleighs with grain that Russian traders carried to Moscow or from Moscow to the north, where grain was needed to feed the population, because the climate there did not allow to grow grain.

The sleighs moving from the north to Moscow carried furs, skins of marine animals, fish and fish oil, lard and meat of whales and other marine animals. Chancellor was struck by the abundance of small villages he encountered on his way around Moscow.

The city of Moscow itself also surprised him. He considered Moscow to be much larger than London with suburbs. The Russian capital was built mainly of wood, with houses constructed not standing close or pressed to each other, like in London, but scattered, as Chancellor later wrote, chaotically, without any order. From his book, the British reader had impression that Moscow was “primitively built”.

Photo: Moscow in XVI century, painting by A.Vasnetsov

Here, I would like to point out the difference in the perception of life and the surrounding reality by British and Russians, which manifested itself in how Chancellor saw and understood the Russian way of life at his arrival as the first official British envoy to Moscow. His perception and assessments of Russia had a huge impact in Great Britain on the formation of the image of Russia, of the Russian people, their character, habits and customs, the system of power and relations between people and tsar or the Moscow Kremlin as the centre of power. This image largely shaped the attitude of Great Britain towards Russia till today.

Let us start with Moscow city. As I wrote in my previous article, «The Conflict of Civilizations or The Russian House that Jack Built» ( ),  Moscow was called «big village» by Russians. All traditional Russian cities till late XIX century, looked like a huge Russian village surrounding fortresses and monasteries also constructed as fortresses, in contrast to the stone and western-type St. Petersburg that was built by the Russian Emperor Peter I, in XVIII century.

Moscow looked scattered because it was built mostly of manors and homesteads, not town houses. Most of homesteads had their own gardens, courtyards and comprised several buildings, including living house, barn, storehouse, toilet. Some of them even had bathhouse or Russian sauna. This kind of city development allowed to provide population with necessary sanitation in the city, including a huge number of wells with clean drinking water. That was very important especially in cold winter and hot summer seasons.

The use of wood in the construction of houses was determined not only by availability of woods and forests that occupied millions of hectares and surrounded all cities of Russia, but also by the fact that wooden houses used to protect people better from the cold in severe winter, which lasted in Russia for five months, and from the heat in summer.

Standards of housing construction in Russia and Great Britain have always been different. It was impossible to live in an English house in Russia in the XVI century, and it is still impossible in the XXI century. Until the 1960s, in the USSR, the building standard required a wall thickness for a brick residential building of at least 110 cm. That standard required changes with the introduction of concrete construction with wall insulation. At the same time, a wood of 30 cm in diameter provides the same level of thermal insulation as a brick wall of 110 cm thickness.

Richard Chancellor noticed that the brick buildings in Moscow had larger thickness of the walls, but he did not try to understand the reasons, and in some cases, — and that is characteristic of the British, — he simply refused to believe information.

Photo: Russian city in XVI century, painting by A.Vasnetsov

Describing the Moscow Kremlin, Richard Chancellor wrote: «There is a beautiful castle in Moscow, the high walls of which are built of brick. They say that these walls are 18 feet thick, but I don’t believe it, they don’t seem like that. However, I do not know this for sure, since no foreigner is allowed to inspect them.»

He would not have believed that in the Kremlin there were tunnels that allowed cavalry units to ride through the Kremlin walls and from one side of the Kremlin to another, as well as from inside the Kremlin into the city. These tunnels survived till now days, and I saw those tunnels myself, when I participated in search for the lost library of Ivan IV the Terrible. In the Kremlin walls, there are still passages for detachments of soldiers of the Kremlin guards…

The British believed that they made a strong impression on Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible and his court with their manners, knowledge, goods offered and exquisite clothes, although the British clothes, especially “uncovered” legs in winter, plunged Russians not into delight, but into thoughts that the health of the British would be quickly undermined in Russia, and in any case, the British sailors definitely would not have children, and they would unlikely live until spring.


                       The Beginning of the myth on Russia and the Russians

In “The Booke of the Great and Mighty Emperor of Russia & Duke of Moscovia and of the dominions orders and commodities thereunto belonging», Richard Chancellor reflected the impression that the British made on the Russians, but his most important contribution to the development of British-Russian relations was laying foundation to the myth about Russia and Russians that stood through centuries going through modernisations and modifications reflecting changes in British political priorities and interests. That myth was based on Chancellor’s observations on life, traditions and habits of the Russians in XVI century, as well as on the Russian army and state system.

Most observations and remarks made by Richard Chancellor were true and reflected Russian realities, some of them being really important and valuable, however, Chancellor failed to properly understand them and gave wrong explanations to the British public. His mistakes played important role in creation of the vision and understanding of Russia by public and political elites in Great Britain, in Europe and later in the US.

Let us dwell on some of Chancellor’s observations.

Observation 1

                         «The fish was rotten. Sir, I personally checked it!»

Let me start not with the book by Richard Chancellor, but with a story that happened 425 years later after the last trip of “Edward Beneventura” that brought death to his captain Richard Chancellor. That story happened in 1980, in Indian city of Chandigarh…

A year and a half before that, I had been drafted into the Soviet Army, and after serving for more than six months at a training centre for foreign military personnel, including Iraqis, Libyans and Tanzanians, in the city of Mary, in Turkmenistan, a hundred kilometres from the Soviet-Afghan border, in December 1978, I was sent to India as a member of a group of Soviet military specialists who worked at the Indian Air Force base in the city of Chandigarh .

Photo: Group of Soviet military specialists. I am standing second from the right. December 1978, Delhi, India

The group of Soviet military specialists in Chandigarh consisted of more than twenty officers and engineers. They had been working in Chandigarh for several years, assisting Indian specialists in servicing and repair of MI-8 helicopters and AN-12 transport aircrafts.

The group was under command of Colonel Lyoshin. Six months later, his deputy, who commanded the group of interpreters and was in charge of relations with the Indian airbase Command, was recalled to Moscow due to the end of his stay in India. Unexpectedly for me, I was appointed in his place as Lyoshin’s deputy and moved to live in the house that was provided as the residence of the Commander of the group and his deputy.

Six months later, Colonel Lyoshin also left for Moscow, and a new head of the group came to replace him. His name was Avramenko, and before his trip to India, he worked as director of a helicopter plant in the city of Konotop, Ukraine,

Just before Lyoshin’s departure, the contract for the lease of the house, which we lived in, ended. The Indian command of the airbase, which provided housing for Soviet military specialists, decided not to renew the contract and to find a new house for us.

We vacated the house and temporally moved to «Mount View » hotel. From the window of my room, I saw a lake and the mountains of the Himalayas over the lake.

When Lyoshin left, I was left alone in the hotel. A couple of days after his departure, a colonel from the USSR Embassy in Delhi, who supervised our group, called me on the phone and told that Avramenko would not like to come empty-handed and wanted to bring something to the officers, who, far away not only from Russia, but also from Delhi, probably missed some Russian delicacies. The Colonel from the Embassy asked me to consult with the group and pass on a list of what we would like to get from Moscow.

I complied with his request and an hour later called him and gave the list. A week later Avramenko arrived with his wife and little son Andreika. He brought a whole suitcase of delicacies. Among these products were two three-litre glass jars of salted herring in brine. It was a huge Pacific herring, from the sight of which saliva flooded my mouth and stomach. Moreover, Avramenko also brought other Russian favourites and a dozen bottles of best vodka.

In Chandigarh, it was impossible to find anything like Pacific herring (by the way, twice the size of the herring that is sold in British stores), or vodka produced according to the highest Soviet standards.

Avramenko suggested that I take the herring to the refrigerator of the hotel restaurant and wait a couple of days for General Bogdanov, the commander of all military units in India, to visit us. Bogdanov used to regularly come to us before with checks. This time he wanted to personally introduce Avramenko to the officers. After that, the party was planned in the Indian Army Officers Club, and the delicacies brought by Avramenko were supposed to bring joy to the officers and their wives, who were also invited to the banquet.

I went down to the restaurant and spoke to Captain, old Indian man, who was in charge of the hotel’s restaurant and kitchen. Captain was dressed in a red uniform at all times and looked like a representative of the god Shiva in the capital of Punjab. Captain had no objection to my request. I returned to Avramenko’s room, took the glass jars and brought them downstairs into the kitchen. Captain looked askance at the glass jars, tightly closed with plastic lids and stuffed with huge herring drenched in brine, and gave the command to open the refrigerator that occupied one of the walls of the kitchen and put the jars on the top shelf …

A couple of days later, around lunchtime, General Bogdanov arrived. Avramenko and I met the general at the entrance to the hotel. When his Mercedes with an Indian driver drove up to the hotel and stopped near us, Bogdanov got out of the car, we greeted him and asked where he would like to have lunch, in the hotel restaurant or in one of our rooms.

“Well, I’ve been regularly dining in Indian restaurantss for five years now, and I know that you brought something special from Moscow,” Bogdanov said. — Let’s dine in the room. 

We went up to Avramenko’s room, whose wife had already laid the table, on which a bottle of vodka stood in the centre of the table, surrounded by plates and glasses, towering slides of hot potatoes, Ukrainian bacon, Moscow “Doctor’s sausage”, pickled cucumbers and pickled porcini mushrooms.

Avramenko invited us to the table.

— Valery Pavlovich, — Avramenko told me, — it’s time to bring the herring!

I happily flew out of my room and hurried to the restaurant kitchen. Captain was not in the kitchen.  I didn’t look for him, but asked the cook to open the refrigerator for me. When the cook opened the refrigerator door, I found the top shelf empty. There were no jars of herring on the shelf.

— Where are the jars of herring? — I asked, feeling a terrible cold inside me.

“Captain ordered them to be thrown away,”- the cook said.

— Where is the Captain? — I yelled.

— At home. He lives there, behind the trees, behind the lawn, ”- said the frightened cook.

I ran across the pitch, which overlooked the glass doors of the restaurant. In the distance, there were trees growing, which concealed a long house, divided into small living quarters for the stuff who were supposed to be constantly at the hotel.

I was shown the door to Captain’s room. I knocked on the door with my fist trained by few years of Karate. The captain opened the door and looked at me in surprise. He was wearing nothing but a bandage around his thighs.

— Where are the jars of fish? — I asked, already realizing the futility of my attempts to find the herring.

— Thrown away, — said Captain, relaxing and calming down. — Sir, the fish was rotten. I checked it myself!

I was not able to say anything. I turned around and went to the hotel, trying not to imagine what awaited me.

When I entered the room, the joyful anticipation on the faces of Avramenko and Bogdanov slowly disappeared.

— Where’s the herring? — asked Avramenko.

“They threw both jars out,”- I said. — That idiot Captain said that the fish, sir, was rotten. That he himself checked it …

They looked at me in shock for a minute. Then Bogdanov laughed.

— India, what can you say! Sit down and have some vodka. Here’s black rye bread, sauerkraut, pickles and Ukrainian bacon. Well done, that you didn’t give all this to your captain for safekeeping, — Bogdanov said, pouring vodka into my glass.

Avramenko also laughed. His wife continued to look at me in horror …

— How did he say? – they used to ask me more than once that day.

— Sir, the fish was rotten. I personally checked it, — I used to answer obediently…

I remembered that story when I read Richard Chancellor ‘s description of the life of Russians under Ivan the Terrible. Chancellor was amazed that with Russia’s immense wealth, most Russians were shockingly poor. They cannot afford to eat fresh food: “There are innumerable poor people here, and they live in the most miserable way. I saw them eating herring pickle and all kinds of stinking fish. And there is no such smelly and rotten fish that they would not eat and praise, saying that it is much healthier than any other fish and fresh meat. In my opinion, there is no other people under the sun that would lead such a harsh life. «

Oh, those Russians! So, I remembered for the rest of my life how forty years ago in India I was deprived of the opportunity to feel like a shockingly poor Soviet officer and to return, at least for a few minutes, to a miserable Russian life with rotten herring …

No one in Muscovy in XVI century could explain to Chancellor that in conditions when people live at sub-zero temperatures for almost six months, they create whole range of technologies for preserving food through late autumn, winter and early spring, including not only fish or meat, but also milk products, vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, berries , herbs, nuts, and those technologies allowed not only to preserve nutritional properties of products, but due to fermentation, to improve their taste and useful properties. This is especially true for such products as cabbage, cucumbers, mushrooms and fish … First of all, caviar, sturgeon, salmon and herring.  

Now, of course, a lot has changed. One can find smoked and salted herring and salmon in most of the UK stores, and caviar, which is salted like herring, has long been considered a delicacy in the world. However, in XVI century the English sailors looked with pity at the miserable poor Russians who ate herring, sturgeon, black and red caviar, and did not poison themselves with all this muck, but praised it!

For the Russians, the remarks made by Chancellor were the same as one that poverty and misery in Italy reached the point that they cannot afford to drink fresh milk and eat fresh meat, and therefore they are poisoned with a strange products called «parmesan» and “prosciutto”…

Photo: Herring in brine in a wooden barrel. This Russian tradition continues to this day

Life and attitudes towards food have changed, but even now the belief in poverty and pity of life in Russia in comparison with Britain or the United States remains, although often this belief is as far from reality as it was in Russia of the XVI century with its smoked sturgeon and salted herring…

Observation 2

Grandeur and miserliness

Richard Chancellor drew attention to the strange duality of Russian life at all levels of society, but this was especially true of the Russian elite, including the tsar and his inner circle.

Fortresses, palaces and residential buildings in Muscovy were built in such a way that they consisted of two parts. One was intended for ceremonial receptions and meetings, the other for living, home communication and family life. The first was distinguished by the richness, grandeur and splendour of the decoration, and the second by simplicity, even squalor and miserliness.

The ceremonial rooms for meetings, receptions and celebrations were rich and beautiful. In particular, in the Moscow Kremlin. Even the tents that the tsar used on travels and military campaigns were distinguished by their special beauty and richness of decoration. Chancellor wrote: “The Grand Duke himself is richly equipped beyond measure; his tent is covered with gold or silver brocade and so adorned with stones that it is amazing to look at. I have seen the tents of the royal majesty of England and the French king, which are magnificent, but still not like the tent of the Moscow Grand Duke. When Russians are sent to distant foreign countries or foreigners come to them, they show great pomp.»

However, parts of the palaces where Russian noblemen and their families lived, unexpectedly for the British, turned out to be small, where stoves occupied a large place, the ceilings in the rooms were low, the windows were small, floor made of wood, and the decoration of those rooms was surprisingly simple. Rich and spacious premises for official receptions and celebrations, and very modest and simple interiors, where the owners and their servants constantly lived.

The clothes of the Russians differed in the same way. For official receptions and celebrations, they dressed very richly. «I have never heard or seen such luxuriously dressed people,» wrote Chancellor and immediately noted that «these are not their everyday clothes … When they have no reason to dress luxuriously, their entire everyday life is mediocre at best.»

Again, Chancellor did not seek or could not find an explanation for this tradition. However, the Russians formed such habits centuries ago. In harsh climates, rooms had to be heated with minimal effort. The heating system had to be as efficient as possible, and the premises must have excellent thermal insulation and optimal dimensions for living. Therefore, the premises were built so that they were warm and comfortable in any cold.

Photo: The bedroom of the Russian Tsar in the Moscow Kremlin

It was also impossible to live permanently in solemn and rich clothes in the Russian climate. Casual clothes had to be simple, made of linen, wool and fur, and even shoes in winter had to be made of wool rather than leather. This explains why the rich and the poor in Russia dressed, according to Chancellor, «mediocre at best”.  

Photo: Russian felt boots, simple and festive, in which your feet will be warm in any frost

Observation 3

Bridle for the Russian horse

Richard Chancellor noted that Russia’s military power was «amazingly great.» The tsar was able to gather and lead an army of 200-300 thousand people, and almost all in his army were horsemen. There were no infantrymen in the Russian army, except for the artillerymen. There were only workers and servants, who went on foot on march along with the army. At the same time, as Chancellor correctly pointed out, the tsar had to leave numerous military units on all borders of his state to repel attacks of belligerent neighbours.

Chancellor was surprised at how easily Russian army men could endure the harsh climate and hardships of war. Chancellor wrote that there were no other people in the world accustomed to the harsh life as the Russians. No cold could bother them, though they had to stay out in the field for several months at a time when there were terrible frosts, and snow was more than a yard thick. Even more surprising to him was their endurance, for everyone should get and carry provisions for himself and for his horse for a month or two. Chancellor expressed doubt that among the British «boastful soldiers there were those who could stay with Russians in the field even for one month only”.

At the same time, Chancellor noted that the Russian army «is not trained in the order and art of civilized wars.» He believed that if there were people “who would be able to convince the tsar of the need for a civilized army, even the union of the two most powerful nations in the world will not be able to confront Russia”.

Chancellor was struck by the relationship between the tsar and his subjects, including the fact that the Russian people were «in great fear and obedience», that every one of them had to «voluntarily give up his property, which he collected in pieces and scribbled all his life, and give it at the discretion and order of the sovereign.»

Chancellor saw that the Russians could not say, like «some sloths» in England, «I will find the queen a man to serve her for me,» or help friends avoid service by paying exemptions from service. In Russia «they humbly ask to be allowed to serve the tsar, and whom the tsar sends to war more often than others, he considers himself in the greatest favour with the sovereign.»

These observations and descriptions of Muscovy by Chancellor reflected British ignorance and misunderstanding of the real situation in Russia. Chancellor did not understand what the task of restoring a huge state after the political fragmentation and 300 years of the Mongol-Tatar rule demanded from Moscow. He did not understand that after 300 years of yoke, Vasily III, father of Ivan IV, and Tsar Ivan the Terrible himself had to create a huge and one of the most powerful armies in Europe and to fight endless wars without financial and economic resources necessary to maintain a «civilized army.» Three centuries, during which Russia paid tribute to the Horde, did not allow Russians to make savings or create conditions for economic development. At the same time, Russia was surrounded by hostile countries seeking to absorb and destroy the Moscow kingdom.

Chancellor failed to figure out what it took to defend the newly created tsardom against attacks from all sides, and not only to fight back, but also to absorb and take control of the neighbouring kingdoms and remnants of the Golden Horde that did not intend to stop their raids, but sought to destroy or enslave Muscovy. The system of formation of the Russian army, its supply, the predominance of cavalry and artillery — all these were the results and features of the historical path of the development of Russian civilization.

In the XVI century, the Russian army consisted of three main forces. These were the Streltsy (Archers), the cavalry of the local nobles, about whom Chancellor mainly wrote, and the Cossacks.

Streltsy (the Russian version of the Musketeers) served for a salary, also they had small land estates, and their families ran the life of peasants. Streltsy guarded the tsar, his family, the Kremlin and participated in wars and campaigns.

The Cossack regiments were formed by the Cossacks, an estate of realm formed by peasants or urban residents who, for one reason or another, had to leave their places of residence and start a new life on the outskirts of Russia, where the lands were often more fertile, but were under constant threat of raids and invasions from hostile neighbours. The Cossacks served as a buffer, a protective zone, which prevented the penetration of enemy troops and detachments deep into Russia. For this, the Cossacks were freed from responsibility for previously committed offenses, had liberties, that is, their own system of land and settlement management, and were exempted from taxes. However, they had to provide themselves with weapons, horses, to fight the invasions and carry out military service in regiments that they formed.

In the XV and XVI centuries, new cavalry troops, which were formed from local nobles, appeared and began to play a special role in the Russian army. It was about them that Chancellor wrote, and it was they who later played a huge role in the history of the Muscovy, and then the Russian Empire.

Photo: Russian cavalry in XVI century

Chancellor did not know that the Russian cavalry noblemen, who impressed him with their endurance and readiness to fight for the tsar and the Russian state, did not receive payment for the service from the tsar, with the exception of special gifts and prizes for special merit. Also, they did not “collect their estates in pieces” or “scribble all their lives”, in order to then voluntarily give them to the tsar. Actually, they didn’t even own their estates. 

 In XV and XVI centuries, the Russian army men used to receive from the tsar not estates, but the right to receive tax from peasant communities that lived in villages, who were independent and owned their lands and properties.  

The size of these payments was small, and for the most part it was not money, but grain, meat, other products produced by peasants, as well as furs and skins. The bureaucratic apparatus of the Moscow principality was tremendously underdeveloped. There was no money to keep it. It was very difficult to collect those “taxes” from thousands of communities, which often consisted of several peasant families, and were scattered over a huge territory. Also, it was very difficult to rationally use the goods received.

In addition, constantly paying a salary and food allowance to a large number of professional soldiers was also an almost unbearable task for the then few tsarist clerks.

Thus, transferring the right to collect taxes to the new estate, the nobles, the Grand Duke of Moscow solved several problems: he freed his apparatus from the difficult task of collecting taxes that peasant communities paid in food and products, of converting these goods into monetary form, of maintaining a huge apparatus of officials to pay salaries and maintenance for the military, to provide the army with weapons, uniforms, armour, provisions. All this was now transferred to the new estate, the nobles, who were supposed to provide for themselves, but for this they received under their control, although at that time rather limited, thousands of peasant communities with their lands and crafts.

This reform of the state system and the army began to be carried out by Ivan III, the Grand Duke of Moscow and All Russia, the grandfather of Ivan the Terrible. It was he who began to build the Moscow principality as the Great Russia.

Photo: Ivan III, the Grand Duke of Moscow and All Russia

These were the taxes that the communities had to pay to the tsar for protection from invasions and state government. Having received the right to levy a tax, the tsar’s army men spent their income on the purchase of horses, weapons, military clothing and equipment, as well as provisions. At the expense of these taxes, the army men supported their families and lived after retirement…

Both the number and size of the communities given into possession, or rather, for collection of goods and money, depended on military exploits of a horseman or a commander of unit. He could be deprived of the right to levy tax and lose his estate and income, or his estate could be replaced with a smaller one, or new villages could be transferred into his possession. All that depended on his services to the tsar. Therefore, they «humbly asked” the tsar, as wrote Richard Chancellor, to participate in battles and campaigns of the Russian army.

Only a visible part of the real life of Muscovy appeared before Chancellor. The hidden features of the system, its mechanisms, parts and their interactions remained hidden from the British. In many ways, this situation still remains…

I will dwell on all these features in detail in the next part, where I will analyse the process of formation, development and transformation of the Russian civilization, but now I will only note the conclusion that Chancellor came to in his book. His output reflected the British mentality and has maintained through centuries the British attitude and understanding of Russia.

In his opinion, the European countries were lucky that the Russians did not know their strength, «for if they knew their strength, then no one would be able to compete with them, and their neighbours would have no peace and rest from them.»

This was the manifestation of the British worldview and mentality. Strength in the understanding of the British naturally gives rise to aggression and the desire to defeat and conquer neighbours. Chancellor did not even think that for the Russians in the 16th century, including the ruling dynasty, the struggle with neighbours, the ongoing wars with them were the curse and disaster. The expansion of Muscovy and the conquest of aggressive neighbours, who had not been the part of the Ancient Rus before the Mongol invasion, was a forced venture and feat, an act of protecting the people and the motherland.

Summing up his analysis of the military power of Muscovy, Chancellor compares Russia to a young horse who does not know its strength and allows a small child to control itself and «be teered with a bridle, despite all its great strength.» Chancellor was sure that if the horse realizes its strength, then neither a child nor an adult would cope with it. At that point, Richard Chancellor concludes that this was God’s will …

The British reader got the impression that Russia, by the will of God, was some kind of unreasonable and uncivilized monster that could be easily controlled and manipulated by those, who could find the right methods and mechanisms. Russia itself, if the “right bridle” was not found for it, if it was not taken under control, then it would remain a monster that, if it suddenly understands and realizes its power, can destroy or enslave any country in the world, including Great Britain …

Bridle and containment — these concepts have formed the basis of the policy of Great Britain and all of Europe towards Russia since the trip of Richard Chancellor to Muscovy.

That was the foundation for the Great game to come…

(To be continued)

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