Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
The Year of Diplomacy 1707

IT was the general expectation in Europe that Charles would invade Russia in the spring of 1707. Peter himself anticipated invasion then and he had hastened to Zholkva to make plans to meet it. But the prospect of this conflict made him uneasy. He was unwilling to gamble his Baltic seaboard, in fact, his whole policy, in a single battle or campaign, especially against Charles, undefeated and now at the peak of his fame. Anxiously he continued to seek mediation and peace. But he recognized the fact that "this war has now been left to us alone." 1 With only four months before spring, his orders rang with urgency.

His strategy was to avoid a major battle for as long as possible, and instead to wear down the Swedes by incessant minor engagements and by privations. To this end he did not hesitate to turn vast areas of his own country into desert. He instructed Apraxin to ensure that by the beginning of spring no grain or foodstuffs remained throughout a belt of land one hundred and thirty-three miles wide and deep, extending from Pskov and through Smolensk, the route which the Swedes would probably follow. 2

Reports reached him in January that the Swedes were already marching towards the Russian frontier. Expecting attacks on Pskov and Polotsk, he reinforced their defences. He also sent three cavalry regiments to join General Hallart, writing that I entrust to God's mercy and to your good management the defence of Polotsk and the other places." 3 He ordered Hetman Mazepa to be at Kiev with

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