A New Line in Russian Strategic Thinking and in North Caucasia

As we saw in chapter 2, Russian foreign policy in the first decade of Catherine’s reign was chiefly concerned with events in Europe. The government’s strategic priorities found their fullest reflection in the Northern System, which aimed at projecting Russian power into Poland and across the Baltic Sea. The system seemed to work reasonably well, at least initially. But the experience of the Russo-Ottoman war of 1768-74 showcased its limitations. During the war, Russia lost ground to Prussia and Austria in Poland and to France in Sweden—the two outcomes the system had been specifically designed to avoid. Perhaps more egregiously, the system left the empire vulnerable to attack in the South and without fighting allies in case of war with its traditional enemies, the Ottoman Porte and the Crimean Khanate. Although the Ottoman military machine was no longer the dominant force it had once been, it was still capable, when combined with Crimean auxiliaries, of wreaking havoc in Russia’s southern borderlands, as the
events of January 1769 amply demonstrated ...


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