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Assembly that United Ukraine with Russia 

On October 1, 1653, representatives of all estates of Russian society supported the idea of accepting the Zaporozhian Sich as part of Russia. 

In the long and complex history of the relationship of the Tsardom of Russia with Ukraine and the Zaporozhian Sich, a special place is occupied by the Zemsky Sobor (literally, “The Assembly of the Land”) of 1653, convened in Moscow by decree of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich. It was during this Sobor on October 11 (1) when the decision was made “to accept Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and all of the Zaporozhian Cossack Army with cities and lands”, which actually meant the accession of the whole Left-bank Ukraine to Russia. 

Cossacks' Requests 

The decision of the Zemsky Sobor of 1653 put an end to a rather long process, the beginning of which was laid by the ambassade of Hetman Petro Sahaidachny. In 1620, this leader of the Cossacks (or cherkases, as they were often called in Russia) sent his envoy Peter Odinets to Moscow with a proposal to accept the Cossacks for service — for a fee. This appeal was not accidental. At that time Sagaidachny had a conflict with another hetman, Yakov Nerodich-Borodavka, and needed the support of the Moscow Tsar. However, Moscow refused, because they didn't want to plague relations with Poland at that time. 

Pereiaslav Agreement. 1654. Unification of Ukraine with Russia. Painting by the artist Alexei Kivshenko, 1880.

Two years later, the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia Isaiah Kopinsky addressed Mikhail Fyodorovich with a much more significant appeal — to accept the Orthodox population of Little Russia into Russian citizenship, and two years later, in 1624, the same appeal was sent by the Metropolitan of Kiev Job Boretsky. But even these appeals were denied by Moscow and for the same reason again — the reluctance to complicate relations with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which at that time was much stronger than the Moscow Tsardom. The attempt to accept the citizenship of subjects of another sovereign completely disaccorded with the generally accepted rules of the time. This would be unambiguously regarded as an attack on the integrity of the Commonwealth and inevitably lead to war. 

The first appeal of the Zaporozhian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who led an uprising against Polish rule in Ukraine in 1649, was also denied. And again, the reason for the refusal was the unwillingness to plague the already difficult relations with the Poles, which would inevitably happen if Moscow accepted the offer of the Cossacks. But although the Moscow Tsar Alexey Mikhaylovich did not accept the offer, this time he decided to support the Cossacks with money and weapons — and it gave them hope that over time their wish would be granted. 

Boyar Buturlin taking the oath of allegiance from Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Little Russia for Russian citizenship. Drawing by an unknown artist, 1910.

The Ultimatum that Opened the Way 

This plan proved to be correct: in 1651, when the Moscow Tsardom gained enough strength and determination to confront Poland, the Cossacks' proposal to come under the rule of Alexey Mikhaylovich was submitted for discussion by the Zemsky Sobor. This step followed a warning given by the Russian embassy to the Polish king in 1650, that if Poland keeps pursuing the policy that adversely affects the Orthodox population in Ukraine, Moscow might consider its interference in the situation. 

As expected, the King of the Commonwealth John II Casimir rejected the ultimatum — and this gave the free hand to both Russia and the Zaporozhian Cossacks. At the end of the same 1650, another Cossack embassy arrived in Moscow, and now they discussed with the Russian officials just one question: how exactly can the Zaporozhian Cossacks come under the rule of the Moscow Tsar and how soon can this be done. As a result, they decided to urgently convene the Zemsky Sobor, the date of which was set to February 19, 1651. Initially, the matter of the unification of Left-bank Ukraine with the Moscow Tsardom was discussed at the so-called “Consecrated Council”, comprised exclusively of representatives of the Orthodox Church, since the primary reason for the rebel of Bogdan Khmelnytsky was the failure of the Polish King to observe his oath and ensure the religious freedom for Zaporozhians, as well as the pressure on the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. 

King of Poland John II Casimir. Portrait by the artist Marcello Bacciarelli, the last third of the 18th century.

The clergy made an unequivocal decision: if the situation in the Left-bank Ukraine does not change, they are ready to give their permission to the Cossacks to renounce the previous agreement with the Polish crown, and then Moscow will be able to take them under its rule. A few days later, the complete Zemsky Sobor gathered in the Moscow Kremlin, but the result of its work is still unknown to this day. However, according to some historians, it did not make any decision. The embassy of 1650 warned the Poles that the Moscow Tsar would bring up the question of intervention for discussion at the Sobor. Apparently, the Tsar really did no more than this. He informed the participants of the Zemsky Sobor of the situation in the Zaporozhian Sich but did not demand to make an immediate decision: the verdict of the clergy was enough for the Tsar. 

Semi-Annual Sobor 

When the situation for the rebels of Bohdan Khmelnytsky began to get worse, the Hetman again appealed to Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich with a request for unification and received an unequivocal positive response this time. However, the Moscow Tsar did not want and could not resolve the issue solely by his own will, he needed the support of the Zemsky Sobor in order to legally formalize the procedure for accepting the Cossacks from the Commonwealth to Russian citizenship. 

Portrait of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky by an unknown artist of the 17th century.

At the end of the winter of 1653 in Moscow, Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich and the Boyar Duma supported the decision to convene a new Zemsky Sobor, which would give its consent to the reunification of the Left-bank Ukraine with Russia, and send an embassy to Poland that would state the position of Moscow. The Sobor was scheduled to begin its work on May 20, assuming that valuable information from the embassy, potentially important in discussing the offer of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, would be received by that time. 

The Sobor indeed began the discussions on May 20 and kept working, although with some extensive interruptions, until the last days of September, when the ambassadors sent to Poland arrived. The actual decision to accept the Cossacks into Russian citizenship was taken as early as on May 25, and Alexey Mikhailovich himself stated this in his letter to the ambassadors. A little later, on June 22, the Tsar's charter with the message that Moscow is ready to take the Zaporozhians under its rule was sent to Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Besides, this charter stated that the Russian army was already preparing for the upcoming war. 

In order to exclude any possibility of proclaiming the assembly's decision illegitimate, the Russian Tsar and the Boyars considered it necessary that the final “verdict” be delivered by the most representative complement of the Zemsky Sobor. Such complement was assembled by October 1, and the list of representatives was indeed extremely extensive. Suffice to say that among them were, as indicated in the “Court Register” (Razryad), the “trading people of the gostinnaya sotnya (the guests' hundred) and the sukonnaya sotnya (mercers' hundred), tyaglye lyudi (that is, people performing corvée, or statute labour — author's note) of the chernye sotni (“black hundreds” or “black townspeople”) and dvortsovye slobody (“palace slobodas” or free settlements)” and even the heads of streltsy regiments. Apparently, the participation of the latter was dictated by the need to ensure in advance the readiness of the troops for the inevitable war with Poland, and the presence of the “trading people” was required to resolve the issue of financing and material support for the upcoming campaign. 

Oath of Allegiance 

On October 4, the Zaporozhian embassy headed by Lavrin Kapusta, which arrived in September, departed from Moscow to Pereyaslav, the Cossack capital of the time, to notify the Hetman of the final decision of the Zemsky Sobor and the consent of the Russian Tsar to accept the Zaporozhian Cossakck Army into Russian citizenship. Five days later, the official Russian embassy followed them, headed by the governor of Tver Vasily Buturlin, an experienced diplomat and military leader. It was he who made an agreement with the Zaporozhian Cossacks on joint actions against the Commonwealth, and a little later, at the Pereyaslav Rada, which confirmed its consent to unite the Hetmanate with Russia, he took the Cossacks' oath to Tsar Alexey Mikhaylovich. 

The ceremonial “Image of the Great Ruler, Tsar and Grand Prince Alexey Mikhaylovich, autocrat of all the Great, White and Little Russia” by an unknown artist of the 17th century.

The process of the Zaporozhian Cossacks' transition to Russian citizenship was finally consolidated when Moscow confirmed the agreement drawn up by the Cossack leaders — the so-called Pereyaslav Articles. The Zaporozhian Cossack Army retained a huge degree of independence and received guarantees of extensive funding from the Russian treasury, which fully met the interests of the Cossacks at that time, and the Russian crown acquired a 60,000-strong army with immense combat experience. But there was more to that. News of how much easier it is to live under the rule of the Russian Tsar, spread like circles on the water, and soon the inhabitants of other Ukrainian territories, mainly Orthodox, began to move on the lands of the Hetmanate, or Little Russia, which led to the rapid development of this areas — for the benefit of the Russian state. 

Cover image: Pereyaslav Rada on January 18, 1654. Painting “Forever with Moscow, Forever with the Russian people” by artist Mikhail Khmelko, 1951. Source: http://www.art-catalog.ru  


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