Alongside the rise of the Muscovite power there was a gradual internal crumbling of the Tatar power. The Golden Horde had split and split: the Kazan khānate was formed on the Volga, while the Crimean khānate was formed in the south. While the Lithuanians were spurring the Eastern Tatars to war against Moscow, the lords of Moscow, with a skilful diplomatic move, had allied themselves against the Lithuanians with the Crimean khan.
By now the balance of forces tends to overturn more and more: with 1480 Moscow ceases to pay taxes, thus freeing itself from the last ignominy of foreign domination. With the very first years of the following century, the Tatar power practically ceased to exist: in place of an enemy that entire generations had considered invincible, small khānati such as that of Astrakhan arise. The Tatar power, for a long time faced by the lords of Moscow with the system of prudence and sometimes servile obedience, collapses due to disintegration, almost inadvertently.
And it is at this time that the grand dukes John III and Basil III sometimes begin to use the title of tsar as well. In short, the rulers of Moscow feel more and more that it is up to them to be sovereigns of all Russian lands: and this is how they look with keen interest towards Kiev and Galicia, hoping to have the opportunity to push back the Lithuanian grand dukes to the west and the king of Poland. A desire for power, ancient traditions to which one wants to reconnect, a desire for economic expansion, a vague tendency to identify the Moscow state with Russian nationality, in the broadest sense of the word. It is on this last point that some Russian historians insist: but we must be very cautious in order not to attribute to the Muscovite lords of the dawn of the century. XV ideas on nationality that were born in Russia in the century. XIX,
Russia is now entering the game of European politics. This immense state hitherto almost unknown and legendary begins to appear as a possible, powerful ally in the conflicts between the states of Europe; moreover, the overall backward level of Russia makes this country, despite the difficulty deriving from immense distances, a significant consumer market for the more developed countries of the West. It is under this twofold aspect of an agrarian country, consumer of the products of European industry and of military power, that the Western powers will be interested in Russia for centuries.
And Russia, now with more, now with less diplomatic skill, will take advantage of the struggles between the Swedes and Danes, between the Turks and the republic of Venice. Meanwhile, the country, at least in its upper strata, is being civilized: artists of all kinds begin to come from Italy. Sofia Palaeologus, wife of John III, accentuates Byzantine customs and traditions.
The centralized state replaces more and more the old duchies; under John III and Basil III the most severe, indeed sometimes ruthless, discipline applies not only to the mass of subjects but also to the highest ranking aristocrats. The double-headed eagle of Byzantium merges in the new coat of arms with the traditional image of St. George.
Ivan the Terrible. – Ivan (John) IV, generally called the “Terrible”, third of the “rulers” of Moscow, was born in August 1530. His oddities and cruelties, his acute intuitions and his moments of mysticism and madness have created a reputation for greatness and genius to which the facts correspond only partially: despite his remarkable qualities as a writer, despite his political cunning, he was unable to give a single directive, a line consequent to the activities he undertaken, always suspicious, neurasthenic, sadistic and then redundant with bloated sentimentality. Orphaned from an early age, he saw around him only violence and bloodshed: neglected or tyrannized by the adults in charge of his surveillance, when the child ascended the throne he saw Russian boyars and dispossessed Tatar princes kneeling before him. Already as a boy he shows himself capable of both sincere friendship and brutal cruelty: this duplicity of behavior will remain characteristic for him: on the one hand he feels the need for introspection, to convince the opponent with his arguments, on the other he indulges in orgies, whims, massacres.
At sixteen, this pathologically predisposed boy, but endowed with extraordinary energy, before which the representatives of the oldest aristocratic families trembled, he had himself proclaimed tsar. Even if this proclamation took place in an atmosphere of blood and suspicion, its importance was very great: more and more Moscow became “the third Rome” predicted by the monk Filoteo, the city destined to take the inheritance of Byzantium (formerly the marriage of John III with Sofia Palaeologus had marked an important stage on this path).
The positive qualities of Ivan, deriving from his energetic even if inconstant will, from the fervent mysticism for which he felt called to great things, were able to manifest themselves in the period of his youth. The army was somewhat modernized and strengthened, vigorous measures were ordered to protect the population against the constant oppression of the governors, an assembly of influential priests and lay people was assembled; artists and technicians were called in from the West, while active commercial relations were established with England and Holland, through which the Russian commercial class strengthened its positions and increased wealth. Kazan and Astrakhan were conquered and the glory of these conquests made vast sections of the population forget the negative aspects of the young autocrat. Towards the end of his reign, the Russian conquest extended deeply into Siberia as well. Fierce and alternating struggles developed for the possession of Livonia and the Baltic coast in general.
Over time he became increasingly suspicious of boyars, and assigned a large part of the state’s territory to a special body called opri č ina, destined to be the most faithful instrument of all the will of the Tsar; this territory grew as many boyars were slaughtered with their families, or expropriated. The massacres were accompanied by orgies and choreographic scenes of repentance denoting the continuous worsening of his madness. He had seven wives: from the last of these a son called Demetrius was born; another son, born of a previous marriage, Theodore, was almost deficient. The internal disorder accompanied by the continuous spilling of blood (Ivan oscillated between the mystical task of a “Russian greatness” to defend and expand and the mentality of the squire who wants to eradicate other lords, possible rivals) could not fail to weaken the external power of the country. The advance increasingly decided by West of the king of Poland, he forced the tsar to ask for the mediation of the pontiff. Sweden also managed to solidify its positions in Narva, and generally on the Baltic coast.
Now sick in body and mind, Ivan died on March 18, 1584.