Impact of the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-1739 on the construction of relations between the Russian Empire and nomadic peoples of the Southern Urals and Central Asia (based on materials from Orenburg Expedition)

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The article considers the pattern of relationship between the Russian Empire and the nomadic peoples of the Southern Urals and Central Asia in the 1730s. The authors study the impact of the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-1739 on the geopolitical situation in the southeastern frontier zone, and review the signifi cance of the Orenburg Expedition (Commission) to the settlement of confl icts among the steppe subjects of the empire as well as for preventing threats to them coming from neighboring states. The study is based on materials of the Orenburg Commission and the Orenburg Expedition preserved in the State Archive of the Orenburg region. The authors do not share the opinion that the Orenburg Expedition was founded exclusively as a mechanism of imperial colonial policy, but neither do they deny its role in expanding Russia’s protectorate into the Kazakh steppe, and later into Central Asia. During the war, Russia aimed at preventing Kazakh raids against the Kalmyk nomads, for such raids prevented the Kalmyks from participating in the campaigns against the Crimean and Kuban Tatars who fought alongside Turkey. The article shows that the Orenburg Expedition, whose few troops were involved in suppressing the Bashkir uprising, were only able to provide the Kalmyks with diplomatic support. The aggressive policy of the Dzungar Khanate, aimed at the conquest of Kazakhstan, prevented the Kazakh Zhuzhes from establishing military hegemony in the Ural steppes. Only the fi rm stance of Russia, which declared its readiness to protect its Kazakh subjects, made the Dzungar ruler Goldan-Tseren renounce his claims to the Kazakh steppes. The authors conclude that the policy of Russia in this region was to prevent prolonged military confl icts among the steppe peoples while at the same time neutralizing any attempts at their military unifi cation. Russia assumed the role of a peacemaker, and, in the case of external threat, of a reliable ally; this raised the authority of the empire and forced the nomads to seek its patronage and submit to its will.

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The political course set by Peter the Great, primarily aimed at the conquest of the Black Sea coast and the expansion of the Russian territory into the Caucasus and South-East Asia, continued under his successors. The government of Empress Anna Ioannovna tried to solve both problems simultaneously. She launched a war against Turkey for the possession of Crimea and the western part of the North Caucasus, which went on for almost four years, but failed to bring the desired effect. According to the terms of the peace treaty signed in 1739 in Belgrade, the only significant ‘trophy’ for Russia was the return of Azov fortifications. During the war, the Kalmyks were brothers in arms for the Russian soldiers and Cossacks. At the same time, the Kalmyk Khanate itself, located in the area between the Yaik River (nowadays known as the Ural), the Volga, and the Don, were subject to frequent plundering incursions from the Kazakhs. Moreover, the Crimean and Turkish emissaries, by urging the Bashkirs and Kazakhs not to submit to the power of the ‘white king’, posed a serious threat. It was only the diplomacy of the chiefs of the Orenburg Expedition (from 1737, Commission) and the governors of the neighboring Astrakhan and Siberian provinces that was able to neutralize the subversive activities of the Porte and to appease the militant Islamic nomads.

In modern historiography, the problem of the inclusion of nomadic peoples in the Russian Empire’s sphere of influence has been closely studied; and there has been a clear attempt to reject the ‘colonial approach’ as an excessively narrow understanding of the fea­tures of this process.1 However, with regard to the activities of the Orenburg Expedition, [1] the influence of the external geopolitical factor on the formation of the policy of the Russian Empire with respect to the nomadic peoples of Central Asia is still among the most debatable and little-studied imperial policies. The purpose of this article is to delete this ‘blank page’.

The Orenburg Expedition was set up in 1734. Its creation was determined by the desire of the Russian Empire to focus on the territories of the trans-Volga region (Bashkiria and the Urals, merged in the Empire in the second half of the 16th century, yet poorly integrated), as well as to expand the Russian protectorate into the Kazakh steppe and Central Asia. Most pre-revolutionary historians considered the Orenburg Expedition as an important source of influence over the Empire’s colonial policy,[2] as exemplified by the petition of Khan Abulkhair, the ruler of the Kazakh Junior Zhuz, for Russian citizenship in 1730.[3] In the Soviet historiography, the supposedly colonial nature of the Orenburg Expedition was the dominant outlook. Soviet historians focused on the national liberation movements as a response to the rule imposed by the Imperial administration and the exploitation of land and natural resources under the Tsar. The classic illustration of this thesis was the 1735-1739 Bashkir uprising, which oc­curred in conjunction with the creation of the Orenburg Expedition and military-eco­nomic developments in the region.[4] Modern historiography is characterized by the ex­pansion of research problems and pluralism of opinions on the activities of the Orenburg Expedition. Orenburg historian D.A. Safonov has drawn attention to the weaknesses of I.K. Kirilov, the first chief of the Orenburg Expedition, in the colonization of the South­ern Urals, arguing that Kirilov did not have a thought-out program and unnecessarily exposed the lives of the expedition’s participants, soldiers, and Cossacks, to danger, hunger, and adversity.[5] By contrast, Yu.N. Smirnov, who conducted a thorough mono­graphic study on the creation and activities of the expedition and the settlement of the trans-Volga region, views Kirilov and his successors as having made substantial prog­ress toward establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Asian neighbors, even if his more ambitious plans regarding expansion into Asia failed to materialize.[6]

The growth of national consciousness of the peoples of Russia and Central Asia in connection with the new sovereign states of the region has brought new attention to the geopolitical context of the Orenburg Expedition in the Southern Urals. G.B. Isbasarova explains that the construction of outposts and fortresses for strategic military objectives was, among other things, aimed at preventing joint actions by Bashkirs and Kazakhs. Nowadays many Kazakh researchers adhere to the colonial paradigm of the annexation of the Kazakh steppe to the Russian Empire, one of the manifestations of which was the creation of the Orenburg Expedition.[7] Thus, studying the process of changes in the political and legal system of the Kazakh Zhuzes during their accession to the Russian Empire, A. Shaukenov comes to the conclusion that the activities of the Tsarist govern­ment there took an evidently colonial shape in its activities as early as by the 1740s. At the same time, the author shares the opinion of pre-revolutionary researcher, A.I. Maksheyev, who rightfully believed that the Kazakhs’ status as Russia’s subjects was merely formal. The Russians, protecting themselves from Kazakhs by fortresses and troops, could not freely move through the Kazakh steppes or cross them to reach the Khanates of Turkestan.[8]

A shortcoming in the study of history of the Orenburg Expedition is the lack of attention to the impact of the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-1739 on its activities, as the war consumed most of the human and material resources of the Russian army. Due to this fact, the chiefs of the Orenburg Expedition had fewer opportunities for pur­suing an active offensive policy. According to the report ‘How many Cossacks there are in the new towns along the Orenburg - Moscow road by 1737,’ the population of the fortress villages built along the line between Orsk and Samara was 3,040.[9] Being aware of the small number of border guards, Kazakh batyrs and sultans, ignoring the opinion of Khan Abulkhair, attacked new villages, plundered and captured villagers, and pre­vented Russia’s trade with Asian countries.

Abulkhair pointed out in a letter to Lieutenant General Prince G. A. Urusov the essence of the unfavorable situation for the Russian side in the Russian-Kazakh border area and the ‘surest’ way to change it:

I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’ve also persuaded others to do good, but wild people do not obey. As long as there are no troops, foolish Kazakhs do not understand, and they are not afraid. They will not give out their captives... But when you arrive with your great army for the construction of the city, then everything will be returned. If merchants come, their plundered goods will be immediately returned. Otherwise, we cannot cope with them.[10]

However, the Russo-Turkish War not only affected the activities of the Orenburg Expedition (Commission) indirectly. As noted above, the Orenburg Expedition chiefs were charged with the duty to protect the Kalmyk Khanate from the attacks of the Kazakhs of the Junior Zhuz and thereby ensure the participation of the Kalmyk army in campaigns against the Crimean and Kuban Tatars who were allies of the Ottoman Empire.

In the archives of both the Orenburg Expedition and the Orenburg Commission (Archives 1, 2) of the State archive of the Orenburg region, there are foreign policy materials containing correspondence with the rulers of neighboring peoples and instruc­tions of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs, and on building diplomatic relations with them. These documents include copies of translations of the letters written by Kalmyk Khan Donduk-Ombo, Khan of the Kazakh Junior Zhuz Abulkhair, and Dzungarian ruler Galdan-Tseren. The decrees of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs contain extracts from the reports of the chiefs of the Orenburg Expedition I.K. Kirilov, V.N. Tatishchev, G.A. Urusov, I.I. Neplyuev, and the detailed instructions made by the Collegium on conducting negotiations and diplomatic correspondence.

Kalmyk effort during the Russo-Turkish war. Military campaigns to Kuban in 1736-1737

Ivan Ivanovich Neplyuev, the future chief of the Orenburg Commission, and from 1744 the first Governor of the Orenburg province, was a strong advocate of the war against the Ottoman Empire. In 1721-1734 he headed the Russian mission in Constantinople as the resident ambassador. I.I. Neplyuev assured the government that the advancement of just a small Russian corps to the Turkish border would be enough for the Sultan to sue for peace.11 The Russian command attached great importance to the involvement of the Volga Kalmyks in the war against Turkey and its allies.

After Torgut chief Kho-Orluk acquired Russian citizenship in 1609, the relations between Russia and the Kalmyk Khanate, located in the lower reaches of the Volga, were built on a contractual basis. Frequent strife between the representatives of the Khan’s dynasty and the appeal of the Kalmyk rulers to the ‘white tsar’ for support and media­tion, created favorable conditions for the Imperial authorities to intervene in the internal affairs of the Kalmyk Khanate. After Ayuka Khan’s death in 1724, successors to the Khan’s throne were appointed by Saint Petersburg. On 22 February 1725, Cheren-Don- duk, the son of the third wife of Ayuka Khan, was appointed Governor of the Kalmyk Khanate by the decree of Catherine I. 6 years later, on 17 February 1731 Empress Anna Ioannovna bestowed the title of Khan to Cheren-Donduk. The children of Ayuka Khan’s elder sons disagreed with the royal appointment. In 1731, now baptized, Peter Tayshin informed the Empress and state noblemen that Cheren-Donduk should not have been appointed the Supreme Kalmyk ruler: ‘According to our Kalmyk tradition, it is the first son of the first wife who is to be the Khan.’ Therefore, the heir was to be the son of the [11] senior wife of Ayuka Khan, his father Chakdorzhap, and after the death of his father - Peter’s elder brother, Dusang, by that time already deceased. The next one in line for the throne was the grandson of Ayuka’s second wife - Donduk-Ombo.[12]

Both Donduk-Ombo and Peter Tayshin assumed an attitude of blatant defiance. They agreed that after Cheren-Donduk’s overthrow they would divide the Kalmyk Khan­ate among themselves. Lieutenant General Prince Ivan Baryatinskiy was sent to stop them. His army consisted of 6 dragoon regiments, 2 infantry regiments, troops of Don and Volga Cossacks and small squads of Kalmyks who remained loyal to Cheren-Donduk. The only success of Baryatinsky’s campaign was the arrest of Peter Tayshin in Krasny Yar.[13] Don­duk-Ombo managed to escape to Kuban to secure the patronage of the Crimean Khan and the Turkish Sultan. Remaining beyond the reach of the Russian army, for three years the rebellious chief continued to raid the Khan’s uluses and draw influential relatives over to his side. As a result, in 1735, Donduk-Ombo and the local leaders who joined him had up to 28 thousand families under his rule, more than 10 thousand of whom he had captured and made part of his own ulus. Khan Cheren-Donduk and his few noble supporters had no more than 10 thousand families. At the same time, Donduk-Ombo maintained the rela­tions with the royal court, but he called the handover of supreme control over the Kalmyk people to him to be the main condition for his return to the Volga.

In light of the impending war against the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Kha­nate, and the need to subdue the Kalmyk people, the government of Empress Anna Ioan­novna considered it appropriate to meet the requirements of Donduk-Ombo. The second paragraph of the Charter, brought to him by the Don Cossack Chief Danila Efremov, stated: ‘When he, Donduk-Ombo, comes to the Volga and swears the oath of loyalty, he will rule all Kalmyks, and he should not offend other local leaders or take away their property.’ Donduk Ombo swore the oath of loyalty to Her Imperial Majesty in the pres­ence of Astrakhan Governor Ivan Petrovich Izmaylov on 14 November 1735, less than a year before the Russo-Turkish War.[14]

One of the most important strategic goals of this war in the Caucasus region was the capture of Azov which had been lost by Peter the Great as a result of the unfortunate Prut campaign in 1711. The Kuban Horde, a part of the Crimean Khanate, had prevented the siege and conquest of Azov. The Nogais, the Horde subjects, called the Kuban Tatars or Cossacks, were the main fighting force which had feuded with the Kalmyks. In early 1736, the ruler of the Kalmyk Khanate Donduk-Ombo, faithful to the duty of an ally, through the local Russian Embassy, declared war on the Kuban Horde and the Crimean Khanate, and in spring moved to Kuban leading an army of 20 thousand soldiers.

During the Kuban campaign, acting independently and with the support of the Cossacks and Kabardian princes, the Kalmyk cavalry inflicted several heavy defeats to the Kubans, ravaged the conquered uluses and took numerous prisoners. The spring campaign of the Kalmyk troops distracted considerable enemy forces from Azov and contributed to the successful completion of the Azov operation.

The Kazakhs who attacked the unprotected Kalmyk uluses prevented Don- duk-Ombo from achieving new victories over the demoralized enemy. The Kalmyk ruler was forced to withdraw his army from the battleground.[15]

Donduk-Ombo faced a difficult choice. On the one hand, the Russian command demanded that he should resume hostilities; on the other hand, Abulkhair Khan warned that Kazakh batyrs were going to attack the Kalmyk nomad camps in winter. Enemies exerted diplomatic pressure on the Kalmyk Khanate ruler as well. Crimean Khan Fe- tih-Giray reminded Donduk-Ombo that before his confirmation as the ruler of the Kal­myk Khanate, while being persecuted by the Russian authorities, he had received asy­lum in the Crimean Khanate and swore not to inflict any damage to either the Crimeans, and the Kubans. In his reply, Donduk-Ombo cynically noted that both times his only intention was to save his own life.[16]

On November 19, the Kalmyk ruler yielded to the pressure of the Russian govern­ment and set out on another campaign to Kuban, and overall if was favourable for the Kalmyks. For two weeks - from 1 to 14 December - acting either with the Cossacks or more often independently, they inflicted a number of heavy defeats to the Kuban Tatars: they forced the fortresses of Kapyl and Temryuk to surrender, captured more than 10 thousand prisoners, 20 thousand horses, and a large number of cattle and sheep. In recognition of the merits of the Kalmyk army, on 3 March 1737 Empress Anna Ioan­novna signed a decree appointing Donduk-Ombo the Khan.[17] The decree to the chief of the Orenburg Expedition I. K. Kirilov stated:

You are well aware that the subject of Her Imperial Majesty Kalmyk ruler Donduk- Ombo, since the moment he was entrusted the rule over all Kalmyk people, he has shown his faithfulness to Her Imperial Majesty. Last summer in the two campaigns to Kuban, he showed a lot of zeal.[18]

In 1737, a Kalmyk detachment of 5,000 soldiers under the command of Galdan Normo as part of General Lassi’s army participated in the Crimea campaign. After the victory over the Crimeans and janissaries in the battles at the rivers Salhir and Sungari as well as at the fortress Karasubazar, Kalmyks returned to their encampments with rich booty. In December of that year, Kalmyks together with the Don Cossacks participated in the punitive campaign against the Kuban Tatars and Circassians, a retaliatory mea­sure for the devastation of the Don villages, murder and captivity of their inhabitants.

Russia's peacekeeping efforts with respect to Kazakh-Kalmyk relations and the participation of the leaders of the Orenburg Expedition in those efforts

The small number of Kalmyk troops in comparison with the campaign of 1736 was the result of hostile actions by Kazakhs, the damage being incomparable with the booty taken from the Crimean and Kuban Tatars. In the message to Empress Anna Ioannovna, sent on 4 February 1737, Donduk-Ombo wrote about two plundering raids made by the Ka­zakhs of the Junior Zhuz against Kalmyk uluses. The first raid was launched on 13 January 1737, when up to 4 thousand Kazakh warriors captured 500 Kalmyk families. On 22 Janu­ary, Kazakhs, this time up to 30 thousand warriors strong, made a second raid, capturing 2 thousand families, including some of the Khan’s courtiers. The most valuable booty of the steppe robbers was the Khan’s tent with Buddhist relics that were especially re­vered by Kalmyks, including 11 collections of effigies of Buddha and religious books. Donduk-Ombo explained the absence of Kalmyk revenge with the participation of his troops in the war fought for Russian interests. The Kalmyk ruler emphasized that his soldiers had always independently beat off raids of Kazakhs and, in turn, took their sul­tans as amanats (hostages). The Khan wrote: ‘Now our troops have just returned from the campaign, and the horses are emaciated.’[19]

For the invasion of the Kalmyk steppe, Kazakh batyrs and their troops would cross the Volga unhindered. They usually did it in wintertime, when the river was frozen and no boats were necessary to cross it. Major General Prince Repnin wrote about Don- duk-Ombo’s devastation of Kalmyk uluses in his reports. On 19 January 1737, a Kal­myk who had escaped from Kazakh captivity told him about the attack of a considerable number of Kazakhs against the uluses located to the south of Tsaritsyn. Repnin sent a squad of the Pskov Dragoon regiment of Second Major Mordvinov and Salyan infant­ry regiment of Lieutenant Mechekhin up the Volga to intercept the steppe bandits. How­ever, it was too late. The only result was the capture of three Kazakhs, one of whom soon died of his wounds. The captive Kazakhs gave inconsistent and contradictory testimony which indicated that they reported to the local leader of Kashkar, who had an army of up to 6 thousand, and they had come to the Volga to capture people from the Kalmyk nomad camps and Russian villages. At the Chorny Yar in the area of Mazan they split into two parts. Iset Batyr and a troop of 3,000 went up the Volga along the meadow side to Saratov in order to ‘capture Kalmyks.’ Telep Batyr and his troop stayed at Chorny Yar. To the north of Chorny Yar he captured 30 Russians and up to 100 Kalmyks.[20]

The successful raid of several thousand Kazakhs into the Kalmyk steppe testified the ignorance of Astrakhan authorities of the enemy troops’ advancement and of the weak protection of the Russian borders in the Lower Volga region due to the lack of cavalry capable of pursuing and detaining the steppe nomads.

The Russian government clearly understood both the necessity of punishing the criminals and the impossibility of solving this problem on its own. In the lengthy decree dated 9 February 1737, the Collegium of Foreign Affairs proposed to shift the responsibi­lity for solving this issue to Khan Abulkhair. The proposals of the Collegium were reduced to three options: if the participants of the raid were the subjects of the Khan of the Junior Zhuz, then he himself was to punish them, force them to release prisoners and return the loot. If ‘Kazakh thieves’ were foreign nationals, then Russia would convince Abulkhair and the allied batyrs to launch a campaign to ‘inflict vengeance’ to the perpetuators. Oth­erwise, Bashkirs would be asked to step in and ‘take measures to prevent Kazakh raids.’[21]

In this situation, Donduk-Ombo sought to pit the Russian government against the Khan of the Junior Zhuz and to remind them the war against the Turks and their vassals was not over yet. Further Kalmyk participation in the war would be limited to assisting Russia in preventing Kazakh raids. In order to be more convincing, the ruler of the Kalmyk Khanate himself decided to share some information regarding the threat of new conflicts with the Russians. He referred to the testimony of the captured Ka­zakhs, who claimed that the Bashkirs and the Kyrgyz, being co-religionists, reached an agreement for Bashkirs to advance into the Kazakh steppe. Through joint efforts, they intended to release the son of Abulkhair, kept hostage by the Orenburg Commission, and then to launch joint raids against Russian villages. Donduk-Ombo pointed out the marriage between the Kazakh Khan and the daughter of Otkokhort the Bashkir as the indirect evidence of the emerging alliance. He also reported to the Russian Empress that Berdekesh the Bashkir had joined Khan Abulkhair with two thousand families and together with the Kazakh sultans were contemplating an attack against Kalmyks. Due to the human and material losses suffered from the Kazakh raid, the Kalmyk Khan con­sidered it necessary to notify the Russian government saying he would not send troops to Kuban next spring.[22]

It wasn’t an accident that a copy of the translation of Donduk-Ombo’s letter to Empress Anna Ioannovna was among the documents of the Orenburg Commission, as it was its chiefs who were responsible for the relations with the khans of the Junior Zhuz.

Donduk-Ombo’s message was not left unnoticed. In the order of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs to the chief of the Orenburg Commission V.N. Tatishchev dated 2 June 1738, they explained that due to the ongoing war against Turkey, it was in the interests of Russia to demand that Kazakh attacks on Kalmyk uluses should be stopped. Accord­ing to the order, V.N. Tatishchev was to do his best to force Kazakhs to return all the loot and release all noble Kalmyks from captivity. It was only under such a condition the Russian government could keep Donduk-Ombo from another campaign against the Kazakh nomads.

In the order, there was no reference to the Bashkir-Kalmyk alliance. Apparently, due to the lack of agreement on this issue between the Kazakh khans and sultans, the Rus­sian government considered such an alliance unlikely at that time. The calculation that Kazakhs would come over to side with the Crimean and Kuban Tatars seemed much more feasible. From time to time, news of contacts between these groups would turn up. Thus, a Kazakh captured at Chorny Yar in January 1737, said during the interrogation that envoys from Crimea had come to the Kazakh Khan and asked him to send some reinforcement. ‘At the request of the Crimean Khan, their Khan wanted to send them an army, but he found it difficult to estimate the number of troops needed.’[23] Tatishchev was to find a way to prevent such collusion.[24]

In the 1730s, the Russian Empire pursued a ‘policy of appeasement’ towards the Kazakh Zhuzes. It was clearly stated in Paragraph 6 of the Instruction given to I.K. Kirilov just before sending the Orenburg Expedition: ‘It is necessary to keep the

Kyrgyz and Kazakhs obedient, depending on the circumstances, with either favors and gifts, or rigor and fear.’ As Orenburg’s administrators did not have enough military re­sources for keeping the nomads in check, they were supposed ‘to pit one people against the other, saving the Russian army [the burden],’ a common tactic among colonizers around the world.[25]

The leader of the Orenburg Expedition focused much effort on suppressing the Bashkir uprising. As a response to the news about the Kazakh attack on the uluses of the Volga Kalmyks, he sent letters to Khan Abulkhair expressing ‘disgust of the acts’ com­mitted by people under Abulkhair’s control who ravaged the subjects of Her Imperial Majesty. Kirilov’s successors built relations with Abulkhair in the same vein. After the above large-scale attack on Kalmyks, V.N. Tatishchev held a meeting with the Kazakh Khan on 3 August 1738. During the solemn audience, Abulkhair, his son Nurali, and other Kazakh elders took another oath of allegiance to the Russian Empire. During this and subsequent meetings with the leader of the Orenburg Commission, Abulkhair kept promising to collect, release from captivity and deliver to Russia all Russian citizens, not only from the Kazakh Zhuzes, but also from neighboring countries. A.I. Levshin, the author of the first fundamental work on the history of the Kazakh people, rightfully noted that Abulkhair could not possibly keep his promise and ‘no doubt, he himself was sure of the impossibility of keeping it.’[26]

Naturally, in these circumstances, as V.V. Batyrev stressed, Donduk-Ombo set out on the next campaign to Kuban in March 1738 with reluctance. As in previous years, Kalmyks managed to inflict a number of heavy defeats to their opponents, the Kuban Tatars and Abazins. During one of them, the troops captured Sultan Sele- bek, the son of the Crimean Khan Bakht Giray. But as soon as in May, after getting to know about the new attacks by Kazakhs, Donduk-Ombo ceased hostilities and returned to the Volga steppes.[27]

In the conflict between its steppe subjects, Russia acted as the peacemaker. In the diplomatic relations with Khan Abulkhair, the Collegium of Foreign Affairs di­rectly indicated that it was aware of his direct participation in organizing the raids on Russian and Kalmyk villages, but at the same time it made it clear that Russia sought to maintain a good neighborly trusting relationship with the Kazakh Khan. This con­clusion is evident from the announcement of the Collegium on 30 July 1739 to Ahmet Sultan, the son of Khan Abulkhair. He was explained that

...although during the interrogation the captured noble man Yesinbay Batyr said that those troops had been sent against Kalmyks by his father Abulkhair Khan, it was not considered to be true, as his father Abulkhair had received citizenship from Her Imperial Majesty and had sworn allegiance. <...> Therefore, he could not possibly send the troops to attack the Kalmyks, the subjects of Her Imperial Majesty, in order to rob and capture them.

The punishment of those guilty, initiated at his will, as well as the return to Oren­burg of all Russian citizens being in captivity, was to be the proof that the Khan of Junior Zhuz had nothing to do with the mentioned crimes.[28]

In turn, Donduk-Ombo, seeing that Russia took no tough actions against Kazakhs, considered that to be evasion from allied obligations. In his report dated 29 April 1739, he once again reminded his Russian allies that the frequent campaigns of the Kalmyk army to Kuban and Crimea exhausted both his people and horses. Kazakhs made use of the situation by attacking Kalmyk uluses every year, plundering and taking booty. By announcing the desire to be Russian subjects and letting their sons be amanats, Ka­zakh rulers only misled the Russian Empress. In order to rightly punish the aggressor, Khan Donduk-Ombo asked Empress Anna Ioannovna for permission to equip a joint punitive expedition against the Kazakhs; the Khan hoped that the Empress would pro­vide a troop of 5,000 soldiers and 40 cannons.[29]

In the return letter dated 19 July 1739, Empress Anna Ioannovna made it clear to the Kalmyk Khan that her government shared the opinion of the unreliability of the oaths given by the Kazakh elders: ‘Although the Kyrgyz have become our subjects again, we have long been aware that they are unreliable.’ She also agreed with the opinion that for their ‘impudence,’ Kazakhs deserved ‘proper revenge.’ However, the letter also included a reminder of the ongoing war against Turkey, and an implication that it was not in the in­terests of Russia to turn the Kazakh steppe into a theater of war and send in Russian troops. It was strongly recommended to Donduk-Ombo to abandon the idea of a punitive campaign against the Kazakhs of the Junior Zhuz. The letter stated that in case he dared to take such a trip with all his forces, leaving the Kalmyk uluses without proper protection, this might invite an attack from the Kuban Tatars. These arguments were supported with a promise: ‘You should have patience, and when the opportunity occurs, you will take your revenge.’ Nevertheless, some measures to protect the Kalmyk nomad camps were still taken. The Russian government established surveillance and protection on the territory from Astrakhan up the Volga. Patrols were sent to the steppe. In order to protect the Kalmyk Khan and the members of his family, it was promised to send ‘a nobleman and some military.’[30]

Obviously, the failure to provide more effective military assistance to Kalmyks in their conflict with the Kazakh Zhuzes was also explained by Russia’s desire to ensure a ‘balance of power’ between the steppe subjects and to reduce the intensity and gravity of their invasions in the Russian border areas. Thus, on 23 June 1740, the next year after the end of the Russo-Turkish War, Empress Anna Ioannovna informed Donduk-Ombo of Kalmyk raids on Russian villages. The content of the Empress’s letter resembled the above letters addressed to Khan Abulkhair. For the investigation, trial and punishment of the captured Kalmyks, it was proposed that the Kalmyk Khan should send to Tsaritsyn his representatives - one chief or several zaisangs. The letter ended with a usual warning:

It should be strictly prohibited to all Kalmyks to make raids on Russian houses, to hurt people or take away cattle. Those who get caught will be treated like thieves and villains.[31]

In their relations with nomads, the chiefs of the Orenburg Expedition also used divide-and-conquer tactics, the essence of which was described by I.K. Kirilov in his proposal for the development of the Orenburg region. Kirilov stated that Russia could and should use the constant strife between the Bashkirs, Kazakhs, and Kalmyks to its own advantage. To be more persuasive, he referred to the experience of 1734 when the Russian government utilized the army of Abulkhair against the influential Kalmyk chief Dorzhi Nazarov, whose ulus nomadized along the banks of the Yaik and the Emba. During this conflict, Dorzhi Nazarov took part in the rebellion against Tseren Donduk, the Kalmyk Khan who was supported by Russia at that time. After the devastation of Kalmyk nomad camps, Dorzhi Nazarov was forced to stop hostile actions and, as Kiri­lov believed, to hold a grudge against the Kazakhs. The chief of the Orenburg Expedi­tion urged to keep pursuing the same foreign policy:

Should Kyrgyz do wrong, Kalmyks and Bashkirs shall be sent against them so that all of them are kept humble and obedient without the participation of Russian troops.32

The temporary retreat from the proposed tactics towards the Kalmyks was due solely to their participation in the war against the Ottoman Empire and its vassals.

Russia's efforts to normalize relations between the Kazakh Zhuzes and Iran and to protect Kazakhs from Dzungar aggression

The neutralization of the Kazakh military threat, whether aimed at external aggression or its direction in favor of Russia, was not limited to the improvement of the Kazakh-Kalmyk relations. Iran, significantly strengthened by the accession of Nadir Shah, was consi­dered by Saint Petersburg as a possible ally in the war against Turkey. The Shah of Persia and the ruler of the Junior Zhuz sought to seize Khiva and put their protegee on the Khivan throne. The Collegium of Foreign Affairs considered it best to prevent a war between them, rightly believing that the transfer of Persian troops to the North­East would remove them from the Turkish border. In a letter they stated, ‘Our interests require that the Persians, being secure and at peace with other peoples, should go to war against the Porte.’[32] 33

In the 1730s, Russia’s relations with the Dzungar Khanate became considerably more strained. This was due to ill-defined state borders in Siberia and the reluctance of Goldan-Tseren to recognize the legality of the Kazakh Zhuzes’ accession to Russia. The conclusion of a truce in 1734 and, three years later, peace with Qing China made it possible to transfer the Dzungar troops to the south of the Kazakh steppe. Over two years, Dzungars conquered the Senior Zhuz, and in 1739 they launched a campaign against the Middle Zhuz. In these circumstances, Abilmambet, the Khan of the Middle Zhuz, decided to follow the example of Abulkhair and in 1740 acquired the citizen­ship of the Russian Empire. In 1741, the Collegium of Foreign Affairs received news of Goldan-Tseren’s demand that the khans of the Middle and Junior Zhuzes become his subjects, send their children with noble elders as hostages, and pay tribute estab­lished by the Dzungar government. The satisfaction of the demand was prevented by the tough stance taken by Russia on behalf of Kazakh interests. The leader of the Orenburg Commission I. I. Neplyuyev requested that the Dzungar ambassadors sent to Abulkhair should be advised as follows: ‘He, the Dzungar ruler, should give patronage to these khans and their hordes; but he should not demand any tribute from them.’ In case Ka­zakhs violated the border and harm Dzungar uluses, this was to be reported immediately to the court of Her Imperial Majesty or to I.I. Neplyuyev.[34]

Goldan-Tseren apparently learned late about the Peace Treaty concluded between Russia and Turkey on 18 September 1739 in Belgrade. This delay is evident from a let­ter addressed to Empress Anna Ioannovna. The copy received in the Orenburg commis­sion, dated 31 March 1742, was titled as ‘Translation of the letter of the Dzungar ruler Goldan Tseren, submitted by his Ambassador Lama Dasha to the great Chancellor and Prince Alexei Mikhailovich Cherkassky.’

Goldan-Tseren complained that in the violation of the previous agreements, Rus­sians had built fortresses, hunted local wildlife, and mined gold and copper on his land. The Dzungar ruler asked the Empress to take her subjects away from Dzungaria, covert­ly noting that otherwise Russia would have to wage two wars at once: ‘You are wag­ing a war against Turkey, and if during this time I take actions, I might be considered shameless.’[35]

The establishment of diplomatic contacts between Dzungaria and the Kalmyk Khanate caused great concern in Russian government circles. These contacts could lead to both the migration of a large part of the Volga Kalmyks to the Dzungar Khanate and the conclusion of a treaty between them to form a military alliance. The goal of the mi­litary administration of the border provinces of the South-East, therefore, was to hinder and, if possible, detain the envoys and couriers carrying correspondence from Dzun­garia to the headquarters of the Kalmyk Khan and back. In 1741, some envoys were sent with letters to Donduk-Ombo. On 27 August, the office of the Orenburg Commis­sion resolved that those couriers should be detained under a specious excuse. In accor­dance with his instructions, the ambassador was to state that Khan Donduk-Ombo had died and his successor had not yet been appointed, and therefore there was addressee to turn to. In addition, being subjects of the Russian Empire, the Kalmyks were not allowed to answer letters without an Imperial Edict. In order to prevent the ambassador and his servants from going to the steppe and meeting the Kalmyks who were staying in Samara, the ambassador and his staff were to be kept ‘under close supervision.’ The officials also had orders to intercept any letters addressed to the Kalmyk Khan. However, there turned out to be no need to obstruct the envoys’ departure to the Kal­myk steppe. Upon arrival in Samara, the Dzungar ambassador got sick and died shortly thereafter. The demands of the Orenburg Commission leaders were met: ‘Every effort was made with the help of an interpreter to have a look at all the letters addressed to Khan Donduk-Ombo.’ The letters were copied and sent to the Collegium of Foreign Affairs.[36]


Thus, in the 1730s, the Russian government formed a workable model of relations with its steppe subjects. It consisted of preventing long-term military conflicts between those subjects and, at the same time, neutralizing any attempts of forming a common military alliance. The Russian government performed the role of a peacemaker, arbitrator, and a reliable ally in case of an external threat and raised the authority of the Empire in order to force the nomads to seek its protection and submit to its will. It was the Orenburg Expedition (Commission) itself which was meant to pursue the policy of establishing the Russian statehood in the steppes of the Southern Urals and the Ural-Caspian region, and, in the future, the whole Central Asia. Its leaders established direct contacts with the Kazakh and Karakalpak khans, as well as rulers of other neighboring peoples. It was the Russo-Turkish War which made some temporary adjustments to the established order of maintaining the ‘balance of forces’, a policy aimed at preventing the strengthening of any unions between sovereign states and nomads. The Kalmyk Khanate’s effort in the war on the Russian side and the participation of its troops in the Kuban campaign gave the Kazakhs of the Junior Zhuz the opportunity to launch devastating raids on Kalmyk uluses. The Orenburg Expedition, whose few troops were involved in the suppression of the Bashkir uprising, mainly provided the Kalmyks with only minimal diplomatic support. It was the aggressive policy of the Dzungar Khanate aimed at the conquest of the Kazakh steppe that prevented the establishment of the military hegemony of the Ka­zakh Zhuzes in the Ural steppes. And it was only the staunch stance of Russia, declaring its readiness to protect its Kazakh subjects, that forced Dzungar ruler Goldan-Tseren to abandon any claims to the Kazakh steppes.


1 VV Dmitriyev, S.V Lyubichankovskiy, “The Southern periphery of the Russian Empire and the prob­lem of colonialism (based on the materials of Russia’s National Policy towards the Crimean Tatars in the late 18th through the early 20th century),” Bylyye gody 45, no. 3 (2017): 1010-1024; S.V. Dzhundzhuzov, S.V. Lyubichankovskiy, “Kalmyks of Southern Ural in the 18th - early 20th century: Problems of assimilation, acculturation and preservation of ethnic identity,” Bylyye gody 46, no. 4 (2017): 1194-1206; S.V. Dzhun­dzhuzov, S.V. Lyubichankovskiy, “The Missionary Activity of Nicodemus Lenkeevich in the Kalmyk Khanate (1725-1734),” Novyy istoricheskiy vestnik no. 3 (2017): 172-191; D.V Vasilyev, S.V Lyubichankovskiy, “Kazakhs and Russians: household acculturation in the 19th century,” Voprosy istorii, no. 3 (2018): 151-165; G.B. Izbasarova, S.V. Lyubichankovskiy, “Pristavstva on the outskirts of the Russian Empire in the 18th - first half of the 19th century: from a personal position to a management system,” Rossiyskaya istoriya, no. 2 (2018): 13-21; S.V. Lyubichankovskiy, K.G. Akanov, “Orenburg in the History of Integra­tion of the Kazakh Steppe into the Russian Empire in the 18th through the 20th century,” Bylyye gody 48, no. 2 (2018): 484-495; S.V. Dzhundzhuzov, S.V. Lyubichankovskiy, “The Influence of the Imperial Policy of Acculturation on the Formation and Evolution of the Power Elite among the Stavropol Christened Kal­myks (1737-1842),” Bylyye gody 49, no. 3 (2018): 970-979.

2 P.I. Rychkov, Istoriya Orenburgskaya po uchrezhdenii Orenburgskoy gubernii (Ufa: Ufimskiy NTS RAN Publ., 2002), 2-76; V.M. Cheremshanskiy, Opisaniye Orenburgskoy gubernii v khozyaystven-no-statisticheskom, etnograficheskom i promyshlennom otnosheniyakh (Ufa: Tipografiya Orenburgskogo Gubernskogo Pravleniya Publ., 1859), 13; P.P. Pekarskiy, Novyye izvestiya o V.N. Tatishcheve (Saint Peters­burg: Academy of Sciences Publ., 1864), 34; P.P. Pekarskiy, Zhizn ’i literaturnayaperepiska P.I. Rychkova (Saint Petersburg: Academy of Sciences Publ., 1867), 8.

3 F.M. Starikov, Istoriko-statisticheskiy ocherk Orenburgskogo kazach’yego voyska (Orenburg: Tipolitografiya B. Breslina Publ., 1891), 25.

4 Sh. Tipeyev, Ocherki po istorii Bashkirii (Ufa: Bashkir State University Publ., 1930), 47; N.V. Ustyugov, Bashkirskoye vosstaniye 1737-1739 gg. Moscow; Leningrad: AN SSSR Publ., 1950), 20; I.G. Akma- nov, Bashkirskoye vosstaniye 1735-1736gg. (Ufa: BGU Publ., 1977).

5 D.A. Safonov, Nachalo Orenburgskoy istorii (Orenburg: Orenburgskaya guberniya Publ., 2003), 10-55.

6 Yu.N. Smirnov, Orenburgskaya ekspeditsiya (komissiya) i prisoyedineniye Zavolzh’ya k Rossii v 30-40-ye gg. XVIII v. (Samara: Samara University Publ., 1997); Yu.N. Smirnov, “Ekstrakt imennykh ukazov Orenburgskoy komissii za 1734-1741 gody kak istochnik po istorii otnosheniy s narodami i stranami Priural’ya, Kazakhstana, Sredney Azii,” in Vneshnepoliticheskiye interesy Rossii: istoriya i sovremennost’. Sbornik materialov III Vserossiyskoy nauchnoy konferentsii (Samara: Samara Academy of Humanities Publ., 2016), 235.

7 V.A. Moiseyev, “Dzhungaro-kazakhskiye otnosheniya v ХѴП-ХѴШ vekakh i politika Rossii,” Vestnik Yevrazii, no. 2 (2000): 25-30.

8 A. Shaukenov, “Changes in the political and legal system of Kazakhstan in the process of its incor­poration into the Russian Empire from the second half of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century,” Journal of Asian and African Studies 22, no. 2 (2013): 283.

9 Gosudarstvennyy arkhiv Orenburgskoy oblasti (thereafter - GAOO), f. 2, op. 1, d. 1, l. 75 ob. - 76.

10 Ibid., d. 10, l. 34 ob. - 35.

11 M.Yu. Gosudareva, “K voprosu o diplomaticheskoy podgotovke russko-turetskoy voyny 1735­1739 gg.,” in Chelovek, obraz, slovo v kontekste istoricheskogo vremeni iprostranstva: materialy Vseros- siyskoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii, 23-24 aprelya 2015 g., Ryazanskiy universitet imeni S.A. Yese­nina (Ryazan: Kontseptsiya Publ., 2015), 192-193.

12 Arkhiv vneshney politiki Rossiyskoy imperii (thereafter - AVP RI), f. 119, op. 119/1, d. 15, l. 2 - 2 ob.

13 V.M. Bakunin, Opisaniye kalmytskikh narodov, a osoblivo iz nikh torgoutskogo, i postupkov ikh khanov i vladel ’tsev. Sochineniye 1761 goda (Elista: Kalmyk Book Publ., 1995), 88.

14 Ibid., 130, 150-151.

15 V.V. Batyrev, “Uchastiye kalmykov v Russko-turetskoy voyne 1735-1739 gg., nyye issledovaniya v Kalmykii (Elista: Kalmyk University Publ., 2006), 29-30.

16 Ibid., 31.

17 Ibid., 32.

18 GAOO, f. 2, op. 1, d. 5, l. 31.

19 GAOO, f. 2, op. 1, d. 3, l. 39.

20 Ibid., d. 5, l. 22 ob. - 23.

21 Ibid., d. 9, l. 20 ob.

22 GAOO, f. 2, op. 1, d. 3, l. 39 ob. - 40 ob.

23 Ibid., f. 1, op. 1, d. 5, l. 19 ob.

24 Ibid., f. 2, op. 1, d. 3, l. 45 - 45 ob.

25 A.I. Levshin, Opisaniye kirgiz-kazach’ikh, ili kirgiz-kaysatskikh, ord i stepey. Ch. 2: Istoricheski- ye izvestiya (Saint Petersburg: Tip. Karla Krayya Publ., 1832), 114, 116.

26 Ibid., 136.

27 V.V. Batyrev, Uchastiye kalmykov v Russko-turetskoy voyne, 33.

28 GAOO, f. 2, op. 1, d. 5, l. 7.

29 Ibid., l. 44 - 44 ob.

30 Ibid., l. 44 ob. - 45.

31 Ibid., l. 88 ob. - 89.

32 V Pistolenko, Izproshlogo Orenburgskogo kraia (Chkalov: Chkalovsk regional Publ., 1939), 33.

33 GAOO, f. 2, op. 1, d. 9, l. 54 ob.

34 GAOO, f. 2, op. 1, d. 10, l. 49-50.

35 Ibid., l. 54 - 54 ob.

36 Ibid., d. 9, l. 82 ob. - 83.


About the authors

Stepan V. Dzhundzhuzov

Orenburg State Pedagogical University

Author for correspondence.

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor at the Russian History Department, Orenburg State Pedagogical University

19 Sovetskaya St., Orenburg, 460844, Russia

Sergey V. Lyubichankovskiy

Orenburg State Pedagogical University


Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor and the Head of the Russian History Department, Orenburg State Pedagogical University.

19 Sovetskaya St., Orenburg, 460844, Russia


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