Why were Russia and Denmark loyal allies for centuries

Why were Russia and Denmark loyal allies for centuries

Sweden was once considered a European superpower. The Russians and Danes did everything they could to bring this glorious period for Sweden to a quick end.

For almost five centuries the Danes were one of the most friendly European nations towards the Russians. The reason for the union of the two countries so culturally and religiously distant from each other was the existence of a common enemy – the Swedes.

Gustaf II Adolf before the Battle of Lützen.

Gustaf II Adolf before the Battle of Lützen.

Nils Forsberg / Gothenburg Art Museum (CC BY 3.0)

In 1493, the first treaty of a “friendly and eternal alliance” was signed between Russia and Denmark. The parties agreed to act together against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Sweden. The Swedes had already been part of the so-called Kalmar Union together with the Danes and Norwegians for a century, but they were extremely dissatisfied with Copenhagen’s ever-increasing political and economic dominance. King John counted on the support of Tsar Ivan III of Russia in this prolonged confrontation.

Ivan III of Russia.

Ivan III of Russia.

Public domain

However, the military-political alliance, which was extended in 1516, never fully came into effect. The Danes did not support the Russians in several wars against the Lithuanians, and the latter in turn did not participate in the Swedish War of Liberation, which ended in 1523 with Gustav Vasa being proclaimed king of Sweden, and the collapse of the union and the Danish rule over Sweden.

Gustav Vasa addresses men from Dalarna in Mora.

Gustav Vasa addresses men from Dalarna in Mora.

Johan Gustaf Sandberg

In 1558, Ivan IV the Terrible started a war in the Baltic against the weak Livonian confederation, with the intention of annexing its large territories to Russia. Such expansion provoked a harsh reaction from the neighboring Swedes, Poles and Lithuanians, who soon became fully involved in the conflict. The Danes also participated in the conflict, although in 1562 they signed a treaty with the Russians at Mozhaisk, in which both countries promised not to support third parties in the war, and to respect each other’s territorial claims in Livonia. This avoided a full-scale armed conflict between the states, although local armed clashes did occur.

Ivan the Terrible's conquest of the Livonian fortress of Kokenhausen.

Ivan the Terrible’s conquest of the Livonian fortress of Kokenhausen.

Pavel Sokolov-Skalya/State Russian Museum

Sweden’s strong resistance during the Livonian War prevented Ivan the Terrible from directly annexing territories and forced him to act more cautiously. In 1570, the Tsar proclaimed the creation of the vassal Kingdom of Livonia on conquered lands, and invited Duke Magnus, brother of Frederick II of Denmark, to sit on the throne. However, the Russians could not keep their grip on the Baltics. Eight years later their puppet state ceased to exist and after a couple of years they were finally forced out of the region. Denmark, for its part, came out of the conflict with a small territorial gain in the form of Öselön.

Duke Magnus.

Duke Magnus.

Public domain

Relations between Denmark and Russia were not always smooth. The question of the borders of the Russian state and Norway, which since 1536 was part of the Danish kingdom, remained unresolved for a long time. For many decades, the sides tried unsuccessfully to reach an agreement to prove their right to the northern lands. They even tried to bribe and intimidate each other. It got to the point that in 1599 King Christian IV personally arrived on the Kola Peninsula with a squadron of ships and began to persuade its inhabitants to accept Danish citizenship, although without success. The so-called “Lapland dispute” only ended in 1826 after the demarcation of the Russian-Norwegian border.

Christian IV.

Christian IV.

Public domain

Crushing the all-powerful Sweden, depriving it of its vast territories, and preventing it from turning the Baltic Sea into its own “lake” were among the most important foreign policy tasks for Russia and Denmark in the 17th century. More than once, in diplomatic and military conflicts of that era, the powers were on the same side, which happened during the Great Northern War of 1655-1660. However, they were not able to achieve their goals until the early 18th century.

Assault in Copenhagen.

Assault in Copenhagen.

Frederik Christian Lund

The Northern War of 1700-1721, which put an end to the Swedish great power, began for Denmark with a disaster. On August 4, 1700, the Swedish army led by Charles XII unexpectedly landed near Copenhagen, forcing the Danes to negotiate peace. They did not return to the conflict against their ancient adversaries until 1709. By then the Russians had already broken the backbone of the Swedish military machine at the Battle of Poltava. As a result of the Northern War, Denmark received a monetary contribution from the Swedes, and was able to gain a foothold in Schleswig. The benefits for Russia were much greater: Ingermanlandia, Livonia (present-day central and northern Latvia), Estlandia (present-day Estonia), as well as the southeastern part of Finland passed into its “perfect eternal possession”.

Battle of Poltava.

Battle of Poltava.

Alexander von Kotzebue

After the start of the war of revenge 1788-1790, initiated by Sweden against Russia to regain lost territories, the Danish army, according to the terms of the Russo-Danish alliance concluded in 1773, invaded the Swedish territory from Norway and started moving towards Gothenburg. However, the military campaign did not last long. Almost immediately, Britain and Prussia forced the Danes to sit down at the negotiating table and make peace on the terms of the status quo. The short and almost bloodless war was called the Theater War in Sweden – and the Lingon War in Norway, because the Danish soldiers had to supplement their diet with berries due to poor food availability.

Battle of Reval.

Battle of Reval.

Ivan Aivazovsky

During the 19th century, the allied relationship between the two powers continued. In 1807, Russia supported Denmark in the war against the British Empire, and the Danish army participated, although not very actively, in the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-1809, which ended with Stockholm losing to Finland. During the Napoleonic Wars, however, Danes and Russians ended up on different sides and came out of the pan-European conflict in different ways. After crushing Napoleon, Russia gained enormous influence on the European continent, while Denmark had to pay for its alliance with the French emperor by giving up Norway.

Wounded warrior in the snow.

Wounded warrior in the snow.

Helene Schjerfbeck

After Sweden (the main rival of the two Baltic states) chose neutrality in 1814, the traditional allied relationship between Denmark and Russia began to fade. Nevertheless, Russia gave the Danes enormous diplomatic support during the two wars for Schleswig-Holstein in 1848-1850 and 1864 against the rapidly rising Germans. At particularly critical moments for Copenhagen, Russia even threatened to become embroiled in hostilities on the side of its longtime ally.

Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen in 1848.

Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen in 1848.

Otto Bache

Source: sn.dk

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