In the early 18th century, Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great) crushed the mighty Sweden, making Russia one of the leading European powers. In this he also received help from foreign experts and professionals.
1. James Bruce
“A most honest and learned man,” Sir Charles Whitworth, British Ambassador to Russia, said by James Bruce (known as Yakov Bryus in Russia), one of Tsar Peter the Great’s closest associates. A representative of an ancient Scottish family, which had counted Scottish kings among its members, he distinguished himself as a mathematician, astronomer, diplomat, engineer and translator, and some even regarded him as a practitioner of black magic.
However, the main life work of the Scot was artillery. After being given command of the entire artillery of the Russian army during the Great Northern War against Sweden in 1700-1721, he managed to raise it to a completely different level of quality.
Bruce created new versions of weapons and worked tirelessly to increase the reliability, power, mobility and firing range of ammunition, which, moreover, began to be manufactured according to uniform standards. He also did not neglect to ensure that the artillerymen themselves – who in his eyes were the true elite of the Russian army – were provided with decent remuneration and effective training.
The results of the hard-working Scotsman’s efforts were not long in coming. As early as 1702, the siege of the Swedish fort Noteburg ended successfully, after which Nyenschantz, Derpt and Narva were captured. Effective artillery fire under Bruce’s command was one of the key factors in the victory of the Russian army at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, essentially deciding the further outcome of the entire conflict.
Twelve years later, James Bruce together with Andrey Ostermann led the Russian delegation at the talks with the Swedes in the city of Nystad. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Russia received “full, absolute and perpetual possession” of Ingermanland (Ingria), Livonia (central and northern Latvia), Estonia (Estonia), and the southeastern part of Finland. In the same year, 1721, the state ruled by Peter I was proclaimed an empire.
2. Georg Wilhelm de Gennin
Like James Bruce, the German engineer Georg de Gennin, who arrived in Russia in 1697, served the “god of war” – the artillery. During the hostilities that immediately began against the Swedes, he taught artillery and also personally participated in the capture of Viborg and several other Swedish forts.
Having discovered outstanding organizational competence in Gennin, Tsar Peter the Great entrusted him with the construction of weapons and gunpowder factories in St. Petersburg and in Karelia, where, among other things, the enterprising German founded the first health resort in the country – Marcial Waters.
Satisfied with the results of this work, the Tsar gave Gennin a diamond-encrusted portrait of himself and sent him to strengthen the industrial state of the Urals. There, Vilim Ivanovich, as he came to be known in Russia, not only restored and modernized old factories, but in 12 years built nine new ones from scratch, while participating in the founding of large regional centers, such as Perm and Yekaterinburg.
3. Patrick Gordon
In 1661, when Patrick Gordon entered the service of Peter the Great’s father, Tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich (Alexis of Russia), he was already an experienced military man. The Scottish “soldier of fortune” had participated in several military campaigns under the Polish and Swedish banners.
During the power struggle between Tsarevna Sophia and Tsarevich Peter in 1689, Gordon, commanding the 2nd Moskovskiy (Butyrskiy) Selective Regiment, came out strongly in support of the latter, ensuring a bloodless victory for Peter. After that, the Scots enjoyed the unlimited confidence of the future Russian emperor.
Peter dreamed of creating a powerful, fundamentally new army capable of challenging the troops of the leading European powers, an endeavor in which Patrick (Pyotr Ivanovich) Gordon’s knowledge and experience proved invaluable. An excellent military specialist, he not only advised the tsar on all military matters, but was also involved in the drilling and training of the Semyonovsky and Preobrazhensky regiments, established on the Western European model, which on his initiative became famous. as the “guard regiments”.
Gordon himself led troops into battle in the Azov campaigns against the Turks in 1695 and 1696, but he was not destined to live to see the decisive encounter in which his protégés were to give such a splendid account of themselves. The 64-year-old “godfather” of the Russian guard units died in 1699 literally on the eve of the start of the Great Northern War against Sweden.
4. Franz Lefort
The son of a merchant in Geneva, Franz Lefort was one of Tsar Peter the Great’s closest associates and friends. He fully shared the Tsar’s belief in the need to Europeanize Russia as quickly as possible and actively supported him in the process.
Lefort would look for the best military and civilian specialists in Europe and attract them to Russian service, speaking them that “by the grace of God we live under a government that has never been more gracious to foreigners”. He assisted in the birth of the Russian Navy and was also one of the authors of the new army established according to European principles. According to the tsar’s will, Franz Yakovlevich was awarded the rank of general and admiral.
Lefort died suddenly in 1699 at the age of only 43, just before the start of the Great Northern War that would prove so significant for Russia. “He alone was loyal to me. Who can I trust now?!” was how a deeply sad Peter received the news of the loss of his friend. Today, the name of the Geneva-born Lefort lives on in the name of one of the oldest districts of the Russian capital.
5. Heinrich Johann Friedrich Ostermann
Heinrich Johann Friedrich (Andrey Ivanovich) Ostermann, born in the city of Bochum, was a completely unique individual. He had an impeccable command of German, Dutch, Latin, French and Italian and learned Russian with equal ease when, in 1704, he was invited into the service of Tsar Peter.
From a regular translator for the embassy [Russian department responsible for foreign affairs – Ed.]advanced Ostermann to become the head of the Russian delegation (along with Bruce) in peace talks with the Swedes in Nystad in 1721. Worn out by years of conflict, Peter I was willing to accept far-reaching compromises (in particular the return of Viborg which had been captured from the enemy), but in a display of determination and tenacity, Andrei Ivanovich managed to get a peace treaty signed with Sweden on the most favorable terms for Russia.
The very pleased Tsar made Ostermann a baron. The diplomat also pleased Peter in 1723, when he concluded a very favorable trade agreement with Persia. In addition, Andrey Ivanovich offered advice to the ruler on matters of domestic policy.
After the Tsar’s death in 1725, Ostermann continued to shape the state’s foreign policy and also carried out a large-scale reorganization of the navy. The German’s privileged position ended with the death, in 1740, of the Empress Anna Ioannovna, who had been favorably disposed to him.
Under the rule of Elizabeth Petrovna (Elizabeth of Russia), Andrey Ivanovich was accused of treason and sentenced to be broken at the wheel. The death sentence was eventually commuted to banishment to the Urals, where Ostermann died in 1747.