The Russo-Crimean Wars were fought between the forces of Muscovy and the Tatars of the Crimean Khanate in the 16th century for the control of Volga River region. In the Russian and Soviet historiography, the reason for Russian military aggression was a retaliation against the Tatar's raids of the Muscovy southern regions. Tatars eventually lost their influence in the region and Muscovy after annexing that territory extended its realm southward closer to the Northern Caucasus and Caspian Sea.
The conflict surfaced soon after the establishment of the Muscovy's buffer state Qasim Khanate and domination of Moscow in the Moscow-Kazan Wars of the late 15th century.
(For background, see Expansion of Russia 1500-1800.)
In the 16th century the border of the Wild Steppes was near the city of Ryazan, near the Oka River, a tributary of the Volga, and close to the Yelets river, a tributary of the Don river, near Sosna. The main path to Moscow was the Muravsky Trail, going from the Crimean Isthmus of Perekop up to Tula between the basins of the Dnieper and Severskiy Donets rivers. Penetrating for about 100–200 kilometers into Russian territory, the Tatars would turn back only after extensive looting and kidnapping. Captives were sent to the Crimean city of Caffa to be sold.
Every spring, Moscow mobilized up to 65,000 soldiers for border service. The defensive lines consisted of a circuit of fortresses and cities.
The Russian population in the border regions suffered heavily from these invasions. This depopulation, in combination with the inability of Russian settlement in southern regions where the climate was more conducive to agriculture, hindered Muscovy's social and economic development.
The most dangerous invasions occurred in 1517, 1521 (supported by the Khanate of Kazan), 1537 (supported by the Khanate of Kazan, the Lithuanians, and the Turks), 1552, 1555, 1570–72 (supported by Sweden), 1589, 1593, 1640, 1666–67 (supported by Poland-Lithuania), 1671, and 1688.
In 1570 the Crimean Tatars' horde terribly devastated the Ryazan borderland of Muscovy, only meeting weak resistance.
In May 1571, the 120,000-strong Crimean and Turkish army (80,000 Tatar, 33,000 irregular Turks and 7,000 janissary) led by the khan of Crimea Devlet I Giray, and Big and Small Nogai hordes and troops of Circassians, bypassed the Serpukhov defensive fortifications on the river Oka, crossed the river Ugra and rounded the flank of the 6,000-man Russian army. The sentry troops of Russians were crushed by the Crimeans. Not having forces to stop the invasion, the Russian army receded to Moscow. The rural Russian population also fled to the capital.
The Crimean army devastated unprotected towns and villages around Moscow, and then set fire to suburbs of the capital. Due to a strong wind, the fire quickly expanded. The townspeople, chased by a fire and refugees, rushed to northern gate of capital. At the gate and in the narrow streets, there was a crush, people "went in three lines went on heads one of another, and top pressed those who were under them". The army, having mixed up with refugees, lost order, and general prince Belsky died in a fire.
Within three hours, Moscow burnt out completely. In one more day, the Crimean army, sated with its pillage, left on the Ryazan road to the steppes. Contemporaries counted up to 80,000 victims of the invasion in 1571, with 150,000 Russian taken as captives. Papal ambassador Possevin testified of the devastation: he counted in 1580 no more than 30,000 inhabitants of Moscow, although in 1520 the Moscow population was about 100,000. See also Fire of Moscow (1571)).
After the burning of Moscow, the Crimean khan, Devlet Giray, supported by the Ottoman Empire, planned the full conquest of Russia. In 1572 the Tatars and the Turks again invaded Russia, however, this time they were repelled in the Battle of Molodi. In July–August, the 120,000-strong horde of Devlet I Giray of Crimea was defeated by Russians led by Prince Mikhail Vorotynsky and Prince Dmitriy Khvorostinin.
Incomplete list of Tatar raids
- 1465: Crimea attacks the Great Horde to prevent it from raiding Russia and disrupting the northern trade
1507 and 1514: Raids led by Tatar nobles so the Khan would not officially break peace.:14
1521: Khan and 50,000 men cross the Oka at Kolomna and ravage outskirts of Moscow for 2 weeks:14
- c1533: Abatis defense line about 100 km south of the Oka.
1533-47:(regency for Ivan IV) some 20 large raids on the frontiers.:71
1541: Crimean Khan crosses Oka on rafts under covering fire from Turkish guns.:12
1555,1562,1664,1565; Khan leads large armies into Muscovy.:16\
- 1556-59: Russians and Zaporozhians raid the Black Sea coast four times:56
1571: Russo-Crimean War (1571) Moscow burned.
1572: Battle of Molodi, vital battle of the war. Turks stopped growing to the north. Then started to retreat.
1591: Raid reaches Moscow :116(this seems to contradict the next entry)
1591: Artillery stops raid at Kolomenskoy on the Bank Line  :52
1592: Suburbs of Moscow burned while Russian troops were away fighting Swedes:17
1598: Crimeans stopped by Bank Line, withdraw and sue for peace :46
1618: Nogais release 15,000 captives in peace treaty with Moscow.
1637,41-43: Raids by Nogais and Crimean nobles without permission of Khan:90
1644: 20,000 Tatars raid southern Muscovy, 10,000 captives:91
1645: 6,000 captives. (It is claimed that the Turks encouraged these raids to obtain galley slaves for a war with Venice):91
- c1650: Belgorod Line pushes Russian forts 300 km south of the Abatis Line.
- c1680: Izium Line: Russian forts within 150 kilometers of Black Sea.
- 1687,89: Crimean campaigns: attempt to invade Crimea fails.
1691-92:Several thousand captives from near Izium Line:183
- 1774: Crimea a Russian vassal
- 1783: Crimea annexed by Russia.
- Robert Nisbet Bain, Slavonic Europe: Apolitical History of Poland and Russia from 1447 to 1796, (Cambridge University Press, 1908), 124.
- Alan W. Fisher, The Crimean Tatars, (Hoover Press Publication, 1987), 45.
- Robert Nisbet Bain, Slavonic Europe: Apolitical History of Poland and Russia from 1447 to 1796, 124.
- Robert Payne and Nikita Romanoff, Ivan the Terrible, (Cooper Square Press, 2002), 329.
- Davies, Brian (2007). Warefare,State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe,1500-1700.
- Janet Martin, 'Treasure from the Land of Darkness,1986, page 201
- Stevens, Carol (2007). Russia's Wars of Emergence 1460-1730.
- Michael Khodarkovsky, 'Russia's Steppe Frontier,2002, page 22
- Sunderland, Willard (2004). Taming the Wild Field.
- Lord Kinross, 'The Ottoman Centuries', page 397
(number following a footnote is the page number)
- Vasily Klyuchevsky, The Course of Russian History, Vol. 2.
- The Full Collection of Russian Annals. The Patriarchal Annals, vol.13, Moscow. 1965