SWEDEN, TURKEY AND EU

Stockholm has a long tradition of relations with the Ottoman empire/Turkey. This was the case especially during the Great Northern War (1700 to 1721) but also during the rest of the 18th century.

When the Turkish Grand Vizier Mehemed Baltadshi marched out of Constantinople on 6 March 1711, leading an army of perhaps 80,000 soldiers, Swedish King Charles XII, in exile in Bendery (in the present Republic of Moldova then part of the Ottoman empire), was greatly relieved. His representatives at the court of Sultan Ahmed III had been working hard for a follow up of the Ottoman declaration of war in November 1710 against Russia. It had been the main reason for his stay in the northern outskirts of the Ottoman empire.

The policy of Charles XII, Ivan Mazepa (from the spring of 1710 his successor Hetman Pylyp Orlyk) and Hordienko during the forced exile in Bendery was to find Turkish aid against Russia. The Swedish mission in Constantinople worked hard to persuade Sultan Ahmed to take military action against Czar Peter. The goal was a formal Swedish-Ukrainian-Turkish-Crimean Tartar alliance.

The Sultan promised Charles an escort of 50,000 soldiers for the safe return home of the Swedes via Poland. The strategy would be to have a Turkish army invade Poland. At the same time a Swedish army would attack Poland from the west, from Swedish Pomerania, a Swedish territory in northern Germany. A Turkish attack in Ukraine would draw Russian troops from Poland leaving it less defended and Peter’s ally, King Augustus II, unsupported. Allied troops would then drive Augustus from Poland and replace him with the alliance supporter and Swedish ally, King Stanislaus I, and add Poland to the coalition aiming at containing Russia. Among the European powers, England, the Netherlands and the German emperor were at best neutral. The only supporter of the alliance was France.

Constantinople was now the center of intensive intrigue. On one side Swedish, French and Ukrainian diplomats attempting to persuade Turkey to join the alliance. On the other, hand Polish (loyal to King Augustus) and Russian representantives tried to prevent it. Targets of influence were the grand vizier and other high Turkish officials.

When the Turks in the spring of 1711 marched toward Ukraine from the southwest, Charles sent a Swedish military adviser to the Ottoman military forces in the east, Major General Karl-Gustaf Hard, an experienced cavalry fighter. Ismail Pasha had been detailed by the grand vizier to attack the Russian strongholds of Taganrog and Azov on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. 5,000 Ukrainians under Pylyp Orlyk, 4,000 Poles commanded by General Joseph Potocki (7) and 1,000 Swedes joined the Turkish forces.

Meanwhile in late spring 1711, 40,000 Crimean Tartars led by the son of the Crimean Khan with Swedish military adviser Major Sven Lagerberg moved northward into Ukraine to join the Turkish forces advancing from the southwest. Czar Peter’s 38,000 Russian troops now faced 170,000 alliance troops. On 11 July, 1711, Czar Peter found himself trapped on the banks of the river Pruth. The Russian army was low on provisions. The horses were unfed. Czar Peter, often prone to rages, according to a pro-Russian Danish source, was running around the camp tearing his hair.

Tsar Peter managed to get out of the trap at Prut and the grand alliance to contain Russia sought by Charles had collapsed. In the autumn of 1714 he rode north through Europe toward Sweden returning to fight new battles until he was killed by a bullet in the trenches outside the Norwegian fortress of Fredrikshald in 1718.

The good relations of Sweden with Turkey have continued in modern times. When Turkey sought membership in the European union in 1987 it was supported by Sweden. This support has continued consistently but the central powers of the European Union have been reluctant to seriously consider Turkey as member of the Union. For almost 30 years Ankara has been frustrated by Brussels dragging its feet in the matter membership for the Turks. One wonders if this might change after the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015?

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