Timo Hellenberg, CEO at Hellenberg International
Ukraine and Russia are two countries tied together via strong historical, religious and cultural bonds. Families from Kharkiv to Kherson are often strongly intertwined by common Slavic roots. On February 24, 2022, Moscow sent its army with international mercenaries into Ukraine and began destroying the country and its critical infrastructures systematically by force. Tactics and maneuvers used against societal installations such as churches and food depots are the very same that were already seen over centuries since the Livonian war: nothing is saved, what is yours will be now mine, or your destruction is imminent – collective darkness is a weapon. This last stage of eight years of warfare against the Ukrainian nation did not surprise intelligence professionals although it was called a surprise by many world leaders.
Since the most recent stage of the Russian war in Ukraine, President Putin has spoken about motherland and Kyivan Rus, but also about the Treaty of Nöteborg (Swedish: Freden i Nöteborg, Russian: Ореховский мир, Finnish: Pähkinäsaaren rauha). It is a conventional name for the peace treaty signed at Oreshek (Swedish: Nöteborg, Finnish: Pähkinäsaari) on August 12, 1323. The Treaty of Nöteborg was signed between Sweden and Novgorod. Before that, the parties had been fighting for decades for ownership of Finland and Karelia. Both had also taken turns seeking revenge on the other’s territory. In the agreement, Karelia was divided into two parts and the Finns were practically squeezed into the island-like peninsula. The major settlements of Karelia in the East Isthmus and Latakia remained in Novgorod.
To understand what is happening now, one needs to dig into 1,300 years of history. Both countries trace their beginnings to the same medieval kingdom, called Kyivan Rus. It was founded in the 800s by a group of Vikings, or the Varangians. Kyivan Rus spanned what is now Russia and Ukraine and its people, the Slavs, are the ancestors of today’s Russians and Ukrainians. Its ancient capital was the city of Kyiv. Moscow, capital of today’s Russia, was also part of Kyivan Rus.
At the same time up in the north, in the area of current Estonia, the Livonian Order was formed from the remnants of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword after their defeat by the Samogitians in 1236 at the Battle of Schaulen (Saule) in the area of current northern Lithuania. They were incorporated into the Teutonic Knights (Deutscher Orden) and became known as the Livonian Order in 1237. The next year, the Teutonic Knights of Livonia signed the Treaty of Stensby with the Kingdom of Denmark. Denmark supported the expansion ambitions of the Order in exchange for northern maritime areas, all the way towards city of Narva. Soon after in 1240, there was a split of Kyivan Rus and Kyiv became part of a new commonwealth that spanned today’s Poland and Ukraine. Moscow became a local capital of the Mongol Empire. In April 1242, just 780 years ago, the Livonian Order tried to take the city of Novgorod to secure the trade routes. However, they were defeated by Alexander Nevsky in the Battle on the Ice (Lake Peipsi). The borderline of the “east” and the “west” was formed and it has pretty much existed ever since.
Photo The Teutonic State at its peak ca. 1417 (reddit)
The Teutonic Order fell into decline following its defeat in the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410 while the Livonian Order managed to maintain an independent existence. As a result of a second major defeat (the Battle of Wiłkomierz on September 1, 1435), the Livonian Confederation agreement (eiine fruntliche eyntracht) was signed in Walk on December 4, 1435 and first Estonian identity started to emerge as a geographical and political area.In 1492, Grand Prince Ivan III built the Ivangorod Fortress opposite of Narva and destroyed the Hanseatic office in Novgorod two years later. Hanseatic merchants, most of them Livonians, were tortured. As negotiations failed, Livonia began preparing for defenses. In May 1500, an all-out war broke out between Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. On May 17, 1501, Livonia and Lithuania concluded a ten-year alliance in Vilnius, again getting allied to seek protection. In August 1501, the Livonian army, reinforced with 3,000 men from Lübeck, marched towards Pskov. The Battle of the Siritsa River took place on August 27, 1501 between the forces of the Livonian Order under Grand Master Wolter von Plettenberg, on the one side, and the forces of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Pskov Republic, on the other. The Russian forces were soundly defeated. A new period of 60 year of peace in Livonia emerged.
During the Livonian War (1558–1583), which well resembles the current war in Ukraine, the Livonian Order suffered a decisive defeat by troops of Muscovite Russia in the Battle of Ergeme in 1560. Land Marshal Philip von Bell himself, “the last hope of Livonia,” was taken into captivity to Moscow to be questioned by Ivan the Terrible and to be executed among other captives. Sounds familiar? This was a turning point for Livonia to seek a new alliance and security guarantees leading to the delegation of the Ambassador of the Confederation, Hermann von Zöege who served together with the Grand Master Kettler, to deliver a request for protection to King Erich XIV of Sweden on July 10, 1562. The very first Nordic-Baltic alliance of those times was bound to see daylight in the times of external repression and aggression.
So, what makes the Russian interest in the Nöteborg Treaty and the Nystad Treaty so particularly special now? The current Russian regime has always had two characteristics beginning from early 2000: they state publicly what they want and they materialize what they say. They make efforts to find “higher guidance” from ancient history such as is the case with the statements on Kyivan Rus. Also, there is the fact that the Russian military formally designated Zapad-2021 a “joint strategic exercise” with Belarus which started on the same day last September when it was the 300 year anniversary of the peace of the Nystad Peace Treaty on September 10, 1721. Russia’s annual exercises typically include several international participants supporting Russian forces but have never been designated as fully joint exercises. The Nystad Treaty of 1721 ended the great hatred in Finland using the same tactics of the total societal destruction that we see today in Eastern Ukraine and, on its last front, the Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden during which the whole of Finland had been occupied by the Russians.
The Nystad peace agreement ending the Great Northern War brought occupation and devastation to the Ingrian Land, Liivinmaa (now Estonia), and much of Karelia. The Finno-Ugrian peoples were divided at the borders forever. The current Donbass warlord “donations” (farms and mills) period began when Russian mercenary bosses, warlords and officials became masters of these lands. The russkii curses faced the Vyborg rural municipality and were particularly severe in the Pyhäjärvi Vpl district where, for instance, one single Baltic-German family of Taube lost some 52,500 hectares of farmland which were taken over and destroyed by Russian war gamers. Besides the devastating losses of the land owners, ordinary citizens also had to fight for their human rights in various courts until eventually losing it all. Does this sound familiar from current Eastern Ukraine? It does. Later at the end of the 18th century, Grigory Potemkin proposed to Catherine II that she evict all of the Finnish inhabitants of the Karelian Isthmus to Novorossiya and to tear down the cities and settlements there, thereby turning this area into an impassable wilderness. The politician argued against this step citing the huge expenses that the Russian treasury incurs for the defense of the northern approaches to St. Petersburg.
In this month, Finland and Sweden will likely decide to apply for NATO membership. Both countries expressed their wish to have some security guarantees from NATO members during the transition period. On May 3, the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, and the Prime Minister of Sweden, Magdalena Andersson, met the German Federal Government at the so-called ‘retreat’ in Berlin. Both the UK and Germany have given indirect assurances.
From Russia’s point of view, there are two major issues in the Baltic Sea region. These are securing the sea-corridor and access to Kaliningrad (Königsberg) through Lithuania. Maintaining the historically and religiously distorted buffer-zone against the West means that Sweden and Finland’s possible membership of NATO is a much bigger issue for Russia than is Ukraine. A remaining threat scenario is that Russia is able to create such a final stage of crisis in the Baltic Sea that it would seriously hinder the Nordic brothers’ pathway towards membership of the alliance and this would also affect general opinions in NATO countries. So, let us learn some russkii prevention and a response mechanism from our medieval history – and let us get allied when needed. There is still something to derive from the motto of the Teutonic Order “Helfen, Wehren, Heilen” (“Help, Defend, Heal”).