On August 14, 1385, an agreement on political unification between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was concluded in the Kreva Castle (the modern agro-town of Krevo in the Grodno region of Belarus). According to historians, this event determined the further development of a significant part of the Eastern European lands for hundreds of years to come.

Rus, Lithuania and Poland

The problem of the political future of the lands located between the Baltic and Black Seas and included in the Old Russian state or belonging to the spheres of its influence arose in the 12th century. At this time, centrifugal tendencies arose in Russia: appanage princes gradually gained more and more independence, and the influence of Kiev was falling. The economic, political, military and spiritual center of Russia shifted to the northeast - first to Vladimir, and then to Moscow.

In the principalities of North-Western Russia, after the suppression of the local dynasties of the Rurikovichs in the 13th century, Lithuanian princes began to come to power. And in the southwestern Russian lands, the Galicia-Volyn principality, which arose in about 1199, was flourishing. His princes at a certain stage were able to unite under their rule the territories of modern Western and Central Ukraine, southern Belarus, Moldova and Eastern Poland.

One of the most powerful Galician-Volyn rulers, Daniel tried to maneuver between the Horde and Europe, either getting permission to reign from the Mongols, then enlisting the support of the Pope. However, according to historians, this policy did not bring strategic success. By the middle of the XIV century, the lands of the principality were divided between Lithuania and Poland.

Initially, most of the territories of the former Galicia-Volyn principality went to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which won a number of military victories over the Poles.

“The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was heterogeneous in the ethno-confessional plan. Its population was of various ethnic origins. In addition, some were Orthodox, some were Catholic, and some were pagans, ”said Sergei Perevezentsev, professor of the political science faculty of Moscow State University named after Lomonosov, Doctor of Historical Sciences, RT.

According to him, a huge role in the life of the principality was played by the dialect of the Russian language, in which the inhabitants of Western Russia communicated. It has become the main language of official business in the state. At the end of the 13th - beginning of the 14th century, representatives of the Russian nobility had significant weight in the political life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1317, a separate Orthodox metropolis was established in Lithuania.

  • Discord between princes in the Old Russian state
  • © Wikimedia commons

In the 1340s, after the death of Prince Gediminas, the political struggle in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania intensified, which almost led to the collapse of the state. However, Gedimin's son Olgerd was eventually able to reunite the country.

At the same time, the influence of the Horde on the lands of North-Eastern Russia began to decline. Local principalities, especially Moscow, pursued an increasingly independent policy. Against this background, the gravitation towards Moscow of the inhabitants of the Russian lands that were under Lithuanian domination increased - in particular, Bryansk and Smolensk.

Kreva union

After Olgerd's death, according to his desire, his son Jagailo, who was born in a marriage with the Tver princess Juliana, ascended the throne of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This provoked dynastic strife, since Jagiello had older brothers and an uncle Keistut. Andrei Olgerdovich and Dmitry Olgerdovich went into the service of the Moscow prince Dmitry Donskoy.

Keistut recognized the seniority of his nephew and remained to rule in his appanage lands. However, Jagiello did not express any gratitude in return. During negotiations with one of the main opponents of Lithuania - the Teutonic Order - Jagailo promised the knights that he would not help his uncle in the event of German aggression.

After the order attacked Keistut, he learned about the betrayal of his nephew. Keistut captured Vilna and found documents confirming Jagiello's guilt. Keystut's son Vitovt admitted that his father was right, but persuaded him not to execute his relative, but to let him go in exchange for a written recognition by the Grand Duke of his uncle.

Soon, however, Keistut's opponents revolted and, with the help of the German knights, returned Jagiello to the throne. Keystut was killed in captivity, and his son Vitovt fled the country. Jagailo, again becoming the Grand Duke, rejected his earlier promise to transfer part of the Lithuanian lands to the German knights, which is why he spoiled relations with them.

Jagiello needed allies. Taking into account the mood of his Orthodox subjects and part of the family, he entered into negotiations with Dmitry Donskoy. The head of Lithuania asked for the hand of the daughter of the Moscow prince, promised to subordinate the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to Moscow and recognize Orthodoxy as the state religion. Jagiello even swore allegiance to Prince Dmitry by kissing the cross. However, as soon as Jagiello had a variant of an alliance that seemed more profitable to him, he forgot about these promises.

  • Prince Jagiello
  • © Wikimedia commons

The fact is that at the same time political strife engulfed Poland. In 1382 he died without leaving behind an heir, King of Hungary and Poland, Louis the Great. His widow Elizabeth agreed with the Polish nobility that the crown would be inherited by the youngest daughter of Ludovik Jadwig, who at that time was 11 years old.

In Poland, then there was a civil war between representatives of various political groups. The local elites needed an authoritative ruler based on their own military power. Jadwiga was married to the young Wilhelm of Austria and had to confirm the marriage with him. However, the heir to the Austrian dukes at that time had neither political weight nor his own army. Therefore, after Jadwiga was declared a Polish ruler, the local nobility found a more suitable groom for her in the person of Prince Jagiello.

On August 14, 1385, a Lithuanian-Polish agreement was signed at the Krevo Castle, known as the Krevo Union. According to this document, in exchange for recognition by the king, Jagiello had to be baptized according to the Catholic rite and unite the forces of Lithuania and Poland to return the lands lost by both states recently.

  • The text of the Krevo union
  • © Wikimedia commons

In 1386, Jagiello was baptized under the name Vladislav, married Jadwiga and was officially declared king of Poland. But the wife died without leaving children. Jagiello's heirs as the Polish king were his children from other marriages.

In the 1420s, Jagailo's nephew Vitovt, who became the new Grand Duke of Lithuania, achieved some political distance between Lithuania and Poland, but it was temporary. In general, according to historians, since 1385 Lithuania began to gradually lose its independence, which affected the Western Russian lands under its control.

"The polonization of the Lithuanian nobility began to take place, the confrontation between Lithuania and the Russian state intensified, the echoes of which we still observe," Vadim Trukhachev, a teacher at the Department of Foreign Regional Studies and Foreign Policy at the Historical Archives Institute of the Russian State University for the Humanities, said in an interview with RT.

  • Jagiello and Jadwiga's wedding
  • © Wikimedia commons

According to Sergei Perevezentsev, the trend that is now called the “western vector” has gained the upper hand in Lithuania.

“It was a moment of historical choice - determining which way of development to move the state further,” the expert emphasized.

In the middle of the 16th century, Lithuania experienced an unsuccessful military clash with Russia. After a series of defeats, the Lithuanian nobility agreed to conclude a new Union of Lublin with Poland, which assumed the creation of a single state - the Commonwealth. The leading role in it was played by Polish feudal lords. If after the Krevo Union, only Galicia remained from the West Russian lands under the control of Poland, then, according to the terms of the Lublin Union, Lithuania transferred the entire territory of South-West Russia to the Poles.

“The historical consequences of the Polish-Lithuanian unions for the population of Western Russia were extremely difficult. Those who wanted to preserve the Orthodox faith were subjected to severe persecution, leading to uprisings. The largest of them, under the leadership of Bogdan Khmelnitsky, led to the reunification of part of the Western Russian lands with Russia and to a sharp weakening of the Commonwealth. But life under the yoke of the Poles left a cultural and political mark on the history of Southwestern Russia. Modern events in Ukraine have become one of its manifestations, "Andrei Koshkin, head of the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told RT.

  • Uprising of Bohdan Khmelnitsky
  • © Wikimedia commons

As Sergei Perevezentsev noted, the concept of "nation" in its modern interpretation did not yet exist during the era of the Krevskaya and Lyubinskaya unions, and faith was the main determining factor in people's self-identification.

“As a result of the Krevo union, a historical paradox has emerged. The Lithuanian prince personally gained the crown and power, but his country eventually lost both political and cultural independence, "Perevezentsev summed up.