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[[File: Karl XII i Ystad 1715, målning av Johan Heinrich Wedekindt från 1719.jpg|
200px|thumbnail|left| Tsar Peter the Great]]
The failed invasion of Russia by Hitler and Napoleon are well known. Less well-known is invasion of Russia by the Swedes under their most famous king, Charles XII. Sweden in 1700 was the greatest Northern European power and this provoked the jealousy of its neighbours. This led to the Great Northern War. The culmination of this war was the Swedish monarch’s invasion of Russia and his subsequent defeat by Tsar Peter the Great at Poltava (1709). The failed invasion of the Russian Empire by Charles XII has been largely forgotten but had he succeeded the fate of Europe could have been different. This article discussed the background the Swedish invasion, the military campaign and the defeat of Charles and his army at Poltava. It demonstrates that the failure of the Swedish army’s invasion was due to the geography of Russia, bad luck and the dogged stubbornness of the Russian people.
====Charles XII invasion of Russia, 1708-1709====
While Charles was bogged down in the vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the Russian Tsar Peter the Great reformed the Russian military and ironically modeled his army on the Swedish forces. While the Swedes were campaigning in Germany and Poland after 1706 Peter ordered his forces into Ingaria and found a new port that was to become the City of St Petersburg. This gave the Russians an outlet to the sea, from which they could threaten Sweden in the Baltic. Charles was outraged at what he saw as a surprise attack<ref> Voltaire. p. 112</ref>. According to Voltaire, he wanted to annihilate Peter the Great. The Swedish monarch was quoted as saying ‘"I have resolved never to start an unjust war but never to end a legitimate one except by defeating my enemies" <ref> Voltaire, p. 37</ref>. In 1708, he ordered a general invasion of Russia and he decided to ally himself with the rebellious Cossacks who had revolted against Peter in the Ukraine. Ivan Mazepa, Hetman of the Ukrainian Cossacks, had managed to secure a vast area that was independent of the Russians.
====Russia and its geography====
The sheer scale of Russia and its endless Steppes proved simply too much for the Swedes. Like subsequent invaders, they struggled in the vast landscape with its harsh climate. The Swedes were inured to Arctic weather, yet even they felt it was extremely challenging fighting in the Ukrainian Plains<ref> Voltaire, p. 89</ref>. Charles lost many men to the extreme cold and to frost bite. Furthermore, they were far from home and their supplies were scant. Trying to live off the land was futile as the Steppes had no real population centres and those who lived there were usually destitute<ref> Hatton, p. 217</ref>. The sheer scale of Russia meant that Charles army was in a state of near physical collapse when it encountered the enemy at Poltava and even if it had won here, it seems likely that it would have disintegrated as Napoleon’s Grand Armee had in the winter of 1813.
====The Cossack Alliance====
The Ukrainian Cossacks had been in rebellion against Peter the Great for some time. Charles had entered an alliance with them in the hopes of securing a massive army. This alliance did not strengthen Charles as he had hoped it had only weakened him and his army. To link up with the Cossacks he moved away from the Russian heartland and headed into the Ukraine. Furthermore, the Cossacks had failed to meet him as had original been planned and they had been tardy in their deployment. The Cossack Hetman was not decisive and unwilling to leave his home base. This meant that he did not met up with the Swedes but the Russians were able to surround him and his men and end the Cossacks rebellion<ref> Hatton, p. 213</ref>. The alliance for Charles was a disaster and when the Ukrainian Cossacks support failed to materialize the invasion was in serious difficulties.
====Bad luck and judgement====
Charles XII was widely seen as a military genius and Voltaire who wrote his biography called him the most remarkable man of his time. However, he made several serious miscalculations. The first was that he should have invaded Russia after his great victory at Narva. Instead he campaigned to no great effect in Poland and this allowed Peter the Great to regroup and to strengthen his military. The army that Charles faced at Poltava was superior to the one he faced at Narva. Then there was Charles XII's strategy of attacking Moscow deep in Russia. He ignored his generals who wanted him to conquer St Petersburg. The Swedish monarch strategy was too ambitious and he was not aware of the sheer extent of Russia. His army was expected to travel huge distances in a terrible climate. These were to prove fatal mistakes. However, it must also be noted that bad luck was also a factor, such as the sudden collapse of the Cossack rebellion in the Ukraine and the Charles XII being unable to lead his men into battle at Poltava.
Charles XII was one of the most talented military leaders of the Early Modern era. Voltaire had no doubt that the entire invasion of Russia was a mistake and in a critical biography he blamed Charles for the collapse of the Swedish Empire <ref> Voltaire, p. 99</ref>. The Swedish king’s entire strategy of invading Russia was arguably unrealistic. He made a cardinal error by marching on Moscow and he should have attacked and conquered St Petersburg instead. Then he placed too much trust in the Cossacks and his trust in them was misplaced, indeed they possibly distracted him from a direct assault on Moscow, which may have given him some chance of success. Then there was the strategy of the Russians. They used the geography and climate to great effect. They adopted a cautious approach, with the knowledge that the elements would help them to defeat the Swedes. Imperial Russian forces were also a modern fighting force and they fought courageously in defense of ‘Holy Russia’. Then there were the vast spaces and inclement weather of the Russian Steppe and these played a crucial factor in the defeat of the Swedish invasion. Charles XII in hindsight did not really have a hope of victory over the Russian Tsar and the invasion was doomed from the start.