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Treaty of Pereyaslav

Text: © University of Toronto Press
Reprinted with permission.

On January 18, 1654, Khmelnytsky signed a unilateral oath of loyalty to the tsar of Muscovy (now Russia). Khmelnytsky expected the oath to be bilateral, with the Ukrainians swearing loyalty to the tsar and the latter promising to protect them from the Poles and to respect their rights and priviledges. But Buturlin [Muscovite delegate] refused to swear in the name of his monarch, arguing that the tsar, unlike the Polish king, was an absolute ruler and that it was below his dignity to take an oath to his subjects. ...Fearful of losing the tsar's aid, [Khmelnytsky] agreed [to the terms].

Because of the conflicts that later developed between Russians and Ukrainians, the interpretation of the [Pereyaslav] treaty that brought their two countries together has been the subject of frequent debate among scholars. The issue is complicated by the fact that the original documents were lost and only inaccurate copies and translations have survived. Moreover, the Russian archivist Petr Shafranov has argued that even these copies were falsified by the tsar's scribes.

[Several] major interpretations of the Pereiaslav Agreement have been proposed. (1) According to the Russian legal historian Vasilii Sergeevich (d. 1910), the 1654 agreement was a personal union between Muscovy and Ukraine, whereby the two parties shared the same sovereign but retained separate governments. (2) Another specialist in Russian law, Nikolai Diakonov (d. 1919), argued that by accepting "personal subjugation" to the tsar, the Ukrainians unconditionally agreed to the incorporation of their land into the Muscovite state and the agreement was therefore a real union. (3) Historians, such as the Russian Venedikt Miakotin and the Ukrainian Mykhailo Hrushevsky, believed that the Pereiaslav Agreement was a form of vassalage in which the more powerful party (the tsar) agreed to protect the weaker party (the Ukrainians) on condition that he not interfere in their internal affairs and that the Ukrainians provide him with tribute, military assistance, as well as other considerations. (4) Another Ukrainian historian, Viacheslav Lypynsky, proposed that the 1654 agreement was nothing more than a temporary military alliance between Moscow and the Ukrainians.

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