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Early in the past millennium, Kiev was probably the largest, most modern city in the former Soviet Union, at least until the Mongols came. One might have expected it to be the capital of the Soviet Union, with its location on the Dnepr River, and relatively easy access to eastern and southern Europe, plus the Black Sea (via the Dnepr)? Or did Mongols change all that?

Another, logical "main city" is St. Petersburg (formerly the capital), with its coastal position, and window to western Europe.

Looking at the capitals of Europe, they are mainly located on the coast (London, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki) or along a major river (Paris on the Seine).

Moscow, by comparison, seems to be in the middle of nowhere. The only comparison I can think of is Poland's Warsaw, which became the capital when Poland and (the former) Lithuania merged, with Warsaw being near the center of the combined country.

Or is that why it became Russia's capital, and largest city, with "equal access" to the Baltic and the Urals, the White and Black Seas?

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Yes. Originally, Moscow became a center of power as a defensive measure against Mongols, since it was seen as a "remote, forested location" for the descendants of Kievan Rus. One Wikipedia article says that "a number of rivers provided access to the Baltic and Black Seas and to the Caucasus region", but it seems to me it is in the Volga basin, so the best access would be to the Caspian Sea. Anyway, it does seem like a somewhat random place, with the location presently known as Nizhny Novgorod being a more obvious alternative at the time.

In the modern time, the immediate reason to move the capital to Moscow was an anticipated loss of Petrograd to the German offensive. In February 1918, Lenin's military situation was desperate and he was in fact lucky to achieve a peace at a cost of "only" Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine.

Moving the capital of the Soviet Russia to Kiev was out of the question, because it was a Ukrainian city. Despite strong russification (especially in the 19th century), it remained Ukrainian. Even after establishment of the USSR, Russia remained a dominant republic, having more people and industry than Ukraine, so there was no reason to move the center of political power to a not-so-sure location.

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Welcome to the site. Great answers to my questions. –  Tom Au Dec 15 '11 at 21:30
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One reason was that Moscow was the easternmost of the major cities of the Soviet Union. (OK, Archangelsk is further east but it's much further north and "out of the way.") That meant that Moscow had unlimited expansion possibilities within modern Russia on the open eastern side, toward Siberia. Once Moscow made full use of these possibilities, it was the single strongest entity in what we now call Russia.

For other cities, expansion toward the north was blocked by the climate and White Sea; toward the south was blocked by the Mongols; toward the west, by other European countries.

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In the medieval times, Moscow wasn't exactly "in the middle of nowhere". In the times of Vladimir-Suzdal Principality, Moscow was already at the crossing of important trade routes, even before it became a capitol, of course with additional the river trade route.

As for the security reasons, location was good because of existence of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Ryazan and the lands of Mordvins on the way of Tatars' rides. But that was also good in another meaning - barbarian invasions stopped rivals of Moscow from developing stronger economy, so it was later relatively easier for Muscovy to takeover its neighbors.

All of that led to situation where for both craft men and peasants it was the best option to settle in or around Moscow.

Another reason worth to mention were simply smarter leaders, who were better politicians and had stronger ambitions than their rivals from surrounding countries. This way they could win f.e. the rivalisation with the strongest local opponent of Moscow, which in 14th century was Principality of Tver. In the beginnings town of Tver was more important than Moscow, but thanks to good foreign policy, Moscow was able to change that.


I recommend you a good Polish language article on that matter. With help of Google Translate you'll receive some good informations.

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still unknown what "moscow" means and how it all started in early days, but consider these factors 1. moscow and it's surrounding province is forest, which makes hordes hard time to survive, advance and battle either it's winter or summer. but russians can happily live in forests. 2. religion, many temples/monasteries built there because of reason 1. and russian at exactly that time were quite religious. the first thing kniaz(king) considers in a new place is "where I gonna pray around here? I shoulda get some instructions from God to carry the daily duty. are there many monks around? could they protect the area from daemons?" 3. once sergius, russian main saint of all times, blessed moscow and it's king, it was set to be a capital.

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I wonder: what hordes were the Russians hiding from? To judge by your answer to the Mongol influence question, you consider the Mongols too have been benign overlords whom the Russians appreciated. So why hide from them? –  Felix Goldberg Feb 9 '13 at 11:09
    
Is this your opinion, or can you reference any scholarship to support it? –  Mark C. Wallace Feb 9 '13 at 12:04
    
This is my own opinion, cannot provide reference. Post in hope that someone would like to hear something less rigid that normal discover/bbc approach. –  exebook Feb 10 '13 at 7:06
    
Felix, I was talking about russian warlords, who later become tzarist aristocracy and influence culture and governance for ages. Here I also talk about regular people, those who will pay to warlords. (and hide from him if possible). But once cannot hide, better choose wisely your lord. Hordes like building storms, nearly 'random', warlords are riders on the storm. Russian people would not form hordes the same way as mongol(manchu,steppe,etc), thus not truly part of 'mongol empire'. But russian warlords were. They used mongol-learned ways of horde(strom) riding to built russia. now makes sense? –  exebook Feb 10 '13 at 7:17
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To complement kubanczyk's excellent answer:

  • Moscow's rise to power was the result of a masterful political play by their rulers jockeying for power/position in front of the Horde (e.g. Mongols).

  • It was cemented when Moscow's Dmitry Donskoj and his army was the main force behind the first battle where Russians defeated Mongols (Kulikovo Field battle).

  • As kubanczyk alluded to, none of the other logical power centers were good due to being too much in proximity to the main (or one of the main) set of enemies of the time - Lithuania/Poland.

  • As for St. Petersburg post-1917: aside from atrocious defensive location - look at the map - it's an 1-2 hour's drive from Baltic republics (which were hostile to Soviet Russia till they were occupied at the close of WWII), the city is also a really bad place to live. Cold wet climate, swamps all around. It was built and made a capital for a VERY VERY specific reason (Window to the Balitics and Europe) which definitely wasn't a priority for Lenin and co.

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If the question specifically asks about how Moscow became more influential than Kiev, the answer is in the history of Eastern politics. First of all, Kiev never was a "Russian" city per say. Yes, it was the center of eastern Slavs and the center of Slavic civilization for thousands of years. Yes, it introduced Christianity to that part of the world and was considered to be the first state in the Slavic world. However, it never was "Russian" in that "Russians" as we know them now didn't emerge as an entity until much later in time.

Moscow as a state was established by a small clan of northern Slavs led by Rurikoviches. In time it became relatively strong and Moscow began to compete against surrounding city states such as Kiev, Novgorod and others. As a result, Kiev and Moscow were always competing parties. The peak of this competition came during the reign of the most famous of Rurikoviches, Ivan the Terrible, who was able to conquer most of the Slavic cities and some Lithuanian, with the exception of Kiev. Kiev was always coveted by the Russian Empire, mostly for the greater agricultural and labor resources that were surrounding the city. Later the passage to the Black Sea became crucial since Russians were land locked.

The dream of Russian kings and queens to add Ukraine to the collection of their trophies didn't come through until 1648, when Ukrainian Ccossacks, being worn out by constant Polish invaders, had to make the choice between Catholic Pols and Orthodox Russians. The question of religion prevailed and they chose to join Russia. Since then, Russia did anything possible to diminish the importance of Kiev and Ukraine. They even came up with a different name for Ukrainians, calling them "small Russians". Ukrainians on the other hand never stopped fighting the Russians.

During the time of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Ukrainian people revolted against the Russian Empire and were able to establish an independent Ukrainian state. Unfortunately the communist invasion of 1919 ended Ukraine's independence and unleashed a streak of bloodshed and genocide against Ukrainians. Kiev could never become a capitol of the Soviet Union for the simple reason that doing so would mean having to acknowledge the importance of Ukraine. Neither Lenin nor Stalin would do that, as they didn't consider Ukrainians to be human beings.

Lenin bargained at the end of WWI by giving away the Ukrainian land to Germans. Stalin caused the two largest famines in the history of the world on the territory of Ukraine and starved to death approximately 3 million people. Because of this, I think the answer to why Moscow was so dominant is obvious: it builds its power on the bones of others. This is past history of course, but I don't think that many things changed since then.

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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you started. –  Tom Au Dec 26 '11 at 23:27
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It's not QUITE as cut and dry. There's no "Ukraininans" - there's half the country that is a lot more Catholic and closer to Poles and Romanians, and another that's Orthodox and is more Russia-oriented. And even that's simplifying it a lot. –  DVK Oct 2 '12 at 13:07
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Moscow bacame a capital of Vladimir-Suzdal pricipality. Even after the throne was moved to Moscow, still for a long time the formal capital remained Vladimir. The princes went to Vladimir for a coronation ceremony and the chair of the metropolitan was there also until 1325.

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