The almost 250-year Mongol rule over Russia was precipitated by two separate invasions. Following a successful invasion of the Caucasus in 1221, the Mongols invaded a small part of Russia in 1222.
Although a small contingent of the Mongol army succeeded against the ruling princes, they did not establish control over Russia and instead disappeared into the steppe. It was not until 1237 that a sizable Mongol army commenced its invasion of Russia proper, to which all of Russia fell and came under the dominion of the Golden Horde.
Having conquered the Muslim empire of the shah of Khwarazm, Jalal-ad-Din Mengubirdi, otherwise known as Sultan Muhammad II, Genghis Khan charged his capable generals Jebe and Subotai to march through the hazardous Caucasus Mountains in the direction of Russia.
The Caucasian tribes, the Alans (Ossetians), the Circassians, and the Lezgians, together with the Polovsti, formed an alliance and put up a fierce resistance to the Mongol invaders on the southern Russian steppe in 1221. The first battle between the Mongols and Caucasian alliance proved indecisive, but Jebe and Subotai had no intentions of withdrawing from the engagement.
Instead the Mongol generals resorted to using the strategy of divide and conquer. Jebe and Subotai persuaded their nomadic brethren, the Polovsti, to remain neutral by reminding them of their common Turkic-Mongol fellowship and also by promising to share with them the spoils of victory over the Caucasian tribes.
With the success of the subtle diplomacy, the generals returned to battle the Caucasian tribes with greater ferocity and overwhelmingly crushed the stubborn resistance.
The Mongol generals then turned against the Polovsti, who, in defeat, fled in the direction of Galacia and Kiev and appealed to the Russian princes—Mstislav Staryi of Kiev, Mstislav Udaloi of Galacia, and Vladimir of Suzdal—for intervention.
Two sets of crucial factors persuaded the Russian princes to join forces to help the Polovsti. First Prince Mstislav Udaloi was obliged to help because Kotian, the khan of the Polovsti, was his father-in-law.
And second according to the Novgorodian First Chronicle, the Mongols were unknown to the Russians—they did not know where they came from, what religion they practiced, or what language they spoke.
|Mongol vs Russia|
Fearing that the Mongols would grow stronger if they did not intervene, the princes Mstislav and Vladimir I (Vladimir the Great), together with the Polovsti, forged the Russo-Polovsti alliance.
In early 1222 the Mongols received news of the Russo-Polovsti alliance and sent a 10-member diplomatic envoy to negotiate with Princes Mstislav and Vladimir. The Mongols claimed to have no desire to war with the princes and did not harbor any intentions to conquer their lands or cities.
In the manner similar to the way they isolated the Polovsti from the Caucasian tribes, the Mongol diplomats urged the princes to defeat the Polovsti and take the spoils of victory for themselves and offered to enter into a peace treaty with the Russians. The princes, suspecting a Mongol trick, executed the diplomatic envoy, an act that was considered by the Mongols to be unforgivable.
A strong Russian-Polovsti army of 30,000 soldiers amassed on the Dnieper. Outnumbered by more than 10,000, Jebe and Subotai ordered the Mongol army to retreat. They dispatched a second diplomatic envoy to meet with the Russians and reproached the Russians for the murder of the first delegation.
The second envoy returned unharmed and carried a message for the Mongol army—the Russians feared that, after conquering the Polovsti, the Mongol army would attack them. Hence, they would only be happy if the Mongol army returned to the steppe.
As the main Mongol army retreated from the forest, its rearguard kept a watchful eye on the Russian mobilization. War-hardened and accustomed to being outnumbered, Jebe and Subotai managed to evade the Russians for more than nine days.
This contrasted sharply with the attitudes of the Russian princes. The Russian army lacked strategic coordination because Mstislav of Galacia and Mstislav of Kiev disputed over the ways to engage the Mongol army.