How to Fathom Russia

Оповідь українською, Рассказ на русском

Illustrations by Andrii Yermolenko

Reprinted with permission

by A-Ba-Ba-Ha-La-Ma-Ha publishing company

“We are alone in the world, we have given nothing to the world, we have taught it nothing. We have not added a single idea to the sum total of human ideas; we have not contributed to the progress of the human spirit, and what we have borrowed of this progress we have distorted. From the outset of our existence as a society, we have produced nothing for the common benefit of all mankind; not one useful thought has sprung from the arid soil of our fatherland; not one great truth has emerged from our midst; we have not taken the trouble to invent anything ourselves and, of the inventions of others, we have borrowed only empty conceits and useless luxuries.”

— Petr Iakovlevich Chaadaev, “Letters on the Philosophy of History” in 
Russian Intellectual History: An Anthology, by Marc Raeff, Columbia University

Understanding Russia is more important than ever if we aim to re-establish peace and security. An objective and honest assessment of Russia’s history is vital for anyone who wants to (or doesn’t want to) deal with Russia. That means recognizing centuries of aggression towards its neighbors, its disdain for liberal democracy, and the foundations of its racist imperialism. And the best way to get to this understanding is to see it through the eyes of those who witnessed it.

In 2020, a book titled, “How to Fathom Russia, Eyewitness Testimony: From Herodotus to de Custine” was compiled by Oleksandr Paliy and published in Ukraine by A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA. It can be purchased here. An English language translation of this book will appear in the Autumn of 2022.

The book is a collection of testimonies by eyewitnesses from different eras: ambassadors, members of diplomatic missions, officers, and merchants, about the country that is now called Russia. Russian censors did not want this evidence to be made public. Translations of these documents have often been deliberately distorted by Russian translators, and some of the notable works quoted in the book have never been published in Russian.

One of the chapters in the book is a compilation of excerpts from Giles Fletcher’s treatise “Of the Russe Commonwealth; or Manner of Government by the Russe Emperor,” published in 1591. Giles Fletcher, the Elder (c. 1548–1611) was an English poet and diplomat, a member of the English Parliament. In 1588, he was appointed ambassador to Moscow to reestablish a trade treaty with Feodor I. Arc.UA is reprinting, with permission, the Ukrainian translation that appears in Paliy’s book. (The English language translation has been modernized for our readers.)

Reading it today, in 2022, in the aftermath of Russian war crimes committed in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Motyzhen, and other Ukrainian cities, towns, and villages that survived Russian occupation, it’s hard not to conclude that little has changed in the “Russian World.”

“Of the Russian Commonwealth,” 1591

Dr. Giles Fletcher
Ambassador of England to Muscovy in 1588-1589

Ivan Vasilyevich, the father of this emperor (tsar), would often boast that their ancestors weren’t Russians, as if disdaining being of Russian blood. This was evident from what he told one Englishman – his goldsmith. When he gave him bullion to make a plate, the emperor said to keep an eye on the weight. “My Russians are all thieves,” he said. Upon hearing this, the craftsman looked at the emperor and began to smile. The emperor, being quick-witted, ordered him to explain why he was smiling.

“If your majesty is asking,” said the goldsmith, “then I will tell you. Your highness said that the Russians are all thieves, but you forgot that you yourself are a Russian.”

“I also thought so,” replied the emperor. “But you are mistaken: I am not Russian, my ancestors were Germans.”

The Russians believe the Hungarians are part of the German nation, though in fact they come from the Huns, who invaded and settled in those parts of Pannonia now called Hungary.

Their manner of government is much like the Turkish, which they seem to imitate to the extent of their capacity in political affairs and the country’s financial ability.

The state and form of their government is plainly tyrannical: everything is done for the benefit of the prince.

The nobility is given the unjust and unmeasured liberty to command the common and lower classes and to oppress them in all parts of the realm, wherever they come, especially in places where they have lands or where they are appointed by the emperor to govern under him. Common people were given a small concession in that they can pass their lands on to any son or divide the land equally among all male heirs, and dispose of their goods by gift or testament at their will. Nevertheless, both classes – nobility and commoners – are in terms of their property only custodians of the emperor’s treasury, because in the end, everything they gain ends up in the emperor’s coffers, enriching his treasury.

Any law or public order related to state affairs is determined before any public assembly or council is convened. Besides his council, the emperor has no one to consult on matters of which an order was concluded beforehand, with the exception of a few bishops, abbots and friars. And this is done only to take advantage of the superstition of the people (always to their detriment), who consider holy and just anything done with the consent of their bishops and clergy.

Secondly, as for public offices and magistracies of the realm, none is hereditary, no matter how high or low. On the contrary, the appointment to a post is done by the emperor himself, so that even dyaks (clerks) in every main town are assigned by him personally.

The judges are so restrained that they dare not decide any important case on their own and must refer it to Moscow and the emperor’s council.  To show his sovereignty over the lives of his subjects, the late emperor Ivan Vasilyevich, during his walks or travels, commanded that anyone he met along the way whose face he disliked or looked at him the wrong way be beheaded. The command was carried out immediately and the head fell before him.

Thirdly, in order to seize all the inheritance and lands of the nobility, having deprived them of nearly all privileges and leaving them only their name, he gave them other lands with rights as locals (pomestnoy as they call it), possession of which depended on the emperor’s will. And those lands are very far away, in other parts of the country. That is how he moved them into other provinces, where they had neither support nor authority, because they were not native nor well-known there.   

The way they keep these families from rising and recovering their influence is as such: many of their heirs are not allowed to marry so that their families die out with them. Others are sent to Siberia, Kazan and Astrakhan under the pretense of service, where they are killed or thrown into prison. Some are imprisoned in abbeys and their heads shaved under the pretense they voluntarily took the vows of a monk, but in fact they are forced to out of fear that they will be accused of a crime. They are watched by special guards and the monks themselves (whose lives depend on not letting them escape), and have no hope but to end their lives there. Many of these people belong to the great nobility.

These three ranks of nobility – the Udelney Knazey (appanage princes), the Boiarens (boyars, the privileged class of rich landowners), and the Voiavodey (voivode, the local governors) – have “vich” added to their surname, like Boris Federovich. This is considered an honor to which others do not have the right.

The oppression and slavery is so obvious and great that one marvels at how the nobility and common people could allow themselves to be brought under it, despite having some means to avoid and resist it. It is equally astonishing how the emperors, having so strongly established themselves on the throne, can be content to rule this way, with such open injustice and oppression of their subjects, when they themselves profess the Christian faith.  

But all this shows how hard it is to alter the state of the Russian government as it currently stands. First, there is nobody among the nobility who can lead others. The lords of the four parts of the realm called Chetfirds, or Tetrarchies, are not noblemen by nature but dyacks (clerks) to whom the emperor bestowed this title. They are completely dependent on his graces and serve only him. As for the dukes that are appointed to govern under them, these are men important only by title, with no power, authority nor credit, save for the importance they have from the position, while holding it. Here too they don’t receive support, but rather the hatred of the people, who see that they are put in place over them not so much to administer justice, but to oppress them and to fleece them not once a year (like an owner of his sheep), but to shear and clip them all year long. Besides, the authority and rule they bear is divided into many small pieces, because there are several of them in every large county and they are appointed for a very short time. This gives them no chance to gain strength or carry out any orders or to try something new, even if they wanted to. As for the common people, besides the lack of weapons and experience in military affairs (which they are kept from on purpose), they are robbed continually of both their vigor and money. Sometimes this is done under the pretense of some service for the common defense, or sometimes with no reference of necessity for the country or the prince. So, there is no means either for the nobility nor for the common people to attempt anything new so long as the emperor’s military forces (which number at least 8,000 who are receiving continual pay) obey the prince and the present state of affairs. This attitude seems to come as an inherent quality of being  soldiers and enjoying the liberty of wronging and robbing the common people at their pleasure. They are permitted to do this deliberately, so that they like the present state of affairs. There is no fear of collusion between the soldiers and common people because their goals are so opposite and contrary. This desperate state of affairs in the country makes people for the most part wish for a foreign invasion, which they suppose is the only way to rid them of the heavy yoke of this tyrannical government.

In every large town of the realm there is a kabak (tavern) where they sell vodka (which they call Russian wine), mead, beer and more. The king receives from them payments that amount to a large sum of money: some pay 800, some 900, some 1000, some 2000 or 3000 rubles a year. Besides the vulgar and dishonorable means to increase the treasury, the most heinous crimes are committed. The poor laboring man and artisan often squanders all from his wife and children. Some leave 20, 30, 40 or more rubles in the kabak, getting drunk until they have spent everything. And they do this (as they say) in honor of the hospodare (master) or the emperor. You will see many people who drank away everything, even their clothes, leaving naked (they call them naga). While they are in the kabak, nobody can call them forth to leave for whatever reason because that could harm the emperor’s revenue.

To show their sovereignty while exacting dues, the emperors sometimes use very plain but strange tricks. As was the case with Ivan Vasilyovich, this emperor’s father. He sent people to Perm for several loads of cedar wood, knowing the tree didn’t grow there. When the inhabitants returned and said they couldn’t find any, the emperor ordered that 12,000 rubles be collected from them, as if they had concealed the commodity on purpose. Another time he sent people to Moscow to get him a kalpak (cap) full of live fleas for a medicine. They told him it was impossible, and even if they could get that many fleas, they couldn’t fill a cap because the fleas would leap out. For this, the emperor fined or beat out of them 7,000 rubles. 

With similar trickery he extorted from his nobility 30,000 rubles because they didn’t catch anything when they went hunting for hare, as if they had hunted and murdered all the hares themselves. And the nobility (as was the manner) immediately turned this against the muzhiks (peasants) or the common people. 

Although this way of extorting poor subjects for no good reason may seem strange, it conforms to the qualities of those emperors and the miserable subjection of that poor country.

They are subjugated as slaves not only to the prince, but to the nobles and gentleman of the country (who themselves are also slaves, especially of late years), which can be seen in their own appeals and other writings to any of the nobles or chief officers of the emperors. Here they call themselves and sign as a kholop – slave or serf. In the same way the nobility recognize themselves as the emperor’s slaves. It is true to say that there is no servant or slave more afraid of his master or more subjugated than the common people here. And that applies not only to the emperor, but to his nobility, chief officers and soldiers. So if a poor muzhik meets any of them along the highway, he must turn away, as he cannot dare to look them in the face, and fall prostrate and knock his head on the ground, as if bowing before an image of his saints.     

You will see many villages and towns, half a mile or a mile long, stand uninhabited – the people all having fled to other places because of the mistreatment and violence against them. So, on the way to Moscow, between Vologda and Yaroslavl (which is 180 versts by their measure, or a little more than a hundred English miles) you will come across at least 50 darieunes  or villages, some half a mile or a mile long, that stand vacant and desolate without any inhabitants. You will see the same in other parts of the realm (as is said by those who have travelled this country more than time or chance have allowed me to do).

Woodcut print “Russian atrocities in Livonia,” by Georg Bresslein, published in 1561. Text above image: “Very vile, terrible, hitherto unheard of true new reports about the atrocities the Muscovites are committing against captive Christians from Livonia, men and women, virgins and children, and what harm they are doing to them daily in their country. This shows what is the great danger to and need of the Livonians. Written from Livonia and printed for all Christians as a warning and to improve their sinful life.”

The great oppression of the poor common people deprives them of the courage to engage in their own trades: because the more they have the more danger they are in, not only of their goods but of their lives. If they have anything, they hide it as best they can, sometimes giving it to a monastery, sometimes hiding it in the ground and in the woods, like men do when in fear of a foreign invasion. This fear is such that you can see them being afraid of a boyar or a gentleman knowing about the goods they intend to sell. I have seen them lay out their goods – furs and other things – and look behind them and towards every door, like people who are afraid of being set upon and surprised by an enemy. When I asked them the reason, I found out that they were afraid that an emperor’s nobleman or son of a boyar were among the visitors and could come and take their goods by force.

This makes the people (otherwise hardened to any kind of work) indulge in idleness and drinking, and care about nothing but surviving the day. That is why the goods of Russia (as was said before), such as wax, tallow, hides, flax, hemp, and so forth, are produced and sent abroad much less than before, because the people, oppressed and stripped of everything they get, lose any desire to work.

As for the qualities of the people otherwise, although they seem to have some aptness to art (as it appears from the natural wit of the adults and children), they don’t excel in any kind of handicraft, much less in learning knowledge or literature, which they are kept from on purpose, as they are from all military practice. This is done to keep them in the condition of slavery in which they are now, and so that they have no reason or strength to attempt something new. For this same purpose they are not allowed to travel abroad, so that they don’t learn something nor see the customs of other countries. You will seldom see a Russian traveler, except someone who has escaped from the country or is with an ambassador. But escaping is hard because the borders are watched very closely and punishment for such an attempt, if one is caught, is death and confiscation of all goods. They only learn to read and write, and very few do at that. And for the same reason foreigners from any civilized countries aren’t allowed to come to their country except to trade, sell their commodities or get foreign goods.

If someone kills his own servant, little or nothing is said and they are not held accountable for the same reason: because he is his kholop (slave or feudal serf) and the master has full control over their lives. The most the punishment could be is payment of some small fine to the emperor, and if the guilty party is rich, then the case is against the wallet rather than against the injustice. They have no written laws, except for a small book that contains the time and manner of sitting and order of court proceedings, and other judicial forms and circumstances. But there is nothing to direct the court to deliver sentences against right or wrong. The only law is their speaking law – the will of the prince, magistrates and officers. This shows the miserable condition of the poor people, who are forced to recognize the source of their laws and guardians of justice those against whose injustice and extreme oppression they should be armed with many good and strong laws.

If a Russian soldier were as hardy to execute orders as he is to bear poverty and work, or otherwise as apt and well trained for war as he is indifferent to his lodgings and diet, he would be far superior to our soldiers. Now he is far weaker in courage and execution of military duties. This is partly due to his slavery, which does not allow him to develop courage or valor, and partly due to the lack of honor and reward, which he has no great hope for, no matter what he does.

The Russian emperor relies more on the quantity of his soldiers than their valor or the good discipline of his forces. They march or are led without any order, except that the four polky or legions that their army is divided into, each crowd together near their own flag. And so they all thrust together in a hurry, as directed by their general.

The Russian soldier is thought to be better at defense within some castle or town than he is at fighting in an open field. This was noted in all wars, and namely in the siege of Pskov about eight years ago. Then they repelled the Polonian King Stefan Batory with his whole army of 100,000 men, and forced him to end his siege, having lost many of his best captains and soldiers. But in the open field, the Polonians and Swedes always prevail over the Russians.

The following can be said about the rule of the Russian emperor, wherever it may be, either by inheritance or by conquest. Firstly, the people of the country are deprived of weapons and other means of defense, which are permitted to no one but his boyars. Secondly, they are robbed continually of their money and goods, leaving them with nothing but their bodies and lives after some years. Thirdly, the emperor distributes and divides his territories into many small pieces with separate governments, so that none have enough possessions to become strong, even if there were other means. Fourthly, the countries are governed by men of small reputation who are powerless and strangers in the places where they govern. Fifthly, the emperor usually changes his governors once a year, so that they do not get too close with the people or become acquaintances with the enemy if they govern near the borders. Sixthly, he appoints in the same place governors who are adversaries so that they control the other. Like with the dukes and the dyacks, where because of their mutual envy and rivalry, there is less fear of cooperation between them. And this way the emperor learns about any wrongdoings. Seventhly, he often sends to every province secret messengers who enjoy his special trust, so that they investigate everything happening there and anything that is amiss. Of course, nobody knows what time they will come.

“Oprichniki” by Nikolai Nevrev. This painting from the 1890s depicts the execution of Ivan Fedorov, a boyar whom Ivan the Terrible forced to put on the royal robes and sit on the throne, before he bowed down to him and personally cut off his head.

When the Crimean khan set fire to the city and enjoyed the sight of the bright flame and returned home with his army, he sent to the Russian emperor a knife (as I was told) to stab himself with after suffering such a loss and in his desperate state, after not daring to meet his enemy in the field or trust his friends or subjects at home.

These are the chief captains or leaders of these forces, according to their names and degrees: first, the great voivode – the great captain or lieutenant general under the emperor. Usually, he belongs to one of the four houses of the chief nobility of the land. He is chosen not for his valor or experience in military matters, but because he enjoys special respect and is liked by the soldiers for his nobility and nothing else. They even try to ensure that these two virtues – nobility and power – are not combined in one person, especially if they see wisdom or aptness for policy.

The principal cause of the continuous clashes between the Russians and the Crimeans is the right to certain border lands claimed by the Tatars but possessed by the Russians. The Tatars allege that besides Astrakhan and Kazan (that are the ancient possession of the East Tatars), the whole country from their borders to the north and west as far as the city of Moscow, and Moscow itself, belongs to them. This seems to be true judging by the words of the Russians themselves, who tell of a special homage the Russian emperor was to perform every year to the great Crimean khan. The Russian emperor was to stand by the khan’s horse (on which the khan was sitting) and feed the horse oats out of his own cap instead of a bowl or manger. This took place in the castle of Moscow. This homage, as they say, lasted until the time of Vasili (III Ivanovich), the grandfather of the current tsar. He, having surprised the Crimea emperor with a trick devised by one of his nobles (Ivan Dmitrievich Belsky) willingly accepted the following ransom: the homage was replaced by a tribute of furs, which afterwards the current emperor’s father refused to pay.

The Tatars circled around the border like wild geese, invading and taking everything along the way and trying to get to any place where they saw an advantage.

In hand-to-hand combat (when it comes to general battle), the Tatars are better than the Russians because they are fiercer by nature and have become harder and more bloodthirsty from continuous war. They don’t know any peaceful civilian activities.

Nevertheless, the Tatars are more cunning than it may seem from their barbaric way of life. Constantly invading and robbing neighbors that border them, they are clever and resourceful in devising strategies for their advantage. They showed this, for example, in their war with Béla IV, the king of Hungary, whom they invaded with 500,000 men and won a great victory. Having killed his chancellor, Nicholas Schinick, they found on him the emperor’s private seal. They used this discovery to send counterfeit letters in the king’s name to the cities and towns near where the battle was fought. The letters instructed the inhabitants not to flee with their belongings from their homes, but to stay and not fear any danger, and not leave the country desolate to be taken into possession by such a vile and barbaric enemy as the Tatar.      

To this purpose, they forced several young men they had taken prisoner to write letters in Polish and sign them with the king’s seal and sent them to all the parts of Hungary that lay near the place of battle. Then the Hungarians, who were ready to flee with their goods, wives and children, upon hearing the rumor of the overthrow of the king, took comfort in those counterfeit letters and stayed home. They became prey for the Tatars, who surprised them suddenly in large numbers and captured them.

When they besiege a town or fort, the Tatars always start lengthy negotiations and send flattering messages to persuade the inhabitants to surrender, promising them whatever they want. But once they have taken possession of the place, they become hostile and cruel.

They do not enter into battle lightly, but often use ambushes. Having entered into some short conflict, they immediately retreat (as if repelled by fear) to draw the enemy in. But the Russians are aware of their practices and are wary of them. When the Tatars attack with a small army, they put stuffed figures of men on horseback to make their numbers seem greater.

Having set their target on the enemy, they rush into battle screaming loudly and shouting in unison “Olla Billa! Olla Billa!” (God help us! God help us!). They hold death in such contempt that they choose to die rather than yield to their enemy, and when defeated, gnaw their weapons when they can no longer fight or help themselves. Wherein is the difference between the Tatar, who has such desperate courage, and the Russian and Turk. The Russian soldier, if he has begun to retreat, sees his salvation in a speedy flight. And if he is taken by the enemy, he will not defend himself or beg for his life, because he reckons that he must die. The Turk, commonly, having lost hope of escaping, begins to beg for his life, gives up his weapon, extends both hands and holds them up as if to be tied, hoping to save his life by offering himself as a slave.

There are various other Tatars who border upon Russia – such as the Nogais, Cheremissians, Mordvins, Circassians and Shalcans – which differ from the Crimean Tatars in name more than regiment or otherwise. Except for the Circassians, who border on the southwest towards Lithuania and are far more civilized than the rest of the Tatars. They are more attractive and have noble customs, which they copy from the Polonians. Some of them have subjected themselves to the kings of Poland and profess Christianity. The Nogais live in the east and are considered to be the best warriors of all the Tatars, but they are more savage and cruel than the rest.

The Nogais have troubled the Russian emperors so much that they are now content to buy peace from them by paying a yearly tribute of Russian goods to their morseis or divoymorseis – the chiefs of their tribes. For this the Nogai are bound to serve the emperors in their wars under certain conditions. They are said to be just and true in their dealings, and for this reason hate the Russian people, who are considered to be cunning and unjust. Therefore, the common people of Nogai are very unwilling to keep agreements with the Russians, but their morseis (or dukes) force them to for the sake of the tributes.

The most rude and barbaric are considered to be the Mordvin Tatars, who have many of their own customs and strange behaviors that differ from the rest. As for their religion, although they acknowledge one god, they worship as a god the first living thing that they see in the morning and swear by it the whole day, whether it be a horse, a dog, a cat, or whatever else.

The Permians, who are considered to be a very ancient people, are now subject to Russia. They live by hunting and trading their furs, like the Samoyeds who live more towards the North Sea. The Samoyeds are called this (as the Russians say) from the word “self-eating,” because in times past they were cannibals and ate one another. This is probably true because even today they eat all kinds of raw meat, even meat lying in the ditch rotting. The Samoyeds themselves say that they are an indigenous people once called the Samoie, or “our people,” who lived and multiplied in the same place they live now and never moved unlike most nations who have changed their place to another. Today they are subject to the Russian emperor.

I talked to some of them and found out that they acknowledge one god, but represent him in things that they need and have use for. Therefore, they worship the sun, deer, elk and the like.

The Russian priests, who are void of all manner of learning, and try in every way to keep out all means of education, as if they are afraid that their own ignorance and ungodliness will be discovered. To that end, they persuaded the emperors that learning would breed innovation and it would be dangerous to their position of power to have any new learning brought into the realm. In this case, they speak the truth, for a man of spirit and understanding, helped by learning and liberal education, can hardly endure a tyrannical government. Some years ago, in the other emperor’s time, a press and letters were brought from Polonia to the city of Moscow, and a printing house was set up with the permission and to the great liking of the emperor himself. But not long after, the house was set on fire in the night and the press and letters burned down. This is believed to have been done by order of the clergy. (Read more here:

But mostly the Russians are very unwieldly and inactive. This may be partly due to the climate and the numbness caused by the cold in winter, and partly by their diet.

These two extremes, especially in winter (heat inside their houses and extreme cold outside), together with their diet, give them a dark and sallow complexion, because the skin becomes tan and parched from the cold and heat, especially for women, whose complexion for the most part is far worse than the men. In my opinion, the reason is that they are constantly busying about in hot rooms, heating baths and stoves.

The Russian, because he is accustomed to both extremes of heat and cold, can bear them far better than foreigners. You’ll sometimes see them (to harden their bodies) run out of their baths, their bodies covered in soap suds and steaming with heat like a pig on a spit, and jump stark naked into a river or pour cold water all over their bodies, even in the coldest winter. The women, to hide their bad complexion, color their faces so vividly with white and red paint that it is obvious to everyone. But no one pays any attention because that is their custom and the men not only like it, they give their wives and daughters an allowance to buy the paint to color their faces and delight to watch them transform from foul women to fair images. The paint wrinkles the skin and they become even more deformed when the paint comes off.

“Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan, 16 November 1581” by Ilya Repin, 1885.

As for their qualities and behavior otherwise, they have good mental ability, but do not have the means of some other nations to develop their talents through learning and science. They could borrow them from the Polonians or other neighbors, but they refuse to out of self-pride, believing that their own customs are the best. Part of the reason (as I said before) is their manner of upbringing: being devoid of all good learning and civilized behavior is considered by their governors to be the best for the state and their manner of government which the people would hardly bear if they were civilized and brought to more understanding of God and good policy. To do this, emperors keep out all means of making education better and are wary of allowing anything foreign that might alter their customs. Such actions could be somehow forgiven, if they weren’t imprinted on the minds of the people. When they see how rudely and brutally their chief magistrates and other superiors deal with them, they treat each other with the same cruelty, especially inferiors and subordinates. So the lowest and poorest Christianin (that’s what they call a common person) – who humiliates himself, crawls before the nobleman like a dog and licks the dust at his feet – becomes an intolerable tyrant as soon as he has the advantage over someone else. That’s why the whole country is filled with theft and murder. There is no consideration for human life. Sometimes a man will be robbed in the street of his own town late at night, but no one will come out of their house to help him even if they hear him cry out. I will not speak about the strange murders and other cruelties committed by them. One would hardly believe that such things could be done by people, especially those who call themselves Christians.

The number of vagrants and poor beggars is almost infinite: there is so much famine and extreme need that they beg in the most violent and desperate manner. They say: “Give me and cut me, give me and kill me.” One can guess how they treat foreigners if they are so unnatural and cruel towards their own people. And you can’t say which is greater in this country – the cruelty or the intemperance. I will not speak of it because it is so foul that it is hard to find decent words. The whole country is overflowing with such sin. And it’s no surprise, when they have no laws to curb fornication, adultery and other sins.

As for the truth of his word, the Russian for the most part gives it little regard, if he can gain by lying and breaching a promise. And it may be said truly (as is known by those who have traded with them) that from the great to the small (except a scarce few), the Russians don’t believe anything anyone else says, and don’t say anything worth being believed. These qualities make them very odious to all their neighbors, especially the Tatars, who consider themselves to be more honest and just compared to the Russians. Those who have discussed the state of both countries, believe the hatred of the Russian government and their behavior is still the main reason for the paganism of the Tatars and their dislike of the Christian faith.

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