Prior to 1696, it would have been an exaggeration to say that Russia had a fleet, let alone that she was a sea power. There was no regular navy with weaponry, no system of acquisition or staffing, military service, training, uniform, or centralized system of command and supplies.
However, the eastern Slavs had a millenium of maritime tradition. It began in the 5th century B.C. in the Black Sea and later spread to the Mediterranean, where Kievan ships sailed with the Byzantine fleet. Novgorod merchants and colonizers, meanwhile, reached Spitzbergen and other remote northern lands.
Setbacks like the Tatar yoke, which destroyed Russia’s shipbuilding industry, put the country behind naval powers like England and France, who were able, unlike Russia, to expand their territories without fear of attack. It was only with the appearance of a will to modernize and reform Russia and strengthen her international standing, in the person of Peter the Great, that Moscow began seriously to consider building a navy.
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