The opening of the campaign against Turkey brought with it a return of the Sheremetev-Menshikov rivalry, which seems to have lain dormant the previous year. The Habsburg ambassador Weltzeck, clearly using Pleyer’s Sheremetev connections, reported that Menshikov, now that he was in charge of the new provinces, took all the recruits and tax revenues in order to show the tsar how indispensable he was. During the course of the campaign, Menshikov remained behind in St. Petersburg precisely to look after the new provinces and the new city. Supreme power, however, rested with the Senate, and since Sheremetev commanded the Russian army as it moved into Moldavia, the two rivals were too far apart to create much trouble. In any case, a new star had risen in the court besides Menshikov, Prince Dolgorukii, Iaguzhinskii, and the Senate: Ekaterina Alekseevna, Peter’s mistress. The day the tsar left Moscow he publicly announced his intention to marry her.
There would be a new tsaritsa, a power that could now be acknowledged and a new source of patronage. The new power also came from years spent among Menshikov’s wife, sister, and sisters-in-law, and she would remain firmly in Menshikov’s camp to the end of her life.
The Turkish campaign was a disaster almost from the start, and on 12/23 July Peter had to sign a preliminary peace with his enemy, giving up Azov but retaining his army and free passage out of Ottoman territory. Peter gave up Azov, the great prize of his youth, with a heavy heart, but at least he now had his hands free to continue the struggle against Sweden.
Here events moved quickly. In August, just as Peter was extricating his army from Moldavia, the Danes landed in Swedish Pomerania and began to besiege Stralsund. Peter ordered several regiments, including the two guards regiments, north for the campaign in Pomerania and left Sheremetev to watch the Turks while the final treaty was worked out in Istanbul. Peter himself went on west through Poland to Karlsbad to take the waters and recover from the exertions of the summer. He also stopped in Torgau, in Saxony, to be present at the marriage of his son Aleksei to Princess Charlotte of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Yet another new element entered the court, a new princess, and the possibility that Peter’s son might also produce an heir.
Peter turned to the more pressing matter of the war. While he had been occupied in Moldavia, Frederik IV of Denmark had sent an unsuccessful expedition against Swedish Pomerania. For 1712, with a real Russian contingent and more coordination among Denmark, Russia, and Saxony, there were higher hopes. Peter gave supreme command of the Russian forces to Menshikov but also went off to Pomerania himself. Prince V. V. Dolgorukii was already in Poland as commander of the guards. Starting in June the Russians blockaded Stettin at the mouth of the Oder, while the allied forces surrounded Stralsund.
Neither siege progressed much, since neither army had heavy siege guns. The bulk of the Danish army went farther west, taking the Swedish possession of Stade and aiming at Bremen and Verden. Then on 13/24 September 1712, the Swedish Field marshal-General Magnus Stenbock landed on the island of Rügen with some 12,000 troops.
The succeeding events were secondary to the larger history of Peter’s struggle with Sweden, but formed a major part of the causes of Menshikov’s eclipse in 1713-16. Stenbock’s expedition started well, but was quickly pushed west into Holstein, defeated in the field, and surrounded until the little duchy’s government allowed him to retreat to the fortress of Tönning on Holstein soil just north of Hamburg. Peter, seeing the Swedes’ defeat coming, had already left the army in the charge of Menshikov and made his way back to Russia, stopping for several diplomatic exchanges in Hanover, Dresden, and Prussia.
The Duke of Holstein, Karl Friedrich, was a minor in 1713 and the major figure at the Holstein court was one Georg Heinrich Baron von Görtz (1668-1719), and it was he primarily who made the decision to let Stenbock into Tönning. Görtz was also the broker of Stenbock’s surrender in May, at which Menshikov disobeyed Peter’s orders. The issue was the division of the prisoners: Peter had ordered Menshikov to take the largest group, as the Russian contingent was the largest among the allies and Peter wanted to use them to exchange for the Russians captured at Narva. Instead, the Saxons, Danes, and Russians received equal numbers of prisoners, and rumors circulated that Görtz had bribed Menshikov to agree to all this. Worse was yet to come.
Menshikov took the bulk of the Russian army to besiege Stettin in the spring, and with heavier guns it was only a matter of time until it fell. While Menshikov conducted the siege the same Goörtz went on to negotiate a deal with Prussia to hand over Stettin to the Hohenzollerns under a joint Prussian-Holstein sequestration arrangement for Pomerania to last until the final peace. Peter was happy to give Stettin to Prussia, but Holstein wanted to use the occasion to acquire Prussian support of its claims against Denmark. The city fell to Menshikov in September 1713, and the Prussian army occupied the town but handed it formally to Holstein. Peter, however, had no intention of supporting the Holstein claims against his Danish ally.
The arrangements over the surrender of Stenbock and the sequestration of Stettin were the first major policy disagreements between Peter and Menshikov. The favorite’s moves had exceeded his instructions and endangered the Danish alliance, which Peter regarded as crucial. Moreover, Menshikov lied to Peter, claiming that he knew nothing of the June Holstein-Prussian agreement to support the duke’s claims against Denmark. Since Golovkin reported quite differently from Berlin, making it clear that Menshikov knew all about it, and Menshikov’s pledge to Holstein to support its interests against Denmark survives in the Russian archives, it must be presumed that Golovkin and Peter knew that Menshikov had lied. The tsar’s reaction was immediate: as soon as he learned the full extent of the Holstein-Prussian agreement he wrote a sharp letter to Friedrich Wilhelm in Berlin refusing to ratify Menshikov’s agreements on Stettin unless Prussia pledged in writing to drop the attempt to restore the Holstein dukes’ position against Denmark. Berlin saw one last chance, and sent a joint Prussian-Holstein mission to St. Petersburg to try to convince Peter to change his mind.
In this they failed: as earlier, Peter was willing to give Stettin to Prussia, but only without any obligation to support Holstein by Prussia or Russia, and the Prussians had to consent to these terms. The Holstein representative von Bassewitz had trouble even seeing Peter and quickly found that Menshikov was afraid to help him. He only made Peter’s suspicion of Menshikov greater, as the mission confirmed Peter’s view of Holstein policy which aimed (among other things) at a split between Russia and Denmark. Peter regarded the Danish alliance as crucial to make up for the weakness of the Russian high seas fleet against Sweden, and in spite of many problems with Frederik, stuck to it.