The lands of the Kievan Rus (except for Novgorod and the territories captured by Poland and Lithuania) came under the Mongol domination lasting from 1240 until the fall of the western part of Mongol Empire or the Golden Horde two centuries later. Decline of the Golden Horde after the middle of the 14th century was taken advantage by the Grand Princes of Moscow or “the gatherers of Russian lands” who greatly expanded their territories by the middle of the 15th century. Rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow was partly a result of its geographical position but it was also greatly influenced by the transfer of residence from Kiev to Moscow by the Orthodox Metropolitan Peter in 1327 which greatly enhanced its prestige. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was made the Russian religious center and became regarded as the heir of the Kievan Rus.
Grand Prince Dmitri of the Don (1359-1389) achieved the first major victory over the Golden Horde in the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. However, the victory in the Battle at Kulikovo did not bring permanent triumph over the Mongols and Khan Tokhtamysh devastated Moscow only two years later. Like Dmitri’s, Tokhtamysh’s success was short-lasting. The forces of Golden Horde were severely defeated by the army of Timur at the end of 1380’s.
Timur did not had interest in permanent conquest of Moscow nor in replacement of the ruined Mongol Empire with its own empire which greatly influenced the relations between the Mongols and Russians. They became equal adversaries and Vasily I (1389-1425) stopped paying tribute to the Khan. He expanded the territory of Moscow eastwards and northwards but he was forced to pursue a more conciliatory policy after the Mongol invasion in 1408. His successor Vasily II (1425-1462) further strengthened his authority and played an important role in the liberation of Russia from the Mongol yoke despite being defeated and captured by the Mongols. Many cities of the Grand Duchy of Moscow were devastated but Vasily II returned to power and recaptured all the lost lands by the end of his rule.
Vasily II was succeeded by his son Ivan III the Great (1462-1505) who finally liberated Russia from the Mongol yoke and quadrupled the territory of the Grand Duchy of Moscow by the end of his rule. In 1480, he refused to pay tribute to the Mongols and defeated the Mongols who marched to Moscow without the use of force. The Russian and Mongol forces confronted each other on opposite sides of the Ugra River for months but the Mongols withdrew because their allies Lithuanians did not sent military assistance. Thus the Mongol rule collapsed although there were still several clashes afterwards. Alliance with the Crimean Khanate secured the southern frontier and enabled Ivan the territorial expansion westwards. However, his attacks on Sweden (in 1496 and 1497) and Livonia (1502) ended with defeat and Ivan III failed to gain access to the Baltic Sea. He had more success against the Polish-Lithuanian Union and gained the support of the Lithuanian Orthodox nobles who voluntary subordinated themselves to the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Ivan’s foreign politics and territorial expansion also greatly influenced inner politics. Ivan III wedded Sophia Paleologue, a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, transformed the Duchy of Moscow into a centralized state and titled himself Tsar. He also reduced the power of the nobility by creation of a class of loyal officials. Moscow claimed to be a Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, adopted the customs of the Byzantine court and added two-headed eagle of Byzantium to the Muscovy arms.