10. Polish morass
On August 9, 1702 Charles, who was staying in Courland, issued to official letters one of which had been addressed to “all Poles”  and another to Cardinal Primate of Poland, Augustyn Michał Stefan Radziejowski,
the second (after August) most important person in the PLC and definitely the first one as far as understanding and control of the situation goes .
In both letters Charles was talking about a need to dethrone August who caused an immense damage to the Polish liberties by flooding country with the Saxon troops and starting a war with his Swedish cousin. Sweden is ready to provide all help that may be needed. It seems that this was Charles’ own idea and all attempts to dissuade him just made him more firmly set on its implementation. Just as century later Napoleon got “Spanish disease”, Charles got the “Polish” one. The task did not look excessively complicated to Charles due to his a blissful ignorance of the realities of the Polish politics and the PLC reputation as “a cemetery of the armies”. Of course, the PLC was practically an ideal ground for the relaxed military strolls of pretty much any army and for living off the land but achieving some definite results was a completely different story due to the never-ending political turmoil. Bengt Gabrielsson Oxenstierna  sent to Charles a ling memorandum in which he strongly recommended to abstain from invading the PLC and especially from the idea of installing a new king. He was especially afraid of the consequences of August’s dethroning based upon mentality of the Polish nobility and an abyss existing between their promises and concrete actions. But Charles finally got a political idea of his own and stuck to it because his proposals were logical.
To his surprise, the letters produced no enthusiasm from the recipients . Everybody agreed that August was a lousy king but there was no precedent for a king to be overthrown and if such a thing is going to happen, it should happen without a foreign interference. Even those who sympathized to the Swedes did not agree to the Charles’ proposals.
Peter, who had a somewhat better understanding of what the PLC looked like (after all Russian diplomacy had a long record of dealing with it) and already got some knowledge of Charles’ modus operandi, fully expected that sooner rather than later Charles is going to push his idea down the Polish collective throat by invading the country. For the Poles’ own good, of course.
This would give Peter a free hand in his own actions which could
be two-fold (Peter was quite opportunistic in picking one if the options or both):
1. By the obvious geographic reasons, it was tempting to expand annexation from Dynaburg all the way up the Dvina flow to Witebsk thus ending with a nice “natural border” by the river and securing the new territory from the PLC attempts to get them back . But this had to wait until Charles is going into “the morass” so that Peter’s activities will fit into “brotherly help” category.
2. For the second option he needed Charles’ agreement much less if not at all. It was the Right Bank Ukraine owned by the PLC and in a meantime in a quite fragile peaceful status due to the conflicting interests of the Cosssacks (generally loyal to the throne) and the Polish nobility that considered the Cossacks as an abomination and was pressing the crown for cutting their privileges. The intelligent monarchs usually managed to navigate these treacherous waters with a certain degree of success but not August. Even before Charles sent his letters, August came with his own “touch of a genius” by issuing in the January of 1702 “universal” by which all Cossack lands of the Braclaw, Kiev and Fastow “regiments” (Polish-held Right Bank Ukraine) had to be returned to the Polish nobility and the Cossack troops disbanded. Temporary Hetman, colonel Samus, had to deliver his attributes of power to the royal representatives. Comparison with an exploded bomb is inadequate  so how about effect of the yeast being thrown into a latrine? In March the Cossack Rada had been assembled on which Colonel Palij publicly rejected protection of the Polish King, declared the Right Bank Ukraine “free Cossack area” and swore loyalty to Peter and Hetman Mazepa  in which he was fully supported by Samus. In September the Cossack army besieged Polish-held fortress White Church, Polish relief force had been defeated and the things proceeded as usual . In November White Church had been taken by storm and all its defenders killed. This
opportunity can’t be missed and situation must be exploited before the Poles raise an army and crush the rebels. The helpful part was that formally
Peter could keep pretending that this is strictly a Cossack business in which Russia is not directly involved . Well, maybe a little bit, just to keep the excesses down. Mazepa’s army, 40,000 strong (accompanied by 10,000 Russian troops) crossed the border to help the rebels, Samus formally passed his insignia to Mazepa returning to his old status of a colonel. And the Polish army of 15,000 had suffered a crushing defeat losing everybody who could not run fast enough and all its artillery (44 pieces). Peter’s troops occupied White Church and few other more or less fortified places. The first step of the “go South” plan: control of the territory between the Dnieper and Bug rivers with a stronghold of White Church in between, was made while Charles was still amusing himself playing diplomacy with the Poles.
In a meantime Charles spent the whole year in Courland trying his hand as a diplomat but gradually running out of patience….
 Or rather to “200,000 sovereigns”. Who would care about the peasants and burghers?
 Is it just me or cardinal’s hat on a portrait does
look like a bow? Anyway, he was plotting against Jan Sobiessky, then supported candidacy of his then until switched his support to Prince Conti and became leader of the pro-French party and even led a rokosz in his support against King August until getting from August a considerable bribe and guarantee of an important role in the government. Which did not prevent him from a being in a permanent conflict with August. In OTL, after trying for a while to play intermediary between August and Charles, went to the Swedish side but after Charles refused to put on the PLC throne either Prince Conti or Ferenc Rakoczi, broke with Charles, fled to Danzig and tried to get back to terms with August in a process of doing which he died in 1705 at the age of 60. Probably due to the distress caused by running of the new sides to switch to (siding twice with the same king should be boring).
 During the Deluge he was governor of the Great Poland, then governor of Livonia and between 1680 and accession of Charles XII a de facto head of the Swedish foreign politics.
 In OTL he was promising to the Polish nobility as a reward return of the Ukrainian lands lost to Russia but in this TL he has no bonus to offer so enthusiasm is even smaller.
 Taking into an account the general situation within the PLC, this excuse was not labeled as “invasion of the hostile ASBs” only because these creatures were not known, yet.
 The contemporary bombs simply were not powerful enough.
 Mazepa was Hetman of the Russian-held Left Bank Ukraine and did not mind at all to became Hetman of All Ukraine. However, not to get on Peter’s wrong side, he refused to help the rebels and even forbade them to flee on the Left Bank.
 Which means a wholesale massacres of the Poles, Jews, and the Uniates. In OTL this uprising is referenced as “Second Khmelnitchina”. In OTL , in 1703 the Polish army managed to reconquer part of the rebellious territory, impaled known supporters of the rebellion and cut the right ears to 70,000 suspected ones, population of some places was totally massacred. Peter ordered the leaders of uprising to make peace with August and in 1704 they joined Mazepa’s army but soon enough (probably just to be on the safe side) he arrested the leaders. They were released only after Mazepa’s treason became known. In this TL Peter’s alliance with August does not exist, with the obvious “adjustments”.
 As Don Cesar de Bazan from “Ruy Blas” who did not directly participate in a robbery but just “helped with an advise”.
 Of course, Peter trusted Mazepa but only within a paradigm that he formulated as: “Every Ukrainian Hetman is a traitor”. Anyway, for all intended purposes, creation of a functioning unified Hetmanate was not exactly Peter’s favorite idea.