Since the nineteenth century, the pervasive view of the northern Black Sea steppes in the Russian imagination has been that of agricultural lands of abundance. Right away thoughts come to mind of huge prairies full of radiant sunflowers and seas of amber grain stretching as far as the eye can see. But before the steppe could become the black-soil “breadbasket of Europe,” it had first to be culturally reimagined as a place of opportunity for the Russian state, rather than a threat to its existence. Only the defeat and decimation of the nomads in the late eighteenth century finally transformed the Pontic steppes into “virgin lands” suitable for colonization and hospitable for agriculture. This study focuses on the seventeenth century, when the steppe presented multiple dangers for the Russian state. The aim here is to explain why the Muscovite government was primarily interested in cordoning off the steppe, not colonizing it.2