Peter's 'military games' served to the serious aim - Russia needed access to the sea. Archangelsk seaport couldn't provide the year-round commerce because of the short winter navigation. That's why the access to the Black Sea was of great importance to the country. Thus Peter returned to the idea of the Crimean campaigns, in which Prince V.V. Golitsyn sustained a defeat.
After the three-month siege of Azov (spring-summer, 1695) Peter had to retreat. It was impossible to lay the siege to the fortress both from the land and from the sea without the fleet. The first Azov campaign was defeated. In winter 1695-96 the preparation to the second campaign started. The first Russian Fleet was building in Voronezh. By the spring two ships, 23 galleys, 4 fire-ships and 1300 boats were made, using which 4 000 Russian force laid the siege to Azov in May of 1696. After the sea blockade on the 19th of July the Turkish fortress surrendered. The convenient harbour for the fleet had been found in Taganrog, and building of the seaport began. However, there was not force enough to fight Turkey and The Crimea. Peter ordered to build new ships (52 crafts in 2-year time) on landowners' and merchants' money.
Meanwhile, it was necessary to find allies in Europe. So the idea of 'The Great Embassy' (March 1697-August 1698). Its formal aim was to visit the capitals of some European countries to enter into the alliance against Turkey. General-Admiral F.Y. Lefort, General F.A. Golovin, the head of Embassies' Department and the scribe of Boyars' Council P.B. Vosnitsin were appointed The Great Ambassadors. The Embassy included 250 people, with 35 volunteers, who went to study handicrafts and military sciences, and Tsar Peter himself was among them, under the name of Peter Mikhailov. The main aim of the Embassy was to learn the politic relationship between European countries, to study foreign handicrafts, way of life, culture, military order and other things. During 1,5 year abroad Peter and The Embassy visited Kurlandia, Brandenburg, Holland, England and Austria, met with Princes and Monarchs, studied shipbuilding and other crafts. Having received the news from Moscow about the Strelets' Rising in summer 1698, Peter had to come back to Russia.
International relations in Europe at that time didn't allow to continue war with Turkey, so soon (January 14, 1699) Russia together with the other countries-members of The Holy League, had to sign the armistice in Carlovtsy. However 'the Great Embassy' was a real school for Peter. He used this experience when carrying out the reforms in foreign and domestic policy. The decision to start war against Sweden for the Baltic coast and access to the sea came to Peter after his journey to Europe.
By the beginning of the XVII century Russian foreign policy had changed its direction from South to North, and at the same time every sphere of life in the country - from diplomatic and military efforts to Europeanization of the Russian traditional way of life - was undergoing serious changes. Preparations to war with Sweden had become the starting point for the deep politic and social-economic reforms, which characterize the epoch of Peter's I reign.
Some reforms were carried out for years, others - in a hurry. But on the whole, they were forming the system of extremely centralized absolutists state, the head of which was the 'absolute monarch, who doesn't have to be responsible for his deeds to anyone in the world', as wrote Peter I. The reformations were carried out according to the Tsar's Decrees, and during the first quarter of the XVIII c. their number amounted to more than 2,5 thousand.