Gathering of Rus' lands
Ivan's rule is marked by what some historians called 'the Gathering of the Russian Lands'. Ivan brought the independent duchies (kniažestva) of different Rurikid princes under the direct control of Moscow, leaving the princes and their posterity without royal titles or land inheritance. His first enterprise was a war with the Republic of Novgorod, with which Muscovy (Moscow) as a Northern district of Golden Horde had fought a series of wars stretching back to at least the reign of Dmitry Donskoi. These wars were waged over Moscow's religious and political sovereignty, and over Moscow's efforts to seize land in the Northern Dvina region. Alarmed at the growing power of Moscow, Novgorod had negotiated with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Rus in the hope of placing itself under the protection of the neighboring Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, against the increasing attacks by the Muscovite dynasty, a would-be alliance that was proclaimed by the Moscow rulers as an act of apostasy from Orthodoxy (in part, because the Polish king was a Catholic). Ivan took the field against Novgorod in 1470, and after his generals had twice defeated the forces of the republic — at the Battle of Shelon River and on the Northern Dvina, both in the summer of 1471 — the Novgorodians were forced to sue for peace, agreeing to abandon their overtures to Lithuania and to cede a considerable portion of their northern territories, while paying a war indemnity of 15,500 roubles.
Ivan visited Novgorod Central several times in the next several years, persecuting a number of pro-Lithuanian boyars and confiscating their lands. In 1477, two Novgorodian envoys, claiming to have been sent by the archbishops and the entire city, addressed Ivan in public audience as Gosudar (sovereign) instead of the usual Gospodin (sir). Ivan at once seized upon this as a recognition of his sovereignty, and when the Novgorodians repudiated the envoys (indeed, one was killed at the veche and several others of the pro-Moscow faction were killed with him) and swore openly in front of the Moscow ambassadors that they would turn to Lithuania again, he marched against them. Deserted by Casimir and surrounded on every side by the Moscow armies, which occupied the major monasteries around the city, Novgorod ultimately recognized Ivan's direct rule over the city and its vast hinterland in a document signed and sealed by Archbishop Feofil of Novgorod (1470–1480) on 15 January 1478.
Ivan's destruction of the Novgorod
Ivan dispossessed Novgorod of more than four-fifths of its land, keeping half for himself and giving the other half to his allies. Subsequent revolts (1479–1488) were punished by the removal en masse of the richest and most ancient families of Novgorod to Moscow, Vyatka, and other north-eastern Rus' cities. Archbishop Feofil was also removed to Moscow for plotting against the Grand Prince. The rival republic of Pskov owed the continuance of its own political existence to the readiness with which it assisted Ivan against its ancient enemy. The other principalities were eventually absorbed by conquest, purchase, or marriage contract: The Principality of Yaroslavl in 1463, Rostov in 1474, Tver in 1485, and Vyatka 1489.
Ivan's refusal to share his conquests with his brothers, and his subsequent interference with the internal politics of their inherited principalities, involved him in several wars with them, from which, though the princes were assisted by Lithuania, he emerged victorious. Finally, Ivan's new rule of government, formally set forth in his last will to the effect that the domains of all his kinsfolk, after their deaths, should pass directly to the reigning Grand Duke instead of reverting, as hitherto, to the princes' heirs, put an end once and for all to these semi-independent princelings.
Ivan had four brothers. The eldest, Yury, died childless on 12 September 1472. He only had a draft of a will that said nothing about his land. Ivan seized the land, much to the fury of the surviving brothers, whom he placated with some land. Boris and Andrei the Elder signed treaties with Vasily in February and September 1473. They agreed to protect each other's land and not to have secret dealings with foreign states; they broke this clause in 1480, fleeing to Lithuania. It is unknown whether Andrei the Younger signed a treaty. He died in 1481, leaving his lands to Ivan. In 1491 Andrei the Elder was arrested by Ivan for refusing to aid the Crimean Tatars against the Golden Horde. He died in prison in 1493, and Ivan seized his land. In 1494 Boris, the only brother able to pass his land to his sons, died. However, their land reverted to the Tsar upon their deaths in 1503 and 1515 respectively.
There was one semi-autonomous prince in Muscovy when Ivan acceded: Prince Mikhail Andreevich of Vereia, who had been awarded an Appanage by Vasily II. In 1478 he was pressured into giving Belozersk to Ivan, who got all of Mikhail's land on his death in 1486.