Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Foreign Affairs after the Crimean War, 1856-93

After the Crimean War, Russia pursued cautious and intelligent foreign policies until nationalist passions and another Balkan crisis almost caused a catastrophic war in the late 1870s. The 1856 Treaty of Paris concluded at the end of the Crimean War demilitarized the Black Sea and deprived Russia of southern Bessarabia and a narrow strip of land at the mouth of the Danube River. It also nullified the 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji by theoretically promising European protection of the Christians living in the Ottoman Empire. Russian statesmen viewed Britain and Austria (Austria-Hungary as of 1867) as opposed to revising the Treaty of Paris, and they sought good relations with France, Prussia, and the United States. Prussia (Germany as of 1871) replaced Britain as Russia's chief banker.

Following the Crimean War, the regime revived its expansionist policies. Russian troops first moved to quell the lingering revolts of Muslim tribesmen in the Caucasus. Once the revolts were crushed, the army resumed its expansion into Central Asia. Attempts were made to ensure that Britain was not unduly alarmed by Russia's policy of leaving the territories directly bordering Afghanistan and Iran nominally independent. Russia also supported Iranian attempts to expand into Afghanistan--a move that strained the resources of British India. At the same time, Russia followed the United States, Britain, and France in establishing relations with Japan, and it, together with Britain and France, obtained concessions from China consequent to the Second Opium War (1856- 60). By the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, China was forced to cede Russia extensive trading rights and regions adjacent to the Amur and Ussuri rivers, and it allowed Russia to begin building a port and naval base at Vladivostok. Meanwhile, in 1867 the logic of the balance of power and the cost of developing and defending the Amur-Ussuri region dictated that Russia sell Alaska to the United States in order to acquire muchneeded funds.

As part of the regime's foreign policy goals in Europe, Russia gave guarded support to the anti-Austrian diplomacy of the French. A weak Franco-Russian entente soured, however, when France backed a Polish uprising against Russian rule in 1863. Russia then aligned itself more closely with Prussia and tolerated the unification of Germany in exchange for a revision of the Treaty of Paris and the remilitarization of the Black Sea. These diplomatic achievements came at a London conference in 1871, following Prussia's defeat of France. After 1871 Germany, united by Prussia, was the strongest continental power in Europe. It supported both Russia and AustriaHungary , and in 1873 it formed the loosely knit League of the Three Emperors with those two powers to forestall them from forming an alliance with France.

Nevertheless, Austro-Hungarian and Russian ambitions clashed in the Balkans, where rival nationalities and anti-Ottoman sentiments seethed. In the 1870s, Russian nationalist opinion became a serious domestic factor, supportive of policies that advocated liberating Balkan Christians from Ottoman rule and making Bulgaria and Serbia quasi-protectorates of Russia. From 1875 to 1877, the Balkans crisis heated, with rebellions in the provinces of Bosnia and Hercegovina and in Bulgaria and a Serbo-Ottoman war. Russia, however, promised not to exercise influence in the western Balkans.

In early 1877, Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire, and by December its troops were nearing Constantinople. Russia's nationalist diplomats and generals persuaded Alexander II to force the Ottomans to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878. The treaty created an enlarged Bulgaria that stretched into the southwestern Balkans. This development alarmed Britain, which threatened war, and an exhausted Russia backed down. At the Congress of Berlin in July 1878, Russia agreed to the creation of a smaller Bulgaria. Russian nationalists were furious with AustriaHungary and Germany, but the tsar accepted a revived and strengthened League of the Three Emperors as well as Austrian hegemony in the western Balkans.

Russian diplomatic and military interests subsequently turned to the East. Russian troops occupied Turkmen lands on the Iranian and Afghan borders, raising British concerns, but German support of Russian advances averted a possible Anglo-Russian war. The Bulgarians became angry with Russia's continuing interference in Bulgarian affairs and sought support from Austria. In turn, Germany, displaying firmness toward Russia, protected Austria from the tsar while mollifying him with a bilateral defensive alliance, the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 between Germany and Russia. Within a year, Russo-German acrimony led to Bismarck's forbidding further Russian loans, and France replaced Germany as Russia's financier. In 1890 Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck, and the loose RussoPrussian entente, which had held fast for more than twenty-five years, collapsed. The consequence of this development was that Russia allied itself with France in 1893 by entering into a joint military convention, which matched the German-Austrian dual alliance of 1879.

Data as of May 1989


Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents