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Soviet Union

The Return to an Active Balkan Policy, 1906-13

The logic of Russia's earlier Far Eastern policy had required holding Balkan issues in abeyance--a strategy also followed by Austria-Hungary between 1897 and 1906. Japan's victory in 1905 forced Russia to make deals with the British and the Japanese. In 1907 Russia's new, more liberal foreign minister, Aleksandr P. Izvol'skii, concluded agreements with both nations. To maintain its sphere of influence in northern Manchuria and northern Iran, Russia agreed to Japanese ascendancy in southern Manchuria and Korea and to British ascendancy in southern Iran, Afghanistan, and Tibet. The logic of this policy demanded that Russia and Japan unite to prevent the United States from organizing a consortium to develop Chinese railroads and, after China's republican revolution of 1911, to recognize each other's spheres of influence in Outer Mongolia. In an extension of this logic, Russia traded recognition of German economic interests in the Ottoman Empire and Iran for German recognition of various Russian security interests in the region. Similarly, Russia's strategic and financial position required that it remain faithful to its alliance with France and that it bolster the Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian rapprochements with the informal Triple Entente between Britain, France, and Russia, but without antagonizing Germany or provoking a war.

Nevertheless, following the Russo-Japanese War, Russia and Austria-Hungary resumed their Balkan rivalry, focusing on the South Slavic Kingdom of Serbia and the provinces of Bosnia and Hercegovina. The two provinces had been occupied by Austria-Hungary since 1878. Only a handful of Russian and Austrian statesmen knew that in 1881 Russia secretly had agreed in principle to Austria's future annexation of them. But in 1908, Izvol'skii foolishly consented to their formal annexation in return for Austria's support for a revision of the international agreement that had insured the neutrality of the Bosporus and Dardanelles. This arrangement would have given Russia special navigational rights of passage. When Britain blocked the revision, Austria nonetheless proceeded with the annexation and, backed by German threats of war, forced Russia to disavow support for Serbia--a pointed demonstration of Russian weakness.

After Austria's annexation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Russian diplomacy increased tension and conflict in the Balkans. In 1912 Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro defeated the Ottoman Empire but continued to quarrel among themselves. Then in 1913, the Bulgarians were defeated by the Serbians, Greeks, and Romanians. Austria became Bulgaria's patron, while Germany remained the Ottoman Empire's protector. Russia tied itself more closely to Serbia. When a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne in late June 1914, Austria delivered an ultimatum to Serbia. Russia, fearing another humiliation in the Balkans, supported Serbia. The system of alliances began to operate automatically, with Germany supporting Austria and with France backing Russia. When Germany invaded France through Belgium, the conflict escalated into a world war.

Data as of May 1989