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Warm Water Ports - Far East

Russia had for a long time been in need of a warm-water port in the Far East. By the late 19th Century Russia had slowly increased its influence in the Far East. The construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad and the acquisition of a warm-water port would enable Russia to consolidate its presence in the region and further expand into Asia and the Pacific. Russia had not expected that Japan would be victorious against China. Port Arthur falling into Japanese hands would undermine its own desperate need for a warm-water port in the East. The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Count Mikhail Muravyev, began to push for the seizure of Port Arthur, "to prevent that port from being taken by another nation". He was opposed by representatives of the Navy, who claimed that Russia needed a naval base in the south of the Korean peninsula, which would make it possible to keep the Tsushima Straits under control and defend Korea from a Japanese invasion.

Blocked decisively by the Crimean war, and seeing no chance in Europe, she turned to seek advantage in the East. Her coast line in eastern Siberia was very far north, with the result that its harbors were icebound more than half of the year. She sought to extend that line southward. In 1858 she acquired from China, then involved in a war with Great Britain and France, the whole northern bank of the Amur, and two years later she acquired from China more territory farther south, which became the Maritime Province, and at the southern point of this she founded as a naval base Vladivostok, which means the Dominator of the East. Here her development in eastern Asia stopped. In another direction, Russian advance was notable. She conquered Turkestan, a vast region east of the Caspian Sea, and this conquest brought her close to India, and gave great importance to Afghanistan as a buffer between them.

The desire for this warm water port had much to do with Russia's eastward march down the Amur river. Russia sought in the wilderness of Asia to heal wounds repeatedly sustained, physically and psychologically, in pursuit of aspirations to safety and prestige in the region of the Black Sea. If there could possibly be found a consolation for repeated frustration of the principal Russian effort, the penetration into what became the Russian Middle Asiatic Possessions, as well as the consolidation of the Far Eastern domain of Russia, provided such consolation - all the more so because the Russian expansion in Asia was mostly in the nature of peaceful penetration.

The determining consideration which led Russia to cast longing eyes upon Manchuria - apart from that eternal hunger for territory which was one of her strongest characteristics - was the necessity of acquiring a warm water port as a naval base and commercial harbor. The port of Vladivostock - which, by the way, she acquired from China as early as 1860 by a truly Russian piece of bluff - haf proved of little use in this respect, owing to the fact that during the winter months it is almost entirely icebound. A striking illustration of the embarrassment such a state of things must cause was afforded in the course of the Russo-Japanese War by the plight into which the Russian Cruiser Squadron stationed there fell. The ambitions of the Czar's advisers had for years been directed towards the acquisition of the fortress and harbor of Port Arthur (known to the Chinese, as Lu-shun-kau), which situated as it is upon the narrow neck of land at the extreme southernmost point of the Liao-tung Peninsula, should, if properly served by a strong and efficient naval force, dominate the Gulf of Pechili, and prove the most powerful strategic post in Northern China.

As the second object in its Asiatic diversions Russia sought, but unsuccessfully, access to the warm waters of the Yellow Sea or of the Persian Gulf. The third purpose was more complex in nature but it is explained thus. Some of the diplomatic and military actions of Russia in Asia, especially in Afghanistan and Persia, were in the nature of hunting expeditions in quest of goods for diplomatic bartering with the other Great Powers, in particular with England. As Sir Edward Grey expressed it, the exchange of "shop window goods" was the only practicable form of diplomatic negotiation. To be able to practice, with the English, the diplomacy of do ut des, or the dormant donnant (give-and-take) diplomacy, Russia had to seek something that would appeal to the practical sense of the English in the way of arguments in diplomatic bargaining. Hence a number of "faits accomplis" undertaken by Russia and accomplished for the most part peacefully on the uncertain road to the jewel of the British crown, India.




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