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France - Russian Relations - Early History

From time immemorial, France, as a continental power, badly protected on her northeastern frontier, had found herself on land in rivalry, if not in open struggle, with her eastern neighbor, formerly Austria, to-day Germany. And always also, in order to keep this rival or adversary at arm's length, she was obliged to seek allies in the east of Europe, — Turks, Swedes, Poles, these last more recently replaced by Russians.

In 1717, Peter the Great, during his travels in France, said to the Regent Philippe d'Orleans, when offering him his alliance, "I will stand to you in the stead of Poland, Turkey, and Sweden."' A century and a half later, at the close of the Crimean war, Bismarck expressed the opinion that a "Franco-Russian Alliance was in the nature of things." As a matter of fact, the Russian Empire and the French Republic worked for the increase of their own security by fortifying the equilibrium of Europe, on the day that they recorded in a treaty of alliance the lasting community of their essential interests.

Charles X, had clearly understood the profit France would derive from a rapprochement with Russia. The Due de Richelieu, Chateaubriand, and Polignac were the first partisans of the Russian Alliance. And it was largely because he was assured of Russia's support that, in spite of England's threats, the last mentioned statesman undertook the Algerian expedition.

The downfall of the First Empire was the natural result of Napoleon's ambition. Other causes contributed to weaken the Franco-Russian alliance, — Napoleon's encouragement of the Poles, the continent blockade, the Austrian marriage, the annexation of Oldenburg. War broke out in 1812, and Napoleon led a huge army to Moscow. He retreated among the rigors of a Russian autumn (October-December), lost a quarter of a million men, and shattered his prestige. First Russia, then Austria, ranged themselves on the side of the allies. On the advice of Talleyrand, Alexander of Russia, who had entered Paris at the head of the allied armies, resolved to recall the Bourbons. So perished the empire in a blaze of military glory, which France will never forget.

The reign of Napoleon III had a deplorable influence on French relations with Russia. The Crimean campaign was a mistake; and the policy followed in the affairs of Poland was another. When the war of 1870 broke out, Russia did nothing to defend France. During his stay in Saint Petersburg, Thiers obtained neither "understanding nor engagement." The Czar saw in France's disasters nothing more than an opportunity to bring about the revision of the Treaty of Paris. Gortchakoff had full confidence in Prussia; and this confidence was destined to last until the Congress of Berlin. The diplomatic combination known under the name of the Alliance of the Three Emperors left France isolated. Vanquished and alone, she had only herself to rely on.

France was also in need of an ally after her defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. Many circumstances, indeed, prevented the hope of her being able to escape from this isolation by an alliance with Russia. An initial obstacle existed in the wide difference between the two countries' domestic regimes. For the Republican form of government the Russian Court felt very little sympathy. Russians blaming the Radical trend of French politics, Frenchmen praying for the success of Russian Liberals.

During his ephemeral premiership of 1881, Gambetta said "Leaning on Russia and on England, we shall be unattackable." By 1891 France had become Russia's creditor for a sum which may be estimated, with municipal loans and industrial enterprises, at twelve billions of francs. It was a new principle of solidarity between the two countries, and, from 1889, offered to political combinations the broad, solid basis of financial interests. If an explanation of the present is sought for in the past, it will be found that the origin of the Franco-Russian alliance lies in the sympathy which has for a long time united the French and Russian armies.

The effect of the formation of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria, and Italy in 1882 was to draw the other two great continental powers, France and Russia, together. This rapprochement at first took the form of large loans of money by France to Russia. These loans enabled Russia to consolidate her debt on easier terms, to build strategic railroads, and to increase the efficiency of her army and navy. In July, 1891, the French Channel fleet visited Kronstadt, and it is probable that at this time military and naval understandings between the two Powers were drawn up to serve as bases for common action.

In spite of a past of mistrust, in spite of differences of every sort, political, intellectual, and moral, Russian opinion and French opinion, breaking a long silence, united in applauding the rapprochement. It may be said that no alliance ever enjoyed so great popularity in France and none that was so unpopular among foreigners, in America particularly.

In 1891 the Emperor Alexander decided to have an alliance with the French republic. The 21 and 27 August 1891 Convention between France and Russia; terms: it was no more than an agreement to consult in a crisis-but it was a starting point. The Franco-Russian agreement as an offset to the Anglo-Japanese entente was further strengthened when the Czar visited Paris in September, 1901, and by the visit of President Loubet to St. Petersburg in May 1902.

Between 1893 and 1902, the combined action of the two allied countries was wanting in intensity and consistency. Each of them looked after their own affairs, while profiting by the moral credit which the Alliance brought, yet without developing the credit by a methodical cooperation. The strengthening of the Franco-Russian entente' was the most notable fact of these years.

The Franco-Russian Entente Cordiale, on which the French government counted as a protection against German aggression, had many opponents at home. Since its formation, the Socialists had not ceased to criticize its originators and its pretended utility. And when Russia in her war with Japan suffered humiliating military defeats, the Alliance, in the opinion of its opponents, had become worthless. The Franco-Russian Alliance was not the alliance of two peoples, but only the accord of tsarism and French reactionaries. The French Socialists not only endeavored to win the French nation to the side of the Russian revolutionaries, but they also worked hard to influence the French government to act in their favor.

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Page last modified: 08-03-2022 19:38:05 ZULU