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Foreign Policy of Alexander II (1855-81)

In respect of foreign policy the reign of Alexander II. differed widely from that of Nicholas. The Eastern Colossus no longer inspired respect and fear in Europe. Until the country had completely recovered from the exhaustion of the Crimean War the government remained in the background of European politics. Its attitude was graphically described in the famous declaration of Prince Gorchakov: "La Russie ne boude pas; elle se recueille" [Russia is not sulky, she meditates]. On one point, however, this description was not accurate.

Russia sulked so far as Austria was concerned, for she could not forget that the emperor Francis Joseph, by his wavering and unfriendly conduct towards her during the Crimean War, had ill repaid her assistance to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1849, and had fulfilled the cynical prediction of Prince Schwarzenberg that his country would astonish the world by her ingratitude. It was not without secret satisfaction, therefore, that Prince Gorchakov watched the repeated defeats of the Austrian army in the Italian campaign of 1859, and he felt inclined to respond to the advances made to him by Napoleon III.

But the germs of a Russo-French alliance, which had come into existence immediately after the Crimean War, ripened very slowly, and they were completely destroyed in 1863 when the French emperor wounded Russian sensibilities deeply by giving moral and diplomatic support to the Polish insurrection. On that occasion Bismarck helped Gorchakov to ward off the threatened intervention of France and England, and he thereby founded the cordial relations which subsisted between the cabinets of Berlin and St Petersburg down to 1878, and which contributed powerfully to the creation of the German empire by defending the Prussian cabinet against the jealousy and enmity of Austria and France. In return for these services Bismarck helped Russia to recover a portion of what she had lost by the Crimean War, for it was thanks to his connivance and diplomatic support that she was able in 1871 to denounce with impunity the clauses of the treaty of Paris which limited Russian armament in the Black Sea.

Had the tsar been satisfied with this important success, which enabled him to rebuild Sevastopol and construct a Black Sea fleet, his reign might have been a peaceful and prosperous one, but he tried to recover the remainder of what had been lost by the Crimean War, the province of Bessarabia and predominant influence in Turkey. To effect this, he embarked on the Turkish War of 1877-78, which ended in disappointment, though the campaign enabled him to recover Bessarabia at the expense of his Rumanian ally, it did not increase Russian prestige in the East, because the Russian army was repeatedly repulsed by the Turks, and when at last it reached Constantinople, it was prevented from entering the city by the threatening attitude of England and Austria. In the field of diplomacy there was likewise disappointment. The concessions extorted from the Porte in the preliminary treaty of San Stefano (March 3, 1878) were revived and considerably modified in favour of Turkey by the congress of Berlin (June 13~July 13, 1878).

Much greater success attended the efforts of Russian diplomacy and Russian arms in Asia. By the treaty of Aigun (May 28, 1858), and without any military operations, the Ruszha cession of a great part of the basin of the Amur was obtained from China. Six years later began the toAs/erapid expansion of Russia in Central Asia, and at the end of Alexander II. 's reign her domination had been firmly established throughout nearly the whole of the vast expanse of territory lying between Siberia on the north and Persia and Afghanistan on the south, and stretching without interruption from the eastern coast of the Caspian to the Chinese frontier. The greater part of the territory was formally incorporated into the empire, and the petty potentates, such as the khan of Khiva and the amir of Bokhara, who were allowed to retain a semblance of their former sovereignty, became obsequious vassals of the White Tsar.



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Page last modified: 08-09-2017 18:24:30 ZULU