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Foreign Policy of Alexander III (1881-94)

In the hodge-podge of territories and populations subject to the Autocrat of All the Russias, Pan-Slavism became a driving unifying force in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Stimulated by the contemporary growth of nationalism in Germany and Italy, a host of Russian politicians, scholars, journalists, and litterateurs arose, especially in Great Russia, pointing out the glory and grandeur of the Slav race. They demonstrated that from a common parent-stock had come not only the Great Russians, Little Russians, White Russians, the Lithuanians, Letts, and Poles, — the overwhelming majority of the population of the Russian Empire, — but also the Poles of Prussia, and the Poles, Czechs, Ruthenians, Slovenes, and Serbo-Croats of the Habsburg Empire, and the Serbs and Bulgars in the Balkan peninsula. They showed that of all these Slavic peoples, the Great Russians were by far the most numerous and the most powerful.

Their Pan-Slavic program, therefore, assumed a twofold aspect. In the first place, they would force, as far as possible, the language and the institutions of Great Russia upon the heterogeneous peoples within the Russian Empire, — in a word, they would "Russify" the empire. And in the second place they would extend Russian influence abroad eastward into Asia, westward against Teutonic Habsburg and Hohenzollern, southward into the Balkans.

In the latter case Russian Pan-Slavists were ardent sympathizers with the struggles of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro to increase their territories at the expense of Turkey or of Austria-Hungary, provided of course that these Balkan states remembered their debt of gratitude to their elder brother Russia. At the same time the alliance between Russia and France, cemented in 1895, was commended by Russian Pan-Slavists as promising to curb the anti-Slav policies of the great Teutonic states of central Europe.

Within Russia itself, the Pan-Slavists discovered that the distinctive monuments of the national genius were the Russian language, the Orthodox Church, the village community engaged in agriculture, and the political autocracy. To impress these institutions upon the entire empire, the Pan-Slavists disbelieved in the efficacy of democracy and held that one-man power was much more beneficial for carrying out their program. Just as British patriots and nationalists extolled the slowly evolving form of parliamentary government which had enriched and glorified Great Britain, so the Pan-Slavists in Russia exalted and magnified the autocracy under which their country had gradually grown great and respected. Russian patriotism made for autocracy. Without autocracy Russian Pan-Slavists could hardly hope to realize for the entire empire their ideal of "one law, one language, one religion."

In the foreign policy of the empire Alexander III introduced considerable changes. During his father's reign its main objects were: in the west, the maintenance of the alliance with Germany; in south-east cm Europe, the recovery of what had been lost by the Crimean War, the gradual weakening of the Sultan's authority, and the increase of Russian influence among the minor Slav nationalities; in Asia, the gradual but cautious expansion of Russian domination.

In the reign of Alexander III. the first of these objects was abandoned. Already, before his accession, the bonds of friendship which united Russia to Germany had been weakened by the action of Bismarck in giving to the cabinet of St Petersburg at the Berlin congress less diplomatic support than was expected, and by the Austro-German treaty of alUance (October 1879), concluded avowedly forthe purpose of opposing Russian aggression; but the old relations were partly reestablished by secret negotiations in iSSo, by a meeting of the young tsar and the old emperor at Danzig in iSSi, and by the meeting of the three emperors at Skierniewice in 1884, by which the Three Emperors' League was reconstituted for a term of three years.

With regard to the German alliance, gradually, however, a great change took place in the tsar's views. He suspected Bismarck of harbouring hostile designs against Russia, and he came to recognize that the permanent weakening of France was not in accordance with Russian political interests. He determined, therefore, to oppose any further disturbance of the balance of power in favoui of Germany, and when the treaty of Skierniewice expired in 1887 he declined to renew it. From that time Russia gravitated slowly towards an alliance with France, and sought to create a counterpoise against the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy.

The tsar was reluctant to bind himself by a formal treaty, because the French government did not offer the requisite guarantees of stability, and because he feared that it might be induced, by the prospect of Russian support, to assume an aggressive attitude towards Germany. He recognized, however, that in the event of a great European war the two nations would in all probability be found fighting on the same side, and that if they made no preparations for concerted military action they would be placed at a grave disadvantage in comparison with their opponents of the Triple Alliance, who were believed to have already worked out an elaborate plan of campaign. In view of this contingency the Russian and French military authorities studied the military questions in common, and the result of their labours was the preparation of a military convention, which was finally ratified in 1894. During this period the relations between the two governments and the two countries became much more cordial. In the summer of 1891 the visit to Kronstadt of a French squadron under Admiral Gervais was made the occasion for an enthusiastic demonstration in favour of a Franco-Russian alliance; and two years later (October 1893) a still more enthusiastic reception was given to the Russian Admiral Avelan and his officers when they visited Toulon and Paris.

But it was not till after the death of Alexander III that the word "alliance" was used publicly by official personages. In 1895 the term was first publicly employed by M. Kibot, then president of the council, in the Chamber of Deputies, but the expressions he used were so vague that they did not entirely remove the prevailing doubts as to the existence of a formal treaty. Two years later (August 1897), during the official visit of M. Félix Faure to St Petersburg, a little more light was thrown on the subject. In the complimentary speeches delivered by the president of the French Republic and the tsar, France and Russia were referred to as allies, and the term "nations alliées" was afterwards repeatedly used on occasions of a similar kind.

In south-eastern Europe Alexander III adopted an attitude of reserve and expectancy. He greatly increased and strengthened his Black Sea fleet, so as to be ready for any emergency that might arise, and in June 1886, contrary to the declaration made in the Treaty of Berlin (Art. 59), he ordered Batum to be transformed into a fortified naval port, but in the Balkan Peninsula he persistently refrained, under a good deal of provocation, from any inteivention that might lead to a European war. The Bulgarian government, first under Prince Alexander and afterwards under the direction of M. Stamboloff, pursued systematically an anti-Russian policy, but the cabinet of St Petersburg confined itself officially to breaking off diplomatic relations and making diplomatic protests, and unofficially to giving tacit encouragement to revolutionary agitation.

In Asia, during the reign of Alexander III the expansion of Russian domination made considerable progress. A few weeks after his accession he sanctioned the annexation of the territory of the Tekke Turkomans, which had been conquered by General Skobelev, and in 1884 he formally annexed the Mcrv oasis without military operations. He then allowed the military authorities to push forward in the direction of Afghanistan, until in March 1885 an engagement took place between Russian and Afghan forces at Panjdeh. Thereupon the British government, which had been for some time carrying on negotiations with the cabinet of St Petersburg for a delimitation of the Russo-Afghan frontier, intervened energetically and prepared for war; but a compromise was effected, and after more than two years of negotiation a delimitation convention was signed at St Petersburg on 2oth July 1887. The forward movement of Russia was thus stopped in the direction of Herat, but it continued with great activity farther east in the region of the Pamirs, until another Anglo-Russian convention was signed in 1895. During the whole reign of Alexander III. the increase of territory in Central Asia is calculated by Russian authorities at 439,895 square kilometers.

On 1st November 1894 Alexander III. died, and was succeeded by his son, Nicholas II., who, partly from similarity of character and partly from veneration for his father's memory, continued the existing lines of policy in home and foreign affairs.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2019 10:16:51 ZULU