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Foreign Policy of Nicholas II (1894-1917)

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. In foreign affairs Nicholas II. likewise continued the policy of his predecessor, with certain modifications suggested by the change of circumstances. In 1889, it was at his initiative that the International Peace Conference met at The Hague in Holland, having for its object the promotion of universal peace.

Tsar Nicholas II had no policy at all, either in the economy or in internal affairs, or in relations with other states. In any matter, his actions were not determined by some kind of right or wrong strategy, but were only a reaction to current events and were the result of the influence of certain individuals who were close to the emperor at the right moment.

The Dual Alliance had just been made between Russia and France, and a great amount of capital was loaned by the French. He strengthened the cordial understanding with France by a formal agreement, the terms of which were not divulged, but he never encouraged the French government in any aggressive designs, and he maintained friendly relations with Germany.

No doubt, France became an ally of Russia in 1893 in the reign of Alexander III, and the crown prince Nikolai had nothing to do with the conclusion of the treaty. But the "king-peacemaker" made an alliance with France, not only against Germany, but also against England. For some reason, they almost forgot about all our historians. In fact, in the 80s and 90s of the XIX century, France several times was on the verge of an armed clash with the "mistress of the seas."

For some time in the latter part of the nineteenth century Russian foreign policy continued as it had been in the earlier part; friendship was maintained with Prussia and the German Empire, and Russia continued to try to expand to the sea. Her efforts to dominate the Balkans and, perhaps, control Constantinople were frustrated by Great Britain after the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, and thereafter by the opposition of Austria-Hungary. Germany drew closer in alliance with the Dual Monarchy, but under Bismarck's masterly handling of foreign relations Russia was bound to Germany by a secret treaty. In 1890, however, the new German Emperor refused to prolong this, and Russia soon joined France in the Dual Alliance, changing her foreign policy completely. She now had increasingly the opposition of Germany as well as of Austria in the Balkans, and while continuing to take great interest in affairs there she turned her attention more and more to expanding her dominions in Asia.

In the Balkan Peninsula a slight change of attitude took place. Alexander III, indignant at what he considered the ingratitude of the Slav nationalities, remained coldly aloof, as far as possible, from all intervention in their affairs. About three months after his death, de Giers, who thoroughly approved of this attitude, died (26th January 1895), and his successor, Prince Lobanov, minister of foreign affairs from 19th March 1895 to 20th August 1896, endeavoured to recover what he considered Russia's legitimate influence in the Slav world.

For this purpose Russian diplomacy became more active in south-eastern Europe. The result was perceived first in Montenegro and Servia, and then in Bulgaria. Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria had long been anxious to legalize his position by a reconciliation, and as soon as he got rid of Stamboloff he made advances to the Russian government. They were well received, and a reconciliation was effected on certain conditions, the first of which was that Prince Ferdinand's eldest son and heir should become a member of thi Eastern Orthodox Church. As another means of opposing Western influence in south-eastern Europe, Prince Lobanov inclined to the policy of protecting rather than weakening the Ottoman empire. When the British government seemed disposed to use coercive measures for the protection of the Armenians, he gave it clearly to be understood that any such proceeding would be opposed by Russia.

After Prince Lobanov's death and the appointment of Count Muraviev as his- successor in January 1897, this tendency of Russian policy became less marked. In April 1897, it is true, when the Greeks provoked a war with Turkey, they received no support from St Petersburg, but at the close of the war the tsar showed himself more friendly to them; and afterwards, when it proved extremely difficult to find a suitable person as governor-general of Crete (see Crete), he recommended the appointment of his cousin, Prince George of Greece -a selection which was pretty sure to accelerate the union of the island with the Hellenic kingdom. How far the recommendation was due to personal feeling, as opposed to political considerations, it is impossible to say.

In Asia, after the accession of Nicholas II, the expansion of Russia, following the line of least resistance and stimulated by the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway, and Japan took the direction of northern China and the effete lathe little kingdom of Korea. A great part of the eastern section of the railway was constructed on Chinese territory, and elaborate preparations were made for bringing Manchuria within the sphere of Russian influence. With this view, the cabinet of St Petersburg, at the close of the Chino-Japanese War in 1895, objected to all annexations by Japan in that quarter, and insisted on having the treaty of Shimonoseki modified eccordingly. Subsequently, by obtaining from the Tsunguf-Yaman a long lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan and a concession to unite those ports with the Trans-Siberian by a branch line, she tightened her hold on that portion of the Chinese empire and prepared to complete the work of aggression by so-called "spontaneous infiltration." From Manchuria, it was assumed, the political influence and spontaneous infiltration would naturally spread to Korea, and on the deeply indented coast of the Hermit Kingdom might be constructed new ports and arsenals more spacious and strategically more important than Port Arthur.

This grandiose project was unexpectedly destroyed by the energetic resistance of Japan, who had ear-marked the Hermit Kingdom for herself, and who declared plainly that she would never tolerate the exclusive influence of Russia in Manchuria. In vain the Russian diplomatists sought to overcome her opposition by dilatory negotiations, in the firm conviction that a small island kingdom in the Pacific would never have the audacity to attack a power which had conquered and absorbed the whole of Northern Asia. Their calculations proved erroneous. Convinced that the onward march of the Colossus could not be permanently arrested by mere diplomatic conventions, the cabinet of Tokio suddenly broke off diplomatic relations and commenced hostilities (February 8, 1904). For Russia the war proved a scries of uninterrupted reverses both on land and on sea, until it was terminated by the treaty of Portsmouth in October 1905. What contributed powerfully to the conclusion of peace was the fact that the Russian government was hampered by internal troubles.

During the Russian-Japanese war, London actually became an ally of Tokyo. And Paris betrayed St. Petersburg and took a position of hostile neutrality, that is, the French government interpreted the controversial provisions of international law in the interests of Japan. After the war, Nicholas II entered into an alliance with England, the worst enemy of Russia. Russian ministers began to prepare for war with Germany.

In the years between the Revolution of 1905 and the Great War the country seemed to settle down; slowly the harsh measures of government were lessened; the ravages of the war were repaired; the army was strengthened; a great appropriation was made to rebuild the navy; and increasingly Russia took her place once more in European councils. Again she became a powerful member of the Dual Alliance, and presently settling her differences with England, along with England and France made the Triple Entente. Her expansion in the Far East having been checked she turned again with greater interest to the Balkans, coming there into more and more dangerous rivalry with Austria-Hungary and the German Empire. It was this clash of interests which produced the Bosnian crisis of 1908-9, in which Russia yielded; the crisis of 1912, occasioned by the Balkan War, in which she held her own; and the crisis of 1914, which led to the War of the Nations, in which Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the German Empire all went down into ruin.

As early as February 1914, a prominent statesman, former Interior Minister Peter Durnovo, submitted an extensive report to Nicholas II. It emphasized that even a victory over the Germans would not give Russia anything of value: “Poznan? East Prussia? But why do we need these areas, densely populated by the Poles, when we are not so easy to cope with the Russian Poles? .. ”Galicia? This, Durnovo noted, is a hotbed of dangerous “Little Russian separatism”.

At the same time, “the conclusion of a favorable trade agreement with Germany does not at all require the preliminary defeat of Germany.” On the contrary, in the event of such a defeat, "we would lose a valuable market." In addition, Russia would have fallen into "financial bondage" to its creditors allies. Germany also does not need war; she herself could have torn away from Russia only low-value for her, densely populated areas: Poland and the Ostsee region.

Nowhere in Europe was the old order so completely altered by the War as in Russia. At the beginning of the War the Russian armies had considerable success; but in 1915 the Teutonic allies defeated them completely, and from this disaster the Russians never recovered. It was then seen that an agricultural state, not well organized, could sustain no long conflict with an industrial power well organized and equipped. Russian war supplies were exhausted, the transportation system broke down, immense numbers of men had been killed or wounded, the country was filled with miserable refugees from provinces taken by the foe.

Czar Nicholas II assumed command of the troops on the front in September 1915, leaving the German-born Czarina Alexandra in St. Petersburg directing internal policy. The czarina had come under the influence of the monk Rasputin, who placed his protégés in positions of power and manipulated government policy until his murder in 1916. Military desertions and street demonstrations at home severely weakened the nation and forced Nicholas II to abdicate in March 1917. The provisional government pledged to continue the war, which led to new demonstrations.

In July 1917 Alexander Kerensky took control of the government and promised the Allies that Russia would not make a separate peace with the Germans. The Bolshevik October Revolution brought Vladimir Lenin to power. Lenin's vow to end the war and open negotiations with the Germans provoked the Allies and led to the detachment of a military excursion to oppose the newly established government and aid rebels who had begun a civil war to oust the Bolsheviks. In July 1918 the Czar, Czarina, their four daughters, and son were executed by the Bolsheviks in Ekatrinburg, where they had been held captive.

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Page last modified: 19-01-2019 18:40:38 ZULU