Warm Water Ports - Constantinople

The desire for uncontrolled access to the Mediterranean was a strong motive for seeking to possess Constantnople, that mistress of two seas whose position as the meeting point of Europe and Asia gave it a unique international importance. The key to the foreign policies of Russia in the nineteeth and at the beginning of the twentieth century is furnished by her efforts to secure possession of the Straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles, the southern door of the Russian house through which she has been constantly menaced and several times injured, first by the Turks and then by European self-interested friends of the Turks. Not only the diplomatic and military activities of Russia in Europe but also very largely those in Asia are explained by her vital interest in the Straits.

Russia had for a long time cast a longing eye upon Turkey. And, indeed, it was only natural that she should do so. That Turkey must soon fall to pieces was evident at the time of the Crimean War, and she had shown symptoms of dissolution ever since. From the days of Catherine this desire to extend her territories towards the south had become intensified in Russia. And, indeed, Christian Europe owed some debt of gratitude to that country for having kept alive the faint spark of Orthodox belief, which was fast becoming extinct under Mussulman oppression. Had it not been for her protection, the rest of the rayahs would long since, like the Bosnians, have adopted Islamism to avoid persecution.

Nicholas I believed that the time had come to seize Constantinople. He saw that the "sick man" was in a hopeless condition, and he was willing that England should take Egypt, if he were left in possession of the city of the Bosphorus. England drifted into the war, and was eagerly joined by Napoleon III, who wished to divert the attention of his subjects from home affairs, and give a prestige to the new reign. Accordingly England and France declared war against Russia on March 24,1854, but the first hostile encounter between the Russians and Turks had taken place the previous year on Oct. 23rd at Isakcha. On Jan. 4th the Allied fleets had entered the Black Sea, and on March nth the Baltic Fleet sailed from Spithead. Sevastopol was invested by the Allies. During this memorable siege, the Tsar Nicholas died (March 2, 1855) ; he seemed tired of life, and rashly exposed himself to the severe weather of the Russian spring. He would probably never have embarked upon the war had not the wavering conduct of the English encouraged him. Among the old-fashioned Tories the Russians and their Tsar were held in especial honour, and Nicholas had many personal friends among the nobility. At the beginning of the year 1856 (Feb. 25th) the Treaty of Paris was signed, by which Russia for a time lost her right to have ships of war in the Black Sea, and consented to cede a portion of Bessarabia to the newly created state of Roumania. Subsequently Russia regained all that was taken from her.

Recovering with amazing rapidity from her defeat by Japan in 1905, she turned her earnest attention to the expansion of the doctrine of "Pan-Slavism," with hers as the dominant voice in the movement. Out of this grew the Balkan War and the Slavic intrigues, with the resultant dismemberment and weakening of Turkey. Russia had always fished best in troubled waters. Temporarily blocked in the far East by Japan, she determined to lose no further time in securing the port of Constantinople, with its wonderful defensive entrance to the Black Sea and its command of the Suez Canal and the waterborne commerce of the East. For the modern navy which she started to build after the destruction of her fleets by Japan she needed a warm-water port, an advantage which the Baltic denied to her.

Early in August 1946 Russia delivered a note to Turkey demanding that the Istanbul Straits be closed to all warships other than those of Black Sea Powers to whom they were to be always open, and that the Straits be defended by joint Russian and Turkish forces. Passage of ships through the Istanbul Straits is regulated by the Montreux Convention of 20 July 1936. This gave Turkey the right to fortify the Straits, which had been previously forbidden by the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923. Turkey immediately took advantage of the permission and fortified the Straits. During World War II she closed them to warships of all belligerents.

If granted the Russian demands would permit its warships to sally out into the Mediaterranean at will during war and to withdraw whenever desirable. Her fortification of the Strait would ensure that no outside Power could send its ships into the Black Sea which would become for military purposes a Russian inland lake of refuge.

Turkey did not object to passage of warships as may be agreed upon by the Powers, but she did not desire to grant Russia garrisons along the Straits. However, Turkey was not in a position to wage war alone against Russia. Turkey had large ground forces, but they were divided between an east and west frontier with inferior lines of communication between them. Either or both of these frontiers were open to attack by Russia, who in both cases had superior lines of communication to the frontier. All of Turkey's Black Sea coast was open to Russian amphibious attacks as Turkey had no navy except a few insignificant vessels. Neither had she an air force worth mentioning, nor heavy artillery or armor other than a few models.

Turkey had a Military Pact with Great Britain and France made in October, 1939. This had been secret and it was not known at the time whether or not it provides for Turkey's receiving aid from those two nations in case of war with Russia.

On 19 August 1946, the United States advised Russia by letter that it could not consent to garrisons other than Turkish along the Istanbul Straits and that any revision of the Montreux Convention should be directed through the United Nations. Great Britain has sent a similar letter. This left this important strategical problem unsettled, with Turkey practically assured that she would be supported by the Americans and British in holding on to the Straits.

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