Behind the Iron Curtain – Chapter XI (first part)


In the first two chapters of this study it was pointed out that Russia’s imperialistic tendencies extended in two directions in Europe. One of them is directed westwards, across a subdued Poland and a possibly communized Germany, to the fascinating regions of Western Europe, the cradle of civilization for the past thousand years. The other is directed southwards, across a disintegrated Rumania, against Italy, Greece and Turkey, to the Mediterranean and the routes of the great World Trade. The latter tendency is obviously predominating for the present time.

The achievement of Rumania’s disintegration would lead to the disappearance of any serious resistance in the southern part of the present Russian zone of influence, east of the frontiers of Italy and north of the frontiers of Greece and Turkey.


39. Russian expansion towards the Mediterranean in the past.

The Russian expansion towards the Mediterranean and the routes of the great World Trade did not start today. It began under Peter the Great, 250 years ago, and was generally known as “Peter the Great’s Testament”. Since then, Russia’s southward tendencies have become an outstanding tradition in her foreign policy and openly revealed as often as the great Eastern Power was governed by a strong personality. Peter the Great as well as Catherine II, Nicholas I as well as Alexander II perseverently looked southwards. Today, Generalissimo Stalin and his Foreign Minister Molotov are but renewing the same old Russian tradition.

Peter the Great established an access to the Sea of Azov and built the port of Taganrog shortly before 1700. Catherine II reached the Black Sea in 1774 by the treaty of Kűtchűk – Kainardji and 25 years later the French “émigrés” Richelieu and Langeron built the port of Odessa. Throughout the nineteenth century, until the First World War, Tsarist Russia attempted to extend her territory and get an access to the Aegean Sea, either by the conquest of Constantinople and the Straits or directly through the Rumanian Principalities and the then Turkish territory of Bulgaria.

The history of these Russian attempts represented the famous “Eastern Question”, the nightmare of European diplomacy during a whole century, from the treaty of Bucharest (1812) until that of Brest – Litovsk (1918).

Russia met with England’s opposition every time she was in a situation enabling her to realize her ambitions and get an access to the Aegean. England intervened either by war, by diplomatic pressure or by using internal dissension in Russia herself.

In 1853, the armies of Tsar Nicholas I occupied the Rumanian Principalities and attacked Turkey on the Danube. After a long hesitation, England allied to Napoleon III’s France declared war on Russia, attacked her in the Crimea and after the interminable siege of Sebastopol compelled her to renounce her supremacy in the Black Sea. As a symbol for the decrease of Russian power, a part of Southern Bessarabia was given back to the Rumanian Principalities and Russia’s access to the Danube was cut off[1].

The real leader of England’s foreign policy was at that time Lord Palmerston who with but short interruptions had been in charge of the Foreign Office from 1830 until 1852. Lord Palmerston had not easily convinced the timorous Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, that England’s interests demanded a war against Russia. English public opinion, however, supported him and still before the fall of Sebastopol Lord Palmerston was himself Prime Minister. Peace with Russia was signed by his Foreign Minister Lord Clarendon in 1856.

In 1877, the armies of Tsar Alexander II occupied Rumania more or less with her permission – crossed the Danube, defeated the Turks at Plevna with the assistance of the Rumanian Army and finally reached the walls of Constantinople. There, at San Stefano, they imposed upon Turkey a treaty which granted Russia an access to the Aegean through a newly created vassal Bulgaria. England did not acknowledge the accomplished fact, sent her fleet to Constantinople, threatened war and obliged Russia to renounce the treaty of San Stefano.

At the Berlin Congress, England assisted by Bismarck’s Germany forced Russia to abandon the access to the Aegean. As a compensation, Russia was given back the part of Southern Bessarabia lost in 1856 and allowed to annex the territory of Kars, Batum and Artvin on the Asiatic frontier of Turkey. England’s policy was then led by Lord Beaconsfield. The latter had been unable to convince his Foreign Minister Lord Derby that an intervention was necessary and had been compelled to replace him during the open crisis by Lord Salisbury.

In 1915, during the First World War, Russia made a new attempt for the Mediterranean and the occupation of the Straits. England was obliged to yield by the interallied London agreements and to promise Russia the Straits at the conclusion of peace. England was at that time allied to Russia against Germany, whereas Turkey was allied to Germany. The leader of the Foreign Office was Sir Edward Grey, an enlighted conscience and a convinced pacifist, but whose wavering policy had been unable to stop the outbreak of the war.

Two years later, in 1917, still in full war, the Revolution broke out in Russia and the Tsarist regime was overthrown. The democratic patriot Miliukov, who still asked for the Straits, was unable to lead the Russian foreign policy for more than two months. He was followed by Kerenski who was himself overthrown by Lenin and the Soviet regime. The latter were at that time antimilitarist and pacifist and there was no more question of the Straits. The British Ambassador in Petrograd was then Sir George Buchanan, a specialist of Near East questions, and the leader of the Foreign Office was Lord Balfour who as early as 1878 had been parliamentary Secretary to his uncle Lord Salisbury and thus was better acquainted than anybody else with the traditional policy of England towards Russia.

[1] It should be recalled that Bessarabia, which had never before belonged to Russia, was annexed to this country in 1812 by the Treaty of Bucharest.

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