Foreign Affairs after the Crimean War
After the Crimean War, Russia pursued cautious and well-calculated foreign policies until nationalist passions and another Balkan crisis almost caused a catastrophic war in the late 1870s. The 1856 Treaty of Paris, signed at the end of the Crimean War,
had demilitarized the Black Sea and deprived Russia of southern Bessarabia and a narrow strip of land at the mouth of the Danube River. The treaty gave the West European powers the nominal duty of protecting Christians living in the Ottoman Empire, remov
ing that role from Russia, which had been designated as such a protector in the 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji. Russia's primary goal during the first phase of Alexander II's foreign policy was to alter the Treaty of Paris to regain naval access to the Bl
ack Sea. Russian statesmen viewed Britain and Austria (redesignated as Austria-Hungary in 1867) as opposed to that goal, so foreign policy concentrated on good relations with France, Prussia, and the United States. Prussia (Germany as of 1871) replaced Br
itain as Russia's chief banker in this period.
Following the Crimean War, the regime revived its expansionist policies. Russian troops first moved to gain control of the Caucasus region, where the revolts of Muslim tribesmen--Chechens, Cherkess, and Dagestanis--had continued despite numerous Russia
n campaigns in the nineteenth century. Once the forces of Aleksandr Baryatinskiy had captured the legendary Chechen rebel leader Shamil in 1859, the army resumed the expansion into Central Asia that had begun under Nicholas I. The capture of Tashkent was
a significant victory over the Quqon (Kokand) Khanate, part of which was annexed in 1866. By 1867 Russian forces had captured enough territory to form the Guberniya (Governorate General) of Turkestan, the capital of which was Tashkent. The Bukhoro (Bukhar
a) Khanate then lost the crucial Samarqand area to Russian forces in 1868. To avoid alarming Britain, which had strong interests in protecting nearby India, Russia left the Bukhoran territories directly bordering Afghanistan and Persia nominally independe
nt. The Central Asian khanates retained a degree of autonomy until 1917.
Russia followed the United States, Britain, and France in establishing relations with Japan, and, together with Britain and France, Russia obtained concessions from China consequent to the Second Opium War (1856-60). Under the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 a
nd the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, China ceded to Russia extensive trading rights and regions adjacent to the Amur and Ussuri rivers and allowed Russia to begin building a port and naval base at Vladivostok. Meanwhile, in 1867 the logic of the balance of p
ower and the cost of developing and defending the Amur-Ussuri region dictated that Russia sell Alaska to the United States in order to acquire much-needed funds.
As part of the regime's foreign policy goals in Europe, Russia initially gave guarded support to France's anti-Austrian diplomacy. A weak Franco-Russian entente soured, however, when France backed a Polish uprising against Russian rule in 1863. Russia
then aligned itself more closely with Prussia by approving the unification of Germany in exchange for a revision of the Treaty of Paris and the remilitarization of the Black Sea. These diplomatic achievements came at a London conference in 1871, following
France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. After 1871 Germany, united under Prussian leadership, was the strongest continental power in Europe. In 1873 Germany formed the loosely knit League of the Three Emperors with Russia and Austria-Hungary to preve
nt them from forming an alliance with France. Nevertheless, Austro-Hungarian and Russian ambitions clashed in the Balkans, where rivalries among Slavic nationalities and anti-Ottoman sentiments seethed. In the 1870s, Russian nationalist opinion became a
serious domestic factor in its support for liberating Balkan Christians from Ottoman rule and making Bulgaria and Serbia quasi-protectorates of Russia. From 1875 to 1877, the Balkan crisis escalated with rebellions in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria, wh
ich the Ottoman Turks suppressed with such great cruelty that Serbia, but none of the West European powers, declared war.
In early 1877, Russia came to the rescue of beleaguered Serbian and Russian volunteer forces when it went to war with the Ottoman Empire. Within one year, Russian troops were nearing Constantinople, and the Ottomans surrendered. Russia's nationalist di
plomats and generals persuaded Alexander II to force the Ottomans to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, creating an enlarged, independent Bulgaria that stretched into the southwestern Balkans. When Britain threatened to declare war over the ter
ms of the Treaty of San Stefano, an exhausted Russia backed down. At the Congress of Berlin in July 1878, Russia agreed to the creation of a smaller Bulgaria. Russian nationalists were furious with Austria-Hungary and Germany for failing to back Russia, b
ut the tsar accepted a revived and strengthened League of the Three Emperors as well as Austro-Hungarian hegemony in the western Balkans.
Russian diplomatic and military interests subsequently returned to Central Asia, where Russia had quelled a series of uprisings in the 1870s, and Russia incorporated hitherto independent amirates into the empire. Britain renewed its concerns in 1881 wh
en Russian troops occupied Turkmen lands on the Persian and Afghan borders, but Germany lent diplomatic support to Russian advances, and an Anglo-Russian war was averted. Meanwhile, Russia's sponsorship of Bulgarian independence brought negative results a
s the Bulgarians, angry at Russia's continuing interference in domestic affairs, sought the support of Austria-Hungary. In the dispute that arose between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Germany took a firm position toward Russia while mollifying the tsar with
a bilateral defensive alliance, the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 between Germany and Russia. Within a year, Russo-German acrimony led to Bismarck's forbidding further loans to Russia, and France replaced Germany as Russia's financier. When Kaiser Wilhelm I
I dismissed Bismarck in 1890, the loose Russo-Prussian entente collapsed after having lasted for more than twenty-five years. Three years later, Russia allied itself with France by entering into a joint military convention, which matched the dual alliance
formed in 1879 by Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Rise of Revolutionary Movements
Alexander II's reforms, particularly the lifting of state censorship, fostered the expression of political and social thought. The regime relied on journals and newspapers to gain support for its domestic and foreign policies. But liberal, nationalist,
and radical writers also helped to mold public opinion that was opposed to tsarism, private property, and the imperial state. Because many intellectuals, professionals, peasants, and workers shared these opposition sentiments, the regime regarded the pub
lications and the radical organizations as dangerous. From the 1860s through the 1880s, Russian radicals, collectively known as Populists (Narodniki), focused chiefly on the peasantry, whom they identified as "the people" (narod
The leaders of the Populist movement included radical writers, idealists, and advocates of terrorism. In the 1860s, Nikolay Chernyshevskiy, the most important radical writer of the period, posited that Russia could bypass capitalism and move directly t
o socialism (see Glossary). His most influential work, What Is to Be Done?
(1861), describes the role of an individual of a "superior nature" who guides a new, revolutionary generation. Other radicals such as the incendiary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and his terrorist collaborator, Sergey Nechayev, urged direct action. The calme
r Petr Tkachev argued against the advocates of Marxism (see Glossary), maintaining that a centralized revolutionary band had to seize power before capitalism could fully develop. Disputing his views, the moralist and individualist Petr Lavrov made a call
"to the people," which hundreds of idealists heeded in 1873 and 1874 by leaving their schools for the countryside to try to generate a mass movement among the narod
. The Populist campaign failed, however, when the peasants showed hostility to the urban idealists and the government began to consider nationalist opinion more seriously.
The radicals reconsidered their approach, and in 1876 they formed a propagandist organization called Land and Liberty (Zemlya i volya), which leaned toward terrorism. This orientation became stronger three years later, when the group renamed itself the
People's Will (Narodnaya volya), the name under which the radicals were responsible for the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. In 1879 Georgiy Plekhanov formed a propagandist faction of Land and Liberty called Black Repartition (Chernyy peredel), whi
ch advocated redistributing all land to the peasantry. This group studied Marxism, which, paradoxically, was principally concerned with urban industrial workers. The People's Will remained underground, but in 1887 a young member of the group, Aleksandr Ul
'yanov, attempted to assassinate Alexander III, and authorities arrested and executed him. The execution greatly affected Vladimir Ul'yanov, Aleksandr's brother. Influenced by Chernyshevskiy's writings, Vladimir joined the People's Will, and later, inspir
ed by Plekhanov, he converted to Marxism. The younger Ul'yanov later changed his name to Lenin.
Data as of July 1996