Tsarist Russia: Crimean War and Treaty of San-Stefano

European Nations in 18th and 19th Century

Tsarist Russia and Ottoman Empire

In the last post, we have read that Ottoman Empire started declining at the end of the 19th century. The declining Ottoman Empire was a good opportunity for Russia to dominate the Silk Route. In 1774 by the treaty of Küçük Kaynarca Russia got the Crimea from Turkey and thus reached the Black Sea.

The real interest of Russia was in Constantinople. The Tsar of Russia considered himself as a successor of the Byzantine emperors. A series of wars took place between Tsarist Russia and Ottoman Empire. In 1792 and 1802 the Tsarist Russia kept on expanding towards Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire was receding.

Tsarist Russia: Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca
Tsarist Russia: Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca

Tsarist Russia and Britain

There was an intense rivalry between the Tsarist Russia and Britain. The possession of Indian Subcontinent brought the British right up to the Russian frontier. Britishers were continually having nightmares as to what Tsarist Russia might do to India.

Declining Ottoman Empire was alarming for the Britain, As the Russia was on its way to take advantage of this decline. Britain was on suspicion that possession of Constantinople to Tsarist Russia would have given a fine port in the Mediterranean. This would enable Russia to keep a naval contingent near the route to India. So, Britain instead of making an alliance with Tsarist Russia supported the Ottoman Empire or Turkey.

Tsarist Russia and Austria

Austria too helped Turkey against its war with Tsarist Russia. Austria too was interested in keeping Russia away. In the 18th century, Austria was one of the old masters of Europe. At the end of the 18th century Germany, Hungary and the many Balkan States were the part of Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But after the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and unification of Germany, there was an intense rise of nationalism in these states. They all were struggling with Ottoman Empire for independence. As the Ottoman Empire started declining and breaking into pieces, It proved to be a golden chance for the Austria to have a good share in the Balkan States.

Crimean War of 1854-1856

The Ottoman Empire was in great trouble because of its powerful neighbours. Tsarist Russia referring to Turkey said to the British Ambassador in 1853:

We have on our hands a sick man, a very sick man… He may die suddenly upon our hands…

This phrase became very popular and Turkey was henceforth the “Sick Man of Europe”. Russia ruler Tsar Nicholas-I made a proposal to Britain and other European powers. In his proposal, he invited the all Christian Powers to unite and eliminate the Muslim Power i.e. Ottoman Empire.

Crimea War of 1854-1856
Crimea War of 1854-1856

Britain rejected this proposal because it did not want to see Tsarist Russia in its pathways to Asia. Tsarist Russia took personal initiative and entered into the Eastern Europe. It occupied the territory around the river Danube. The war started between Russia and Turkey. Britain and Austria stood in the support of Turkey. This alliance defeated Russia into this war.

Paris Peace Conference of 1856

Bosnia-Herzegovina Famine
Bosnia-Herzegovina Famine

After defeating Russia, Paris Peace Conference of 1856 was conducted. In which the Sultan of Ottoman Empire promised to give equal status to the people of eastern Europe. But Sultan failed to fulfil his promises. Soon, the eastern Europe became the victim of the Famine in which the most affected states were Bosnia-Herzegovina. After few years in 1877, Bulgaria attacked Turkey. Tsarist Russia immediately gave the assistance to the Bulgaria. Bulgaria with the help of Russia defeated the Turkey.

Treaty of San-Stefano

Treaty of San-Stefano
Treaty of San-Stefano

Turkey was compelled to accept the treaty of San-Stefano in 1877. The terms of this treaty were,

  1. Turkey accepted the independence of Serbia and Montenegro.
  2. Bulgaria became an autonomous state and Russia became the protector of Bulgaria.
  3. The Black Sea became the zone of Russia influence.

This treaty of San-Stefano became the pain for Britain. British Prime Minister Disraeli gave warning to the Tsarist Russia to revise the treaty otherwise be ready for the consequences. The delegates of all European Powers met in Berlin in 1878 to decide the fate of Turkey.

In this conference, Bismarck stood as a messenger of peace. The Berlin Congress of 1878 decided the fate of Turkey and also watered the seed of the World War- I.

About the Berlin Congress of 1878, we will discuss in our next coming post.

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