Where did it all go wrong for Russia?

MEV-10289679 - © - Mary Evans / John Massey Stewart Collection

The short answer is: when Tsar Nicholas II offered his country and its population up to Britain in its Great War of 1914 to destroy Germany and break up the Ottoman Empire. In waging that War, in which Russia was bled to collapse in return for substantial British finance to continue fighting to the bitter end, the Tsar sealed the fate of himself, his dynasty and his State. And it has taken Russia, and the World, a century to recover from that momentous decision.

The Tsar had been warned for a long time before about the dangerous road he was taking by his most able and impressive minister, Count Witte, who Nicholas had unfortunately dismissed in 1903. But he received one final warning before he finally took Russia to the abyss.

It came from Pyotr Durnovo, Count Witte’s old Interior Minister, who had effectively suppressed the 1905 Revolution for the Tsar. Durnovo was a conservative monarchist who believed that it was not in Russia’s interest to fight a costly war with an uncertain outcome against Germany, another state of traditional character. He thought the outcome of such a destructive war would only help further the inserts of Russia’s geopolitical enemy, Britain, and that rapprochement with Germany should be taken as a more prudent course by the Tsar.

In a long memorandum to the Tsar, written in February 1914, Durnovo set out his case to his leader. He warned about the drift of Russian Foreign Policy toward war, since 1907, in alliance with England and France, over the Pan-Slavic cause in the Balkans. It is one of the most magnificently prophetic pieces of writing in World history and is, therefore, worthy of re-publication. It can be found in full below this commentary.

A copy of the Durnovo Memorandum was found among the Tsar’s most valued personal papers when he was arrested in 1917. It might have been that Nicholas had come to realise the wisdom of Durnovo’s warning and saw the document as a kind of guide to what future travails would befall his country as a result of the decision to go to war. Or it might be that the Tsar kept it to remind the doubters how wrong they had been when the Russian Steamroller rolled into Berlin and Istanbul had become Tsargrad. We will never know.

It shows an unusually perceptive understanding of the nature of the Great War that was about to fought and why it was the wrong course for Russia to take. And history verifies its almost faultless predictive accuracy.

Durnovo made no bones about describing the war he saw coming as being about the rivalry that had developed between Germany and England over recent decades. It was, really, none of Russia’s business. Durnovo told the Tsar that the British would, through necessity, expand this war into a world war, and wage it with such a formidable group of allies that success was highly probable. It would seize the small number of German colonies, stop Germany’s trade and destroy her navy. Durnovo also accurately predicted the main line ups as France, Russia, Britain, Italy, Serbia and Romania against Germany, Austro-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria with the U.S. coming in later on the British side.

Durnovo saw no good in the Tsar’s 1907 agreement with England and plenty of danger for Russia in what it was now entailing. It was the pivotal event on the Russian road to destruction. After a discussion about the supposed benefits to Russia in the Far East and Persia of the Anglo-Russian Convention, Durnovo stated: “To sum up, the Anglo-Russian accord has brought us nothing of practical value up to this time, while for the future, it threatens us with an inevitable armed clash with Germany.”

Durnovo correctly foresaw that the main burden of the war would fall on Russia and her population, as the Allies’ “battering ram”. The French, with their declining population, could only possibly provide a holding operation in the West, whilst the British would use the sea to their own selfish advantage, as per usual. That was, after all, the British way in warfare and Empire building.

In conclusion, Durnovo advised the Tsar:

“A summary of all that has been stated above must lead to the conclusion that a rapprochement with England does not promise us any benefits, and that the English orientation of our diplomacy is essentially wrong. We do not travel the same road as England; she should be left to go her own way, and we must not quarrel on her account with Germany.

The Triple Entente is an artificial combination, without a basis of real interest. It has nothing to look forward to. The future belongs to a close and incomparably more vital rapprochement of Russia, Germany, France (reconciled with Germany), and Japan (allied to Russia by a strictly defensive union). A political combination like this, lacking all aggressiveness toward other States, would safeguard for many years the peace of the civilized nations, threatened, not by the militant intentions of Germany, as English diplomacy is trying to show, but solely by the perfectly natural striving of England to retain at all costs her vanishing domination of the seas. In this direction, and not in the fruitless search of a basis for an accord with England, which is in its very nature contrary to our national plans and aims, should all the efforts of our diplomacy be concentrated.

 It goes without saying that Germany, on her part, must meet our desire to restore our well-tested relations and friendly alliance with her, and to elaborate, in closest agreement with us, such terms of our neighborly existence as to afford no basis for anti-German agitation on the part of our constitutional-liberal parties, which, by their very nature, are forced to adhere, not to a Conservative German, but to a liberal English orientation.”

The Tsar could have not been presented with better analysis of the dangerous situation Russia was propelling itself toward and more astute advice about what to do instead. But evidently Durnovo’s advice was ignored by the Tsar and his war mongering ministers and they proceeded to lead their country to destruction.

Count Witte and the Russia Threat

By the last decade of the 19thCentury the Russian Empire had grown into the largest state in the world, in terms of continuous territory. It was not as large as the British Empire, but Greater Britain was an empire on many continents, held together by a navy. The Russian Empire had a population of 150 million and it had expanded at a rate of over 50 miles a day over the previous centuries.

After the Russian Revolution fatal weaknesses were found to exist within the Tsarist system, but that is not how things were seen from Britain at the turn of the century. Russia was a “Going Concern” of enormous size and considerable power. As a sure sign of its health, both capital and people migrated there in considerable amounts. And it was the state that Britain undoubtedly feared most in the World.

Tsarist Russia was not the declining decrepit state that it is often portrayed as, in histories written after 1917. But the astonishing resurrection of Russia under the Bolsheviks, from where the Tsar and the Russian Liberals had left it in 1917, also tends to disguise how low it had fell.

Russia was seen in England as the advance guard of Western Civilisation in Asia and its “civilising mission” was admired as much as the consequences of it were feared. In the decades prior to the events that led Tsar Nicholas to War, the Russian economy was in very good shape and was the fastest growing in the World. New railways were being laid at a tremendous rate. Between 1900 and 1914 , iron and coal production more than doubled and Russian grain fed much of the European continent. Russia had a vigorous intellectual life which produced Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and there was a great flowering of cultural life in the last decades of the Romanovs.

In 1902 Valentine Chirol, Director of the Foreign Department of The Times and friend of Lord Curzon, visited the Southern Caucasus and Persia to see what the Russians had achieved. After disembarking from a Caspian ferry from Baku at Enzeli he observed the new 220-mile road from Resht to Teheran, funded by Russian capital and built through Russian enterprise. For Chirol it was symbolic of the ascendency of Russia in the region and he marvelled at the enormous outlay and the difficulties that had been overcome. Chirol believed that the road would enable Russia to pour its troops quickly into Northern Persia where expansion was inevitable.

Russia’s great industrial development in the 1890s took place largely under the guidance of Count Sergei Witte. Witte was the director of Railway Affairs from 1889 to 1891 and after his success in this important role was appointed the Tsar’s Minister for Finance, a position he held until 1903. Under his direction Russia embarked upon a hugely ambitious programme of economic modernisation. Importantly, it was performed within the context of good diplomatic relations with both France and Germany. Witte was for internal development and against problems with other Powers.

Count Witte had to overcome a substantial conservative opposition which feared the growth of industrial capitalism and a proletariat in agrarian Russia. What distinguished Witte from his predecessors was his ability to produce a climate conducive to development and his ability to direct government policy, planning and resources to that end. He practiced state capitalism, which directed the flow of capital into heavy industry and infrastructure and encouraged foreign inward investment and technological development to improve efficiency in all areas of the Russian economy.

Count Witte introduced monetary reform and placed the Russian currency on the Gold Standard. His measures created the climate for foreign capital investment of a progressive type. Between 1894 and 1902 the highest proportion of government funds were assigned to industrial growth and the development of the railways and the Russian State became the prime mover in this, by supplying capital itself or making it available from other sources. The chemical, mining and steel industries were built up and a programme of training was instituted to create an industrial proletariat out of the peasants. By 1900 there were around 2.5 million factory workers in Russia.

Railroads were most important to Witte as a force capable of drawing together the Empire’s vast spaces, its people, agriculture and industry. He saw them as agents of civilisation and progress, linking Russia with Europe and, particularly Asia, where markets could be developed that would reduce the country’s dependence on Europe. Under Witte’s administration there was a doubling of the amount of railroad track and it was he who was responsible for the great Trans-Siberian line of 4,000 miles, which unified the Empire. The spread of the railways was accompanied by the expansion of heavy industry and increased outputs of iron, steel, coal, oil and machinery production to serve the expansion of trackbed. Ports like Riga and Odessa were expanded and quadrupled in size and Baku was transformed into one of the richest cities in the world during the period of Witte’s administration.

Russian growth rates, at around 8 per cent per annum, were phenomenal under Witte’s influence, with the country exceeding those of America, Germany and Britain and surpassing those of Britain’s industrial revolution at its height of progress – with far less of the brutal exploitation that had characterised Victorian England.

In 1904, the illustrious Director of the London School of Economics, Professor Halford Mackinder, eyeing the overall development of Russia with great concern, noted in a famous paper given to the Royal Geographical Society, ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’, that:

“The Russian railways have a clear run of 6000 miles… The Russian army in Manchuria is as significant evidence of mobile land-power as the British army in South Africa was of sea-power… the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with railways. The spaces within the Russian Empire and Mongolia are so vast, and their potentialities in population, wheat, cotton, fuel and metals so incalculably great, that it is inevitable that a vast economic world… will there develop inaccessible to oceanic enterprise…Is not the pivot region of the world’s politics that vast area of Euro-Asia which is inaccessible to ships, but in antiquity lay open to the horse riding nomads, and is today about to be covered with a network of railways. There have been and are here the conditions of a mobility of military and economic power of a far-reaching and yet limited character. Russia replaces the Mongol empire. Her pressure on Finland, on Scandinavia, on Poland, on Turkey, on Persia, on India, on China replaces the centrifugal raids of the steppe-men. In the world at large she occupies the central strategic position held by Germany in Europe.” (Halford J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, pp.260-1)

This is Mackinder’s influential idea of the world as an island, with Russia as its “pivot state”.Whoever controlled this “heartland”would control the world, according to Mackinder. This Russian “heartland”was unfortunately beyond the control of the great Sea Power of Britain.

One can see from this analysis, by the father of geopolitics, the issue that confronted Imperial Britain at the turn of the Century. Both Germany, with its Berlin-Baghdad Railway, and Russia, with its Trans-Siberian Railway, were developing rapidly and establishing extensive inter-continental markets that were largely immune from the influence of British Sea Power. These were dangerous developments for Britain’s global dominance and threatened the development of something that was seen as intolerable – a multi-polar world.

Britain, of course, could not confront the threat of Germany and Russia together. The two had to be detached and dealt with differently. One had to be curtailed and accommodated to a degree, to facilitate a situation by which the other could be destroyed as a rival.

The Liberal Fear of Russia

After Britain had secured the Russian Steamroller in its Great War on Germany, H.G. Wells addressed “The Liberal Fear of Russia” in a famous piece for The Nation on 22ndAugust 1914. He aimed to dispel the fears of English Liberals, which might get in the way of the waging of a successful war against the new enemy, with the former enemy as ally. It is interesting in understanding how the unlikely alliance between Liberal England and Tsarist Russia was justified in Britain.

H.G. Wells described Russia as an “obscurantist”, “barbaric”and “aggressive” state. He declared himself prepared to let it expand, taking Constantinople if it must, along with the creation of Greater Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, which he hoped it would check. Such ideals were hardly the traditional causes of English Liberalism or even the Jingoes in the Tory Party.

There was little doubt that England would not have procured Russia as a force against Germany if it was not worth procuring. Wells’ basic message to English Liberals was that a triumphant Russia was not to be feared. It did not possess the internal character to be a future force in the World, that its size might have determined it should be, and if it liberalised itself in its development it would deprive itself of the very character that made it a threat in the first place, in the minds of English Liberals.

Russia was a very useful instrument to create the second front that was necessary for Britain to win such a War against that country which had been identified as the primary threat to British World dominance at that moment in time. Wells seems to have presumed that Russia would probably do enough for Britain’s needs, but damage itself badly in the process. That would be all well and good for the future. Russia would be no future threat to the British Empire in the aftermath of the War.

That seems to have been the calculation that British Liberals made when they cast aside their doubts about being an ally of autocratic Russia and abandoned their opposition to War in the days following Edward Grey’s famous speech.

It was as much a fatal calculation for English Liberalism as it proved to be for Tsarist Russia (Rather fittingly H.G. Wells’ article is included in the appropriately named collection, The War to End War. Perhaps the greatest illusion/miscalculation of all made in 1914.)

It was in the course of attempting to destroy the successful German State that Britain led Tsarist Russia to its destruction. Tsarist Russia was ready for war in 1914. It was a powerful and long-standing expansionary state with further ambitions of expansion – particularly down to the Dardanelles. It immediately went on the offensive on all fronts – European and Caucasian.

After Britain had made the European war of July 1914 into a World War by joining it and expanded its conflict zone to global proportions it supported the Tsarist War effort with nearly 600 million pounds in loans over the following few years. As in previous wars fought on the European continent, in pursuit of the Balance of Power, British finance was an important element in sustaining conflict to the required level of attrition so that the enemy could be ground down.

All that was required from Russia was blood in the short-term, until the War was won and then the loans could be repaid when things returned to normality, minus Germany and the Ottomans.

The Road to Destruction

A series of three events enabled Britain to ultimately master the perceived Russian threat to its preponderance in the World: Firstly, there was the unfortunate dismissal of Count Witte as Finance Minister by the Tsar in 1903. This was closely followed by the disastrous Russian war on Japan in the following year, facilitated by the British alliance with the Japanese of 1902. And then the 1905 Revolution.

The disastrous war that the Tsar fought with Japan over Manchuria, after the dismissal of Count Witte, was a pivotal event in the downward spiral of things that took the Romanovs and Russia to destruction in 1917. It is a war that is very much neglected in British history books despite, or maybe because of, England’s important role in provoking it and managing it.

After Japan had seized the Liaoting Peninsular, as a result of its 1894-5 war on China over the possession of Korea, Count Witte became determined to maintain the integrity of the Chinese Empire and prevent it becoming carved up by the Western Imperialists. Witte pressed the European Powers to present an ultimatum to the Japanese to evacuate Liaoting for a war indemnity. The tripartite alliance that Witte summoned up, through his good relations with France and Germany, forced the Japanese out. However, ominously, Britain, which had its eyes on an alliance with Japan, refused Witte’s invitation to join the pressure on Tokyo.

To protect the future integrity of China, Witte established a Russian/Chinese Bank and secured loans for the Chinese Government. He also signed a secret treaty promising military assistance to China if it were attacked again.

However, Count Witte then found all his good work undone by his enemies at the Tsar’s court, who persuaded Nicholas to occupy Port Arthur on the Liaoting Peninsular and undermined good Russian/Chinese relations as a consequence. This act, and other European encroachments on Chinese territory, led to the Boxer Rebellion. Russian forces were then sent into Manchuria to secure interests and the Chinese Eastern Railway. Count Witte urged the Tsar to withdraw these troops as soon as possible to avoid Russia falling into a quagmire, but Nicholas hesitated.

England concluded an alliance with Japan in February 1902, ostensibly to block Russian movement toward the Pacific coast and the attainment of a warm-water port. From the 1890s British shipyards had built a modern battlefleet for the Japanese navy, which Tokyo would require to safeguard its own designs on China and Korea. The agreement had a clause which promised British assistance if Japan got into a war with more than one Power.

This was clever because it meant that if Japan felt like taking on Russia there would be a strong deterrent effect on France, Germany, or anyone else, minded to help Russia. Secret clauses authorised the Japanese to avail of British coaling stations and docks in the region, in return for looking after British interests in the Far East. The British thus contracted out a policing role to Tokyo on behalf of the British Empire to release the Royal Navy for other pressing engagements elsewhere in the world. Large British loans were facilitated by Lord Esher, through the City of London, to build up Tokyo’s war chest.

The Anglo-Japanese treaty was something that astonished the World. It was unprecedented as a formal alliance, granted by Britain to a foreign Power, and an Asiatic one at that. It was concluded in secret by Lord Lansdowne and presented as a fait accompli to a surprised British Parliament.

The Tsar, who had initially taken Witte’s good advice and agreed to recognise Chinese sovereignty over Manchuria and promised a phased withdrawal of Russian troops, inadvisably went back on his word. This prompted Count Witte, who had warned him of the danger, to resign from the Council of Ministers. The Japanese presented Russia with an ultimatum to recognise Tokyo’s claims on Korea or face war. The Tsar refused to accept the indignity of an ultimatum from an inferior race and in February 1904 Japanese torpedo boats attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, without issuing a declaration of war. The Russian garrison at Port Arthur was then put under siege by a force of up to 80,000 Japanese, blocking off all chance of relieving them by land.

This is where the Straits Convention came into play for Britain. The Russian Black Sea fleet was the closest naval force with the potential to relieve Port Arthur, but the Tsar was reminded by London, citing the Treaty of Berlin, that any attempt to sail it through the Dardanelles would mean war, and this severely handicapping the Russian war effort against the Japanese.

Because of this obstruction the Russian Baltic fleet had to be sent on an eight month voyage to relieve the Russian force at Port Arthur. Before it could reach the Cape of Good Hope the Russians were forced to surrender at Port Arthur and their army in Manchuria was destroyed by Japanese forces. Having sent his fleet out, half way across the world, the Tsar then decided, unwisely, to let it fight a face-saving battle to restore prestige. At Tsushima the Russian fleet was annihilated by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which lay in restful wait for the exhausted Russians. The Baltic fleet lost 24 ships in the battle, before surrendering the rest. This meant that the Tsar lost two of his three fleets – the Pacific and Baltic- whilst the British bottled up his remaining forces in the Black Sea.

Count Witte was summoned out of retirement by the Tsar to salvage a deal with the Japanese victors, which he did in limiting the Japanese to the southern half of the Liaoting Peninsula and avoiding a crushing war indemnity.

The Russian defeat resulted in the loss of 100,000 soldiers and sailors and the obliteration of the Tsar’s navy. The 1902 treaty with Japan had been a wonderful success for Britain. Russian prestige had been badly damaged by the Japanese, because the Orientals were not seen as a first-class race by White Europeans. The limitations of Russian land power had been demonstrated by the appliance of a sea power from the East. The importance of the Straits had been demonstrated to the Tsar and his only warm-water port was gone. And worse was to come when the disastrous and humiliating war sparked off revolution in Russia in 1905.

1905 and After

During 1905 terrorism grew to gigantic proportions in Russia with 3,600 officials killed or wounded by assorted assassins. The remains of the Tsar’s fleet mutinied in the Black Sea. Bloody Sunday occurred outside the Winter Palace and Nicholas’s uncle was assassinated. Serious inter-communal violence exploded in the Southern Caucasus destroying the important Baku oil wells and paralysing production for the Russian economy.

Count Witte advised the hesitating Tsar that he should either appoint a military dictator to crush the revolution or buy it off by embracing constitutionalism, through the convoking of a representative Duma. This would split the liberals from the revolutionaries, who could then be dealt with in an appropriate way. Witte told the Tsar that it was one course or another and half-measures would be fatal. The Tsar authorised Witte to draw up a reform plan that became the October Manifesto.

The Revolution was defeated through Witte’s programme and the main soviets in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tiflis were crushed in the military clampdown organised by the Minister of the Interior, Durnovo. The Revolution, following the disastrous war, had shook the Romanov regime to its foundations, but Witte, before he resigned in April 1906, had bought the Tsar time to stabilise things.

Count Witte had enabled the Tsar to stabilise his State and preserve the Romanov dynasty if he took the right course of consolidation andretrenchment. Luckily for the Tsar, after Witte’s retirement, another effective statesman emerged. Peter Stolypin, who became Minister for the Interior and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, employed a combination of ruthless suppression of the revolutionaries and terrorists with popular social and land reforms, which he pushed through the Duma, to restore stability and order. He revived Witte’s state capitalism with good effect and resumed railway building to finish the Trans-Siberian line. Following Witte, Stolypin operated a paternalistic system through the Tsar and Church, counterposed to the excesses of the profiteering liberal capitalists.

But the success of the Stolypin programme, like that of Count Witte, depended on the maintenance of external peace and the avoidance of war adventurism. Stolypin, most of all, endeavoured to avoid foreign entanglements to avoid a repeat of 1905.

In that respect the 1907 convention with Britain was a dangerous initiative. It was opposed by Count Witte, in retirement, who called it “a triumph of British diplomacy” viewing it as a fatal accommodation by Russia to the British interest in the World. Witte knew that it would poison relations with Germany through the suspicions it would raise and he saw it as an unnecessary concession over Persia, whose Northern provinces Russia was destined to absorb in any case. Britain had given little and secured a great deal, locking Russia into a fatal embrace.

Sir Edward Grey’s Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, settled a number of territorial issues between the two Powers, including the Persian issue. In the Agreement Persia was partitioned into 3 zones of influence, with the Tsar taking the Northern part, the British absorbing the South East and an intermediate “neutral” zone in between.

This Agreement suspended “The Great Game”of Imperial rivalry between England and Russia in the interests of the British Balance of Power Policy in Europe and a future war on Germany.

The ground for the 1907 Agreement with Russia was prepared by Sir Edward Grey and the City of London through a 90 million pound loan made to Russia in 1906. The disastrous war with Japan had caused a financial crisis in Russia with the Tsarist State buckling under the strain of maintaining the Gold Standard, as its Bonds rapidly depreciated in value. Russia had a long-standing financial relationship with French banks, but after the 1904 Entente France and Britain began to work more closely together and the British Foreign Secretary insisted in British participation in the 1906 Bond issue. It may have seemed strange that Britain was ready and willing to bail out its chief enemy in the world, at a time of its great financial crisis, but Grey obviously saw a great opportunity to tie Russia into a relationship, when it was most vulnerable.

The British Agreement with the Tsar in 1907 had immediate effects within Russia, with Britain’s signal that they probably would no longer defend the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Izvolski, began to press the Tsar for a “short, victorious war” against the Ottomans, to restore Russia’s prestige after the defeat by Japan. Izvolski argued for a war to bring about “Russia’s historical goals in the Turkish East”, and he made plans for seizing the Straits and for the partition of the Ottoman territories.

Stolypin opposed such schemes, telling the Tsar that Russian mobilisation would be madness in the situation and would kill the financial stability he had recently put in place, endangering the recovery of the State after 1905. He demanded “twenty years of peace” to ensure the stability and transformation of Russia.

Izvolski was undermined by a foolish deal he cut with the Austro-Hungarians in October 1908, designed to take advantage of the instability in the Ottoman State, as a result of the Young Turk revolution of July 1908, which nearly toppled Sultan Abdul Hamid. In exchange for Russian acquiescence in Vienna’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina the Austrians offered to revise the Treaty of Berlin to allow Russian warships through the Istanbul Straits. This was not in the gift of Vienna, coming up against not only the opposition of the Sultan but Britain too. It would have ran a coach and horses through the Public Law of Europe/International Law.

Russian opinion was outraged when Vienna announced its annexation of the Ottoman territory in Bosnia and Izvolski revealed his part in the deal. Sergei Sazonov, Stolypin’s brother-in-law, replaced Izvolski as Foreign Minister in 1910.

Stolypin continued to oppose the Liberal Pan-Slavism, which threatened to entangle Russia in the Balkan quagmire against the Ottomans. However, court politics resulted in his sudden disfavouring by the Tsar, and soon after he was shot dead by a terrorist in September 1910. With both Witte and Stolypin gone the brakes were off.

From this time on pressure began to be mounted on the Tsar to take advantage of the situation in the Ottoman Empire and to seize the Straits. The importance of the Straits had been demonstrated in 1911 when they were closed due to an Italian invasion of Ottoman Libya. Russian exports were stopped, factories ground to a halt and the balance of payments was severely affected.

The Tsar knew, however, that in relation to taking Constantinople, Russia could only act in conjunction with England, when Britain was prepared to move against Germany, and he vetoed plans for war. Instead, Russia adopted a policy of fake rapprochement with the Ottomans, under the new Foreign Minister, Sergei Sazonov, in a holding operation to maintain the integrity of the Ottoman territories until the moment for a large war was right.

The Straits agreement in the Treaty of Paris, therefore, continued to provide Britain with great leverage over Russia. The blocking of the Straits, and its unblocking, which seemed to be the Sultan’s prerogative, was actually strongly determined by British attitude and action. Russia’s ability to trade could, therefore, be contingent upon services rendered by the Tsar in relation to England’s Germany problem. And Russian internal stability was very much dependent on the value of trade.

Things came to a head at a meeting of the Russian Council of Ministers in January 1914. Sazonov had, a week earlier, proposed to the Tsar that the time was now right to provoke a European war, in alliance with England and France, so that Constantinople could be stormed and made into Tsargrad. The idea was to use the appointment of Liman von Sanders, a German, as a cause for war. Only a reality check by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers Kokovtsov, who asked: “Is the war desirable and can Russia wage it?” seems to have stayed the Russian rush to war.

There was almost unanimous enthusiasm among the Tsar’s ministers for provoking a European war over the von Sanders affair. However, whilst there was near certainty amongst the ministers that Russia would be joined by England and France in such a war there were lingering doubts about whether London would stay out of the conflict if it was provoked at that point on such an issue. Britain was a democracy of sorts and had to take care of public opinion and the Liberal Government had not be straight with its own backbenchers on what it had been doing in the background so it was vital that the war be launched on the right issue.

The Russian naval command warned that a unilateral amphibious assault would also be beyond them at that moment. It was determined, therefore, to resort to war only if “the active participation of both France and England in joint measures were assured.” Kokovtsov then convinced everyone to back down from war.

Durnovo was of the opinion that the Ottomans would be drawn into any war between the two great combinations who were shaping up for confrontation in Europe. After all, how would the Tsar get the Straits without the war being taken to Istanbul? It was self-evident.

It was at that moment, in February 1914, that the Tsar got his final warning:

The Durnovo Memorandum of February 1914

A Future Anglo-German War Will Become an Armed Conflict between Two Groups of Powers

The central factor of the period of world history through which we are now passing is the rivalry between England and Germany. This rivalry must inevitably lead to an armed struggle between them, the issue of which will, in all probability, prove fatal to the vanquished side. The interests of these two powers are far too incompatible, and their simultaneous existence as world powers will sooner or later prove impossible. On the one hand, there is an insular State, whose world importance rests upon its domination of the sea, its world trade, and its innumerable colonies. On the other, there is a powerful continental empire, whose limited territory is insufficient for an increased population. It has therefore openly and candidly declared that its future is on the seas. It has, with fabulous speed, developed an enormous world commerce, built for its protection a formidable navy, and, with its famous trademark, “Made in Germany,” created a mortal danger to the industrial and economic prosperity of its rival. Naturally, England cannot yield without a fight, and between her and Germany a struggle for life or death is inevitable.

The armed conflict impending as a result of this rivalry cannot be confined to a duel between England and Germany alone. Their resources are far too unequal, and, at the same time, they are not sufficiently vulnerable to each other. Germany could provoke rebellion in India, in South Africa, and, especially, a dangerous rebellion in Ireland, and paralyze English sea trade by means of privateering and, perhaps, submarine warfare, thereby creating for Great Britain difficulties in her food supply; but, in spite of all the daring of the German military leaders, they would scarcely risk landing in England, unless a fortunate accident helped them to destroy or appreciably to weaken the English navy. As for England, she will find Germany absolutely invulnerable. All that she may achieve is to seize the German colonies, stop German sea trade, and, in the most favourable event, annihilate the German navy, but nothing more. This, however, would not force the enemy to sue for peace. There is no doubt, therefore, that England will attempt the means she has more than once used with success, and will risk armed action only after securing participation in the war, on her own side, of powers stronger in a strategical sense. But since Germany, for her own part, will not be found isolated, the future Anglo-German war will undoubtedly be transformed into an armed conflict between two groups of powers, one with a German, the other with an English orientation.

It Is Hard to Discover Any Real Advantages to Russia in Rapprochement with England

Until the Russo-Japanese War, Russian policy has neither orientation. From the time of the reign of Emperor Alexander III, Russia had a defensive alliance with France, so firm as to assure common action by both powers in the event of attack upon either, but, at the same time, not so close as to obligate either to support unfailingly, with armed force, all political actions and claims of the ally. At the same time, the Russian Court maintained the traditional friendly relations, based upon ties of blood, with the Court of Berlin. Owing precisely to this conjuncture, peace among the great powers was not disturbed in the course of a great many years, in spite of the presence of abundant combustible material in Europe. France, by her alliance with Russia, was guaranteed against attack by Germany; the latter was safe, thanks to the tried pacifism and friendship of Russia, from revanche ambitions on the part of France; and Russia was secured, thanks to Germany’s need of maintaining amicable relations with her, against excessive intrigues by Austria-Hungary in the Balkan peninsula. Lastly, England, isolated and held in check by her rivalry with Russia in Persia, by her diplomats’ traditional fear of our advance on India, and by strained relations with France, especially notable at the time of the well-known Fashoda incident, viewed with alarm the increase of Germany’s naval power, without, however, risking an active step.

The Russo-Japanese War radically changed the relations among the great powers and brought England out of her isolation. As we know, all through the Russo-Japanese War, England and America observed benevolent neutrality toward Japan, while we enjoyed a similar benevolent neutrality from France and Germany. Here, it would seem, should have been the inception of the most natural political combination for us. But after the war, our diplomacy faced abruptly about and definitely entered upon the road toward rapprochement with England. France was drawn into the orbit of British policy; there was formed a group of powers of the Triple Entente, with England playing the dominant part; and a clash, sooner or later, with the powers grouping themselves around Germany became inevitable.

Now, what advantages did the renunciation of our traditional policy of distrust of England and the rupture of neighbourly, if not friendly, relations with Germany promise us then and at present?

Considering with any degree of care the events which have taken place since the Treaty of Portsmouth, we find it difficult to perceive any practical advantages gained by us in rapprochement with England. The only benefit-improved relations with Japan-is scarcely a result of the Russo-English rapprochement. There is no reason why Russia and Japan should not live in peace; there seems to be nothing over which they need quarrel. All Russia’s objectives in the Far East, if correctly understood, are entirely compatible with Japan’s interests. These objectives, in their essentials, are very modest. The too broad sweep of the imagination of overzealous executive officials, without basis in genuine national interests, on the one hand, and the excessive nervousness and impressionability of Japan, on the other, which erroneously regarded these dreams as a consistently executed policy – these were the things that provoked a clash which a more capable diplomacy would have managed to avoid.

Russia needs neither Korea nor even Port Arthur. An outlet to the open sea is undoubtedly useful, but the sea in itself is, after all, not a market, but merely a road to a more advantageous delivery of goods at the consuming markets. As a matter of fact, we do not possess, and shall not for a long time possess any goods in the Far East that promise any considerable profits in exportation abroad. Nor are there any markets for the export of our products. We cannot expect a great supply of our export commodities to go to industrially and agriculturally developed America, to poor, but likewise industrial, Japan, or even to the maritime sections of China and remoter markets, where our exports would inevitably meet the competition of goods from the industrially stronger rival powers. There remains the interior of China, with which our trade is carried on, chiefly overland. Consequently, an open port would aid the import of foreign merchandise more than the export of our own products.

Japan, on her part, no matter what is said, has no desire for our Far Eastern possessions. The Japanese are by nature a southern people, and the harsh environment of our Far Eastern borderland cannot attract them. We know that even within Japan itself northern Yezo is sparsely populated, while apparently Japanese colonization is making little headway even in the southern part of Sakhalin Island, ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Portsmouth. After taking possession of Korea and Formosa, Japan will hardly go farther north, and her ambitions, it may be assumed, will turn rather in the direction of the Philippine Islands, Indo-China, Java, Sumatra, and Borneo. The most she might desire would be the acquisition, for purely commercial reasons, of a few more sections of the Manchurian railway.

In a word, peaceable coexistence, nay, more, a close rapprochement, between Russia and Japan in the Far East is perfectly natural, regardless of any mediation by England. The grounds for agreement are self-evident. Japan is not a rich country, and the simultaneous upkeep of a strong army and a powerful navy is hard for her. Her insular situation drives her to strengthen her naval power, and alliance with Russia would allow her to devote all her attention to her navy, especially vital in view of her imminent rivalry with America, leaving the protection of her interests on the continent to Russia. On our part, we, having the Japanese navy to protect our Pacific coast, could give up once for all the dream, impossible to us, of creating a navy in the Far East.

Thus, so far as our relations with Japan are concerned, the rapprochement with England has yielded us no real advantage. And it has gained us nothing in the sense of strengthening our position in Manchuria, Mongolia, or even the Ulianghai territory, where the uncertainty of our position bears witness that the agreement with England has certainly not freed the hands of our diplomats. On the contrary, our attempt to establish relations with Tibet met with sharp opposition from England.

In Persia, also, our position has been no better since the conclusion of this agreement. Every one recalls our predominant influence in that country under the Shah Nasr-Eddin, that is, exactly at a time when our relations with England were most strained. From the moment of our accord with the latter, we have found ourselves drawn into a number of strange attempts to impose upon the Persian people an entirely needless constitution, with the result that we ourselves contributed to the overthrow, for the benefit of our inveterate enemies, of a monarch who was devoted to Russia. That is, not only have we gained nothing, but we have suffered a loss all along the line, ruining our prestige and wasting many millions of rubles, even the precious blood of Russian soldiers, who were treacherously slain and, to please England, not even avenged.

The worst results, however, of the accord with England–and of the consequent discord with Germany – have been felt in the Near East. As we know, it was Bismarck who coined that winged phrase about the Balkan problem not being worth to Germany the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Later the Balkan complications began to attract much more attention from German diplomacy, which had taken the “Sick Man” under its protection, but even then Germany, for a long time, failed to show any inclination to endanger relations with Russia in the interests of Balkan affairs. The proofs are patent. During the period of the Russo-Japanese War and the ensuing turmoil in our country, it would have been very easy for Austria to realize her cherished ambitions in the Balkan peninsula. But at that time Russia had not yet linked her destinies with England, and Austria-Hungary was forced to lose an opportunity most auspicious for her purposes.

No sooner had we taken the road to closer accord with England, however, than there immediately followed the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a step which might have been taken so easily and painlessly in 1905 or 1906. Next came the Albanian question and the combination with the Prince of Wied. Russian diplomacy attempted to answer Austrian intrigue by forming a Balkan league, but this combination, as might have been expected, proved to be quite unworkable. Intended to be directed against Austria, it immediately turned on Turkey and fell apart in the process of dividing the spoils taken from the latter. The final result was merely the definite attachment of Turkey to Germany, in whom, not without good reason, she sees her sole protector. In short, the Russo-British rapprochement evidently seems to Turkey as tantamount to England’s renouncing her traditional policy of closing the Dardanelles to us, while the creation of the Balkan league, under the auspices of Russia, appeared as a direct threat to the continued existence of Turkey as a European power.

To sum up, the Anglo-Russian accord has brought us nothing of practical value up to this time, while for the future, it threatens us with an inevitable armed clash with Germany.

Fundamental Alignments in the Coming War

Under what conditions will this clash occur and what will be its probable consequences? The fundamental groupings in a future war are self-evident: Russia, France, and England, on the one side, with Germany, Austria, and Turkey, on the other. It is more than likely that other powers, too, will participate in that war, depending upon circumstances as they may exist at the war’s outbreak. But, whether the immediate cause for the war is furnished by another clash of conflicting interests in the Balkans, or by a colonial incident, such as that of Algeciras, the fundamental alignment will remain unchanged.

Italy, if she has any conception of her real interests, will not join the German side. For political as well as economic reasons, she undoubtedly hopes to expand her present territory. Such an expansion may be achieved only at the expense of Austria, on one hand, and Turkey, on the other. It is, therefore, natural for Italy not to join that party which would safeguard the territorial integrity of the countries at whose expense she hopes to realize her aspirations. Furthermore, it is not out of the question that Italy would join the anti-German coalition, if the scales of war should incline in its favour, in order to secure for herself the most favourable conditions in sharing the subsequent division of spoils.

In this respect, the position of Italy is similar to the probable position of Rumania, which, it may be assumed, will remain neutral until the scales of fortune favour one or another side. Then, animated by normal political self-interest, she will attach herself to the victors, to be rewarded at the expense of either Russia or Austria. Of the other Balkan States, Serbia and Montenegro will unquestionably join the side opposing Austria, while Bulgaria and Albania (if by that time they have not yet formed at least the embryo of a State) will take their stand against the Serbian side. Greece will in all probability remain neutral or make common cause with the side opposing Turkey, but that only after the issue has been more or less determined. The participation of other powers will be incidental, and Sweden ought to be feared, of course, in the ranks of our foes.

Under such circumstances, a struggle with Germany presents to us enormous difficulties, and will require countless sacrifices. War will not find the enemy unprepared, and the degree of his preparedness will probably exceed our most exaggerated calculations. It should not be thought that this readiness is due to Germany’s own desire for war. She needs no war, so long as she can attain her object-the end of exclusive domination of the seas. But, once this vital object is opposed by the coalition, Germany will not shrink from war, and, of course, will even try to provoke it, choosing the most auspicious moment.

The Main Burden of the War Will Fall on Russia

The main burden of the war will undoubtedly fall on us, since England is hardly capable of taking a considerable part in a continental war, while France, poor in man power, will probably adhere to strictly defensive tactics, in view of the enormous losses by which war will be attended under present conditions of military technique. The part of a battering-ram, making a breach in the very thick of the German defence, will be ours, with many factors against us to which we shall have to devote great effort and attention.

From the sum of these unfavourable factors we should deduct the Far East. Both America and Japan– the former fundamentally, and the latter by virtue of her present political orientation–are hostile to Germany, and there is no reason to expect them to act on the German side. Furthermore, the war, regardless of its issue, will weaken Russia and divert her attention to the West, a fact which, of course, serves both Japanese and American interests. Thus, our rear will be sufficiently secure in the Far East, and the most that can happen there will be the extortion from us of some concessions of an economic nature in return for benevolent neutrality. Indeed, it is possible that America or Japan may join the anti-German side, but, of course, merely as usurpers of one or the other of the unprotected German colonies.

There can be no doubt, however, as to an outburst of hatred for us in Persia, and a probable unrest among the Moslems of the Caucasus and Turkestan; it is possible that Afghanistan, as a result of that unrest, may act against us; and, finally, we must foresee very unpleasant complications in Poland and Finland. In the latter, a rebellion will undoubtedly break out if Sweden is found in the ranks of our enemies. As for Poland, it is not to be expected that we can hold her against our enemy during the war. And after she is in his power, he will undoubtedly endeavour to provoke an insurrection which, while not in reality very dangerous, must be considered, nevertheless, as one of the factors unfavourable to us, especially since the influence of our allies may induce us to take such measures in our relations with Poland as will prove more dangerous to us than any open revolt.

Are we prepared for so stubborn a war as the future war of the European nations will undoubtedly become? This question we must answer, without evasion, in the negative. That much has been done for our defence since the Japanese war, I am the last person to deny, but even so, it is quite inadequate considering the unprecedented scale on which a future war will inevitably be fought. The fault lies, in a considerable measure, in our young legislative institutions, which have taken a dilettante interest in our defences, but are far from grasping the seriousness of the political situation arising from the new orientation which, with the sympathy of the public, has been followed in recent years by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The enormous number of still unconsidered legislative bills of the war and navy departments may serve as proof of this: for example, the plan of the organization of our national defence proposed to the Duma as early as the days of Secretary of State Stolypin. It cannot be denied that, in the matter of military instruction, according to the reports of specialists, we have achieved substantial improvements, as compared with the time before the Japanese War. According to the same specialists, our field artillery leaves nothing to be desired; the gun is entirely satisfactory, and the equipment convenient and practical. Yet, it must be admitted that there are substantial shortcomings in the organization of our defences.

In this regard we must note, first of all, the insufficiency of our war supplies, which, certainly, cannot be blamed upon the war department, since the supply schedules are still far from being executed, owing to the low productivity of our factories. This insufficiency of munitions is the more significant since, in the embryonic condition of our industries, we shall, during the war, have no opportunity to make up the revealed shortage by our own efforts, and the closing of the Baltic as well as the Black Sea will prevent the importation from abroad of the defense materials which we lack.

Another circumstance unfavourable to our defense is its far too great dependence, generally speaking, upon foreign industry, a fact which, in connection with the above noted interruption of more or less convenient communications with abroad, will create a series of obstacles difficult to overcome. The quantity of our heavy artillery, the importance of which was demonstrated in the Japanese War, is far too inadequate, and there are few machine guns. The organization of our fortress defences has scarcely been started, and even the fortress of Reval, which is to defend the road to the capital, is not yet finished.

The network of strategic railways is inadequate. The railways possess a rolling stock sufficient, perhaps, for normal traffic, but not commensurate with the colossal demands which will be made upon them in the event of a European war. Lastly, it should not be forgotten that the impending war will be fought among the most civilized and technically most advanced nations. Every previous war has invariably been followed by something new in the realm of military technique, but the technical backwardness of our industries does not create favourable conditions for our adoption of the new inventions.

The Vital Interests of Germany and Russia Do Not Conflict

All these factors are hardly given proper thought by our diplomats, whose behaviour toward Germany is, in some respects, even aggressive, and may unduly hasten the moment of armed conflict, a moment which, of course, is really inevitable in view of our British orientation.

The question is whether this orientation is correct, and whether even a favourable issue of the war promises us such advantages as would compensate us for all the hardships and sacrifices which must attend a war unparalleled in its probable strain.

The vital interests of Russia and Germany do not conflict. There are fundamental grounds for a peaceable existence of these two States. Germany’s future lies on the sea, that is, in a realm where Russia, essentially the most continental of the great powers, has no interests whatever. We have no overseas colonies, and shall probably never have them, and communication between the various parts of our empire is easier overland than by water. No surplus population demanding territorial expansion is visible, but, even from the viewpoint of new conquests, what can we gain from a victory over Germany? Posen, or East Prussia? But why do we need these regions, densely populated as they are by Poles, when we find it difficult enough to manage our own Russian Poles? Why encourage centripetal tendencies, that have not ceased even to this day in the Vistula territory, by incorporating in the Russian State the restless Posnanian and East Prussian Poles, whose national demands even the German Government, which is more firm than the Russian, cannot stifle?

Exactly the same thing applies to Galicia. It is obviously disadvantageous to us to annex, in the interests of national sentimentalism, a territory that has lost every vital connection with our fatherland. For, together with a negligible handful of Galicians, Russian in spirit, how many Poles, Jews, and Ukrainian Uniates we would receive! The so-called Ukrainian, or Mazeppist, movement is not a menace to us at present, but we should not enable it to expand by increasing the number of turbulent Ukrainian elements, for in this movement there undoubtedly lies the seed of an extremely dangerous Little Russian separatism which, under favorable conditions, may assume quite unexpected proportions.

The obvious aim of our diplomacy in the rapprochement with England has been to open the Straits. But a war with Germany seems hardly necessary for the attainment of this object, for it was England, and not Germany at all, that closed our outlet from the Black Sea. Was it not because we made sure of the cooperation of the later power, that we freed ourselves in 1871 from the humiliating restrictions imposed upon us by England under the Treaty of Paris?

Also, there is reason to believe that the Germans would agree sooner than the English to let us have the Straits, in which they have only a slight interest, and at the price of which they would gladly purchase our alliance.

Moreover, we should not cherish any exaggerated hopes from our occupation of the Straits. Their acquisition would be advantageous to us only as they served to close the Black Sea to others, making it an inland sea for us, safe from enemy attack.

The Straits would not give us an outlet to the open sea, however, since on the other side of them there lies a sea consisting almost wholly of territorial waters, a sea dotted with numerous islands where the British navy, for instance, would have no trouble whatever in closing to us every inlet and outlet, irrespective of the Straits. Therefore, Russia might safely welcome an arrangement which, while not turning the Straits over to our direct control, would safeguard us against a penetration of the Black Sea by an enemy fleet. Such an arrangement, attainable under favorable circumstances without any war, has the additional advantage that it would not violate the interests of the Balkan States, which would not regard our seizure of the Straits without alarm and quite natural jealousy.

In Trans-Caucasia we could, as a result of war, expand territorially only at the expense of regions inhabited by Armenians, a move which is hardly desirable in view of the revolutionary character of present Armenian sentiment, and of its dream of a greater Armenia; and in this region, Germany, were we allied to her, would certainly place even fewer obstacles in our way than England. Those territorial and economic acquisitions which might really prove useful to us are available only in places where our ambitions may meet opposition from England, but by no means from Germany. Persia, the Pamir, Kuldja, Kashgar, Dzungaria, Mongolia, the Ulianghai territory – all these are regions where the interests of Russia and Germany do not conflict, whereas the interests of Russia and England have clashed there repeatedly.

And Germany is in exactly the same situation with respect to Russia. She could seize from us, in case of a successful war, only such territories as would be of slight value to her, and because of their population, would prove of little use for colonization; the Vistula territory, with a Polish-Lithuanian population, and the Baltic provinces, with a Lettish-Estonian population, are all equally turbulent and anti-German.

Russia’s Economic Advantages and Needs Do Not Conflict with Germany’s

It may be argued, however, that, under modern conditions in the various nations, territorial acquisitions are of secondary importance, while economic interests take first rank. But in this field, again, Russia’s advantages and needs do not conflict with Germany’s as much as is believed. It is, of course, undeniable that the existing Russo-German trade agreements are disadvantageous to our agriculture and advantageous to Germany’s, but it would be hardly fair to ascribe this circumstance to the treachery and unfriendliness of Germany.

It should not be forgotten that these agreements are in many of their sections advantageous to us. The Russian delegates who concluded these agreements were confirmed protagonists of a development of Russian industry at any cost, and they undoubtedly made a deliberate sacrifice, at least to some extent, of the interests of Russian agriculture to the interests of Russian industry. Furthermore, we ought not to forget that Germany is far from being the direct consumer of the greater share of our agricultural exports abroad. For the greater share of our agricultural produce, Germany acts merely as middleman, and so it is for us and the consuming markets to establish direct relations and thus avoid the expensive German mediation. Lastly, we should keep in mind that the commercial relations of States depend on their political understandings, for no country finds advantage in the economic weakening of an ally but, conversely, profits by the ruin of a political foe. In short, even though it be obvious that the existing Russo-German commercial treaties are not to our advantage, and that Germany, in concluding them, availed herself of a situation that happened to be in her favour – in other words, forced us to the wall-this action should have been expected from Germany and thought of. It should not, however, be looked upon as a mark of hostility toward us, but rather as an expression of healthy national self-interest, worthy of our emulation. Aside from that, we observe, in the case of Austria-Hungary, an agricultural country that is in a far greater economic dependence upon Germany than ours, but nevertheless, is not prevented from attaining an agricultural development such as we may only dream of.

In view of what has been said, it would seem that the conclusion of a commercial treaty with Germany, entirely acceptable to Russia, by no means requires that Germany first be crushed. It will be quite sufficient to maintain neighborly relations with her, to make a careful estimate of our real interests in the various branches of national economy, and to engage in long, insistent bargaining with German delegates, who may be expected to protect the interests of their own fatherland and not ours.

But I would go still further and say that the ruin of Germany, from the viewpoint of our trade with her, would be disadvantageous to us. Her defeat would unquestionably end in a peace dictated from the viewpoint of England’s economic interests. The latter will exploit to the farthest limit any success that falls to her lot, and we will only lose, in a ruined Germany without sea routes, a market which, after all, is valuable to us for our otherwise unmarketable products.

In respect to Germany’s economic future, the interests of Russia and England are diametrically opposed. For England, it is profitable to kill Germany’s maritime trade and industry, turning her into a poor and, if possible, agricultural country. For us, it is of advantage for Germany to develop her sea-going commerce and the industry which serves it, so as to supply the remotest world markets, and at the same time open her domestic market to our agricultural products, to supply her large working population.

But; aside from the commercial treaties, it has been customary to point out the oppressive character of German domination in Russian economic life, and the systematic penetration of German colonization into our country, as representing a manifest peril to the Russian State. We believe, however, that fears on these grounds are considerably exaggerated. The famous “Drang nach Osten”was in its own time natural and understandable, since Germany’s land could not accommodate her increased population, and the surplus was driven in the direction of the least resistance, i.e., into a less densely populated neighbouring country. The German Government was compelled to recognize the inevitability of this movement, but could hardly look upon it as to its own interests. For, after all, it was Germans who were being lost to the influence of the German State, thus reducing the man power of their own country. Indeed, the German Government made such strenuous efforts to preserve the connection between its emigrants and their old fatherland that it adopted even the unusual method of tolerating dual citizenship. It is certain, however, that a considerable proportion of German emigrants definitely and irrevocably settled in their new homes, and slowly broke their ties with the old country. This fact, obviously incompatible with Germany’s State interests, seems to have been one of the incentives which started her upon a colonial policy and maritime commerce, previously so alien to her. And at present, as the German colonies increase and there is an attendant growth of German industry and naval commerce, the German colonization movement decreases, in a measure, and the day is not remote when the “Drang nach Osten”will become nothing more than a subject for history.

In any case, the German colonization, which undoubtedly conflicts with our State interests, must be stopped, and here, again, friendly relations with Germany cannot harm us. To express a preference for a German orientation does not imply the advocacy of Russian vassalage to Germany, and, while maintaining friendly and neighborly intercourse with her, we must not sacrifice our State interests to this object. But Germany herself will not object to measures against the continued flow of German colonists into Russia. To her, it is of greater benefit to turn the wave of emigration toward her own colonies. Moreover, even before Germany had colonies, when her industry was not yet sufficiently developed to employ the entire population, the German Government did not feel justified in protesting against the restrictive measures that were adopted against foreign colonization during the reign of Alexander III.

As regards the German domination in the field of our economic life, this phenomenon hardly justifies the complaints usually voiced against it. Russia is far too poor, both in capital and in industrial enterprise, to get along without a large import of foreign capital. A certain amount of dependence upon some kind of foreign capital is, therefore, unavoidable, until such time as the industrial enterprise and material resources of our population develop to a point where we may entirely forego the services of foreign investors and their money. But as long as we do require them, German capital is more advantageous to us than any other.

First and foremost, this capital is cheaper than any other, being satisfied with the lowest margin of profit. This, to a large extent, explains the relative cheapness of German products, and their gradual displacement of British products in the markets of the world. The lower demands of German capital, as regards returns, have for their consequence Germany’s readiness to invest in enterprises which, because of their relatively small returns, are shunned by other foreign investor;. Also, as a result of that relative cheapness of German capital, its influx into Russia is attended by a smaller outflow of investors’ profits from Russia, as compared with French and English investments, and so a larger amount of rubles remain in Russia. Moreover, a considerable proportion of the profits made on German investments in Russian industry do not leave our country at all, but are spent in Russia.

Unlike the English or French, the German capitalists, in most cases, come to stay in Russia, themselves, with their money. It is this very German characteristic which explains in a considerable degree the amazing number of German industrialists, manufacturers, and mill owners in our midst, as compared with the British and French.

The latter live in their own countries, removing from Russia the profits produced by their enterprises, down to the last kopek. The German investors, on the contrary, live in Russia for long periods, and not infrequently settle down permanently. Whatever may be said to the contrary, the fact is that the Germans, unlike other foreigners, soon feel at home in Russia and rapidly become Russianized. Who has not seen Frenchmen and Englishmen, for example, who have spent almost their whole lives in Russia and yet do not speak a word of Russian? On the other hand, are there many Germans here who cannot make themselves understood in Russian, even though it be with a strong accent and in broken speech? Nay, more-who has not seen genuine Russians, orthodox, loyal with all their hearts dedicated to the principles of the Russian State, and yet only one or two generations removed from their German emigrant ancestry? Lastly, we must not forget that Germany herself is, to a certain extent, interested in our economic well-being. In this regard, Germany differs, to our advantage, from other countries, which are interested exclusively in obtaining the largest possible returns from capital invested in Russia, even at the cost of the economic ruin of this country. Germany, however, in her capacity of permanent-although, of course, not unselfish-middleman for our foreign trade, has an interest in preserving the productive resources of our country, as a source of profitable intermediary operations for her.

Even a Victory over Germany Promises Russia an Exceedingly Unfavourable Prospect

In any case, even if we were to admit the necessity for eradicating German domination in the field of our economic life, even at the price of a total banishment of German capital from Russian industry, appropriate measures could be taken. it would seem, without war against Germany. Such a war will demand such enormous expenditures that they will many times exceed the more than doubtful advantages to us in the abolition of the German [economic] domination. More than that, the result of such a war will be an economic situation compared with which the yoke of German capital will seem easy.

For there can be no doubt that the war will necessitate expenditures which are beyond Russia’s limited financial means. We shall have to obtain credit from allied and neutral countries, but this will not be granted gratuitously. As to what will happen if the war should end disastrously for us, I do not wish to discuss now. The financial and economic consequences of defeat can be neither calculated nor fore- seen, and will undoubtedly spell the total ruin of our entire national economy.

But even victory promises us extremely unfavourable financial prospects; a totally ruined Germany will not be in a position to compensate us for the cost involved. Dictated in the interest of England, the peace treaty will not afford Germany opportunity for sufficient economic recuperation to cover our war expenditures, even at a distant time. The little which we may perhaps succeed in extorting from her will have to be shared with our allies, and to our share there will fall but negligible crumbs, compared with the war cost. Meantime, we shall have to pay our war loans, not without pressure by the allies. For, after the destruction of German power, we shall no longer be necessary to them. Nay, more, our political might, enhanced by our victory, will induce them to weaken us, at least economically. And so it is inevitable that, even after a victorious conclusion of the war, we shall fall into the same sort of financial and economic dependence upon our creditors, compared with which our present dependence upon German capital will seem ideal.

However, no matter how sad may be the. economic prospects which face us as a result of union with England, and, by that token, of war with Germany, they are still of secondary importance when we think of the political consequences of this fundamentally unnatural alliance.

A Struggle Between Russia and Germany Is Profoundly Undesirable to Both Sides, as It Amounts to a Weakening of the Monarchist Principle

It should not be forgotten that Russia and Germany are the representatives of the conservative principle in the civilized world, as opposed to the democratic principle, incarnated in England and, to an infinitely lesser degree, in France. Strange as it may seem, England, monarchist and conservative to the marrow at home, has in her foreign relations always acted as the protector of the most demagogical tendencies, invariably encouraging all popular movements aiming at the weakening of the monarchical principle.

From this point of view, a struggle between Germany and Russia, regardless of its issue, is profoundly undesirable to both sides, as undoubtedly involving the weakening of the conservative principle in the world of which the above-named two great powers are the only reliable bulwarks. More than that, one must realize that under the exceptional conditions which exist, a general European war is mortally dangerous both for Russia and Germany, no matter who wins. It is our firm conviction, based upon a long and careful study of all contemporary subversive tendencies, that there must inevitably break out in the defeated country a social revolution which, by the very nature of things, will spread to the country of the victor.

During the many years of peaceable neighborly existence, the two countries have become united by many ties, and a social upheaval in one is bound to affect the other. That these troubles will be of a social, and not a political, nature cannot be doubted, and this will hold true, not only as regards Russia, but for Germany as well. An especially favorable soil for social upheavals is found in Russia, where the masses undoubtedly profess, unconsciously, the principles of Socialism. In spite of the spirit of antagonism to the Government in Russian society, as unconscious as the Socialism of the broad masses of the people, a political revolution is not possible in Russia, and any revolutionary movement inevitably must degenerate into a Socialist movement. The opponents of the government have no popular support. The people see no difference between a government official and an intellectual. The Russian masses, whether workmen or peasants, are not looking for political rights, which they neither want nor comprehend.

The peasant dreams of obtaining a gratuitous share of somebody else’s land; the workman, of getting hold of the entire capital and profits of the manufacturer. Beyond this, they have no aspirations. If these slogans are scattered far and wide among the populace, and the Government permits agitation along these lines, Russia will be flung into anarchy, such as she suffered in the ever-memorable period of troubles in 1905-1906. War with Germany would create exceptionally favorable conditions for such agitation. As already stated, this war is pregnant with enormous difficulties for us, and cannot turn out to be a mere triumphal march to Berlin. Both military disaster,-partial ones, let us hope-and all kinds of shortcomings in our supply are inevitable. In the excessive nervousness and spirit of opposition of our society, these events will be given an exaggerated importance, and all the blame will be laid on the Government.

It will be well if the Government does not yield, but declares directly that in time of war no criticism of the governmental authority is to be tolerated, and resolutely suppresses all opposition. In the absence of any really strong hold on the people by the opposition, this would settle the affair. The people did not heed the writers of the Wiborg Manifesto, in its time, and they will not follow them now.

But a worse thing may happen: the government authority may make concessions, may try to come to an agreement with the opposition, and thereby weaken itself just when the Socialist elements are ready for action. Even though it may sound like a paradox, the fact is that agreement with the opposition in Russia positively weakens the Government. The trouble is that our opposition refuses to reckon with the fact that it represents no real force. The Russian opposition is intellectual throughout, and this is its weakness, because between the intelligentsia and the people there is a profound gulf of mutual misunderstanding and distrust. We need an artificial election law, indeed, we require the direct influence of the governmental authority, to assure the election to the State Duma of even the most zealous champions of popular rights. Let the Government refuse to support the elections, leaving them to their natural course, and the legislative institutions would not see within their walls a single intellectual, outside of a few demagogic agitators. However insistent the members of our legislative institutions may be that the people confide in them, the peasant would rather believe the landless government official than the Octoberist landlord in the Duma, while the workingman treats the wage-earning factory inspector with more confidence than the legislating manufacturer, even though the latter professes every principle of the Cadet party.

It is more than strange, under these circumstances, that the governmental authority should be asked to reckon seriously with the opposition, that it should for this purpose renounce the role of impartial regulator of social relationships, and come out before the broad masses of the people as the obedient organ of the class aspirations of the intellectual and propertied minority of the population. The opposition demands that the Government should be responsible to it, representative of a class, and should obey the parliament which it artificially created. (Let us recall that famous expression of V. Nabokov: “Let the executive power submit to the legislative power!” In other words, the opposition demands that the Government should adopt the psychology of a savage, and worship the idol which he himself made.

Russia Will be Flung into Hopeless Anarchy, the Issue of Which Will be Hard to Foresee

 If the war ends in victory, the putting down of the Socialist movement will not offer any insurmountable obstacles. There will be agrarian troubles, as a result of agitation for compensating the soldiers with additional land allotments; there will be labour troubles during the transition from the probably increased wages of war time to normal schedules; and this, it is to be hoped, will be all, so long as the wave of the German social revolution has not reached us. But in the event of defeat, the possibility of which in a struggle with a foe like Germany cannot be overlooked, social revolution in its most extreme form is inevitable.

As has already been said, the trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. The legislative institutions and the intellectual opposition parties, lacking real authority in the eyes of the people, will be powerless to stem the popular tide, aroused by themselves, and Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.

Germany, in Case of Defeat, is Destined to Suffer Social Upheavals No Less than those of Russia

No matter how strange it may appear at first sight, considering the extraordinary poise of the German character, Germany, likewise, is destined to suffer, in case o defeat, no lesser social upheavals. The effect of a disastrous war upon the population will be too severe not to bring to the surface destructive tendencies, now deeply hidden. The peculiar social order of modern Germany rests upon the actually predominant influence of the agrarians, Prussian Junkerdom and propertied peasants.

These elements are the bulwark of the profoundly conservative German regime headed by Prussia. The vital interests of these classes demand a protective economic policy towards agriculture, import duties on grain, and consequently, high price for all farm products. But Germany, with her limited territory and increasing population, has long ago turned from an agricultural into an industrial State, so that protection of agriculture is, in effect, a matter of taxing the larger part of the population for the benefit of the smaller. To this majority, there is a compensation in the extensive development of the export of German industrial products to the most distant markets, so that the advantages derived thereby enable the industrialists and working people to pay the higher prices for the farm products consumed at home.

Defeated, Germany will lose her world markets and maritime commerce, for the aim of the war – on the part of its real instigator, England – will be the destruction of German competition. After this has been achieved, the labouring masses, deprived not only of higher but of any and all wages, having suffered greatly during the war, and being, naturally, embittered, will offer fertile soil for anti-agrarian and later anti-social propaganda by the Socialist parties.

These parties, in turn, making use of the outraged patriotic sentiment among the people, owing to the loss of the war, their exasperation at the militarists and the feudal burgher regime that betrayed them, will abandon the road of peaceable evolution which they have thus far been following so steadily, and take a purely revolutionary path. Some part will also be played, especially in the event of agrarian troubles in neighbouring Russia, by the class of landless farmhands, which is quite numerous in Germany. Apart from this, there will be a revival of the hitherto concealed separatist tendencies in southern Germany, and the hidden antagonism of Bavaria to domination by Prussia will emerge in all its intensity. In short, a situation will be created which (in gravity) will be little better than that in Russia.

Peace Among the Civilized Nations is Imperilled Chiefly by the Desire of England to Retain Her Vanishing Domination of the Seas

A summary of all that has been stated above must lead to the conclusion that a

rapprochement with England does not promise us any benefits, and that the English orientation of our diplomacy is essentially wrong. We do not travel the same road as England; she should be left to go her own way, and we must not quarrel on her account with Germany.

The Triple Entente is an artificial combination, without a basis of real interest. It has nothing to look forward to. The future belongs to a close and incomparably more vital rapprochement of Russia, Germany, France (reconciled with Germany), and Japan (allied to Russia by a strictly defensive union). A political combination like this, lacking all aggressiveness toward other States, would safeguard for many years the peace of the civilized nations, threatened, not by the militant intentions of Germany, as English diplomacy is trying to show, but solely by the perfectly natural striving of England to retain at all costs her vanishing domination of the seas. In this direction, and not in the fruitless search of a basis for an accord with England, which is in its very nature contrary to our national plans and aims, should all the efforts of our diplomacy be concentrated.

It goes without saying that Germany, on her part, must meet our desire to restore our well-tested relations and friendly alliance with her, and to elaborate, in closest agreement with us, such terms of our neighborly existence as to afford no basis for anti-German agitation on the part of our constitutional-liberal parties, which, by their very nature, are forced to adhere, not to a Conservative German, but to a liberal English orientation.

N. Durnovo,

February, 1914.

(Basil Dmytryshyn, Imperial Russia; A Source Book, 1700-1917 for full text, and Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution, p.55-6 and p.363 for summary.)

 

2 thoughts on “Where did it all go wrong for Russia?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.