Russian Policy Against Turkey. Chartism

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 14 July 1853

Published: in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3819, July 14, 1853. Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 849, July 15, 1853
Collection(s): New York Tribune
Keywords : Chartism, Russia, Turkey

London, Friday, July 1, 1853[edit source]

Since the year 1815 the Great Powers of Europe have feared nothing so much as an infraction of the status quo. But any war between any two of those powers implies subversion of that status quo. That is the reason why Russia's encroachments in the East have been tolerated, and why she has never been asked for anything in return but to afford some pretext, however absurd, to the Western powers, for remaining neutral, and for being saved the necessity of interfering with Russian aggressions. Russia has all along been glorified for the forbearance and generosity of her "august master," who has not only condescended to cover the naked and shameful subserviency of Western Cabinets, but has displayed the magnanimity of devouring Turkey piece after piece, instead of swallowing it at a mouthful. Russian diplomacy has thus rested on the timidity of Western statesmen, and her diplomatic art has gradually sunk into so complete a mannerism, that you may trace the history of the present transactions almost literally in the annals of the past.

The hollowness of the new pretexts of Russia is apparent, after the Sultan [Abdul Mejid] has granted, in his new firman to the Patriarch of Constantinople [Germanos] more than the Czar himself had asked for -- so far as religion goes. Now was, perhaps, the "pacification of Greece" [1] a more solid pretext? When M. de Villèle, in order to tranquilize the apprehensions of the Sultan [Mahmud II], and to give a proof of the pure intentions of the Great Powers, proposed "that the allies ought above all things to conclude a Treaty by which the actual status quo of the Ottoman Empire should be guaranteed to it," the Russian Ambassador at Paris [K. O. Pozzo di Borgo] opposed this proposition to the utmost, affirming

"that Russia, in displaying generosity in her relations with the Porte, and in showing inappreciable respect for the wishes of her allies, [...] had been obliged, nevertheless, to reserve exclusively to herself to determine her own differences with the Divan; [...] that a general guarantee of the Ottoman Empire, independently of its being unusual and surprising, would wound the feelings of his master and the rights acquired by Russia, and the principles upon which they were founded."

Russia pretends now to occupy the Danubian principalities, without giving to the Porte the right of considering this step as a casus belli.

Russia pretended, in 1827, "to occupy Moldavia and Wallachia in the name of the three Powers."

While Russia proclaimed the following in her declaration of war of April 26, 1828:

"Her allies would always find her ready to concert her march with them, in execution of the Treaty of London [2], and ever anxious to aid in a work, which her religion and all the sentiments honorable to humanity recommended to her active solicitude, always disposed to profit by her actual position only for the purpose of accelerating the accomplishment of the Treaty of July 6th,"

while Russia announced in her manifesto, A. D. 1st October, 1829:

"Russia has remained constantly a stranger to every desire of conquest -- to every view of aggrandizement."

Her Ambassador at Paris was writing to Count Nesselrode.

"When the Imperial Cabinet examined the question, whether it had become expedient to take up arms against the Porte, [...] there might have existed some doubt about the urgency of this measure in the eyes of those who had not sufficiently reflected upon the effects of the sanguinary reforms, which the Chief of the Ottoman Empire has just executed with such tremendous violence. [...]

"The Emperor has put the Turkish system to the proof, and his Majesty has found it to possess a commencement of physical and moral organization which it hitherto had not. If this Sultan had been enabled to offer us a more determined and regular resistance, while he had scarcely assembled together the elements of his new plan of reform and ameliorations, how formidable should we have found him had he had time to give it more solidity. [...] Things being in this state, we must congratulate ourselves upon having attacked them before they became more dangerous for us, for delay would only have made our relative situation worse, and prepared us greater obstacles than those with which we meet."

Russia proposes now to make an aggressive step and then to talk about it. In 1829 Prince Lieven wrote to Count Nesselrode:

"We shall confine ourselves to generalities, for every circumstantial communication on a subject so delicate would draw down real dangers, and if once we discuss with our allies the articles of treaty with the Porte, we shall only content them when they will imagine that they have imposed upon us irreparable sacrifices. It is in the midst of our camp that peace must be signed and it is when it shall have been concluded that Europe must know its conditions. Remonstrances will then be too late and it will then patiently suffer what it can no longer prevent."

Russia has now for several months been delaying action under one presence or another, in order to maintain a state of things which, being neither war nor peace, is tolerable to herself, but ruinous to the Turks. She acted in precisely the same manner in the period we have alluded to. As Pozzo di Borgo said:

"It is our policy to see that nothing new happens during the next four months and I hope we shall accomplish it, because men in general prefer waiting; but the fifth must be fruitful in events."

The Czar, after having inflicted the greatest indignities on the Turkish Government, and notwithstanding that he now threatens to extort by force the most humiliating concessions, nevertheless raises a great cry about his "friendship for the Sultan Abdul Mejid" and his solicitude "for the preservation of the Ottoman Empire." On the Sultan he throws the "responsibility" of opposing his "just demands," of continuing to "wound his friendship and his feelings," of rejecting his "note," and of declining his "protectorate."

In 1828, when Pozzo di Borgo was interpellated by Charles X about the bad success of the Russian arms in the campaign of that year, he replied, that, not wishing to push the war à outrance without absolute necessity, the Emperor had hoped that the Sultan would have profited by his generosity, which experiment had now failed.

Shortly before commencing her present quarrel with the Porte Russia sought to bring about a general coalition of the Continental Powers against England, on the Refugee question, and having failed in that experiment, she attempted to bring about a coalition with England against France. Similarly, from 1826 to 1828, she intimidated Austria by the "ambitious projects of Prussia," doing simultaneously all that was in her power to swell the power and pretensions of Prussia, in order to enable her to balance Austria. In her present circular note she indicts Bonaparte as the only disturber of peace by his pretensions respecting the Holy Places [3]; but, at that time, in the language of Pozzo di Borgo, she attributed

"all the agitation that pervaded Europe to the agency of Prince Metternich, and tried to make the Duke of Wellington himself perceive that the deference which he would have to the Cabinet of Vienna would be a drawback to his influence with all the others, and to give such a turn to things that it would be no longer Russia that sought to compromise France with Great Britain, but Great Britain who had repudiated France, in order to join the Cabinet of Vienna."

Russia would now submit to a great humiliation if she retreated. That was identically her situation after the first unsuccessful campaign of 1828. What was then her supreme object? We answer in the words of her diplomatist:

"A second campaign is indispensable in order to acquire the superiority requisite for the success of the negotiation. [...] When this negotiation shall take place we must be in a state to dictate the conditions of it in a prompt and rapid manner.... With the power of doing more His Majesty would consent to demand less. [...] To obtain this superiority appears to me what ought to be the aim of all our efforts. This superiority has now become a condition of our political existence, such as we must establish [...] and maintain in the eyes of the world."

But does Russia not fear the common action of England and France? Certainly. In the Secret Memoirs on the Means possessed by Russia for breaking up the alliance between France and England, revealed during the reign of Louis Philippe, we are told:

"In the event of a war, in which England should coalesce with France, Russia indulges in no hope of success. unless that union [...] be broken up; so that at the least England should consent to remain neutral during the continental conflict."

The question is: Does Russia believe in a common action of England and France? We quote again from Pozzo di Borgo's dispatches:

"From the moment that the idea of the ruin of the Turkish Empire ceases to prevail, it is not probable that the British Government would risk a general war for the sake of exempting the Sultan from acceding to such or such condition, above all in the state in which things will be at the commencement of the approaching campaign, when everything will be as yet uncertain and undecided. These considerations would authorize the belief that we have no cause to fear an open rupture on the part of Great Britain; and that she will content herself with counseling the Porte to beg peace, and with lending the aid of the good offices in her power during the negotiation if it takes place, without going further, should the Sultan refuse or we persist."

And as to Nesselrode's opinion of the "good" Aberdeen, the Minister of 1828, and the Minister of 1853, it may be well to quote the following from a dispatch by Prince Lieven:

"Lord Aberdeen reiterated in his interview with me the assurance that at no period it had entered into the intentions of England to seek a quarrel with Russia -- that he feared that the position of the English Ministry was not well understood at St. Petersburg -- that he found himself in a delicate situation. Public opinion was always ready to burst forth against Russia. The British Government could not constantly brave it; and it would be dangerous to excite it on questions [...] that touched so nearly the national prejudices. On the other side we could reckon with entire confidence upon the [...] friendly dispositions of the English Ministry which struggled against them."

The only thing astonishing in the note of M. de Nesselrode, of June 11, is not "The insolent melange of professions refuted by acts, and threats veiled in declaimers," but the reception Russian diplomatical notes meet with for the first time in Europe, calling forth, instead of the habitual awe and admiration, blushes of shame at the past and disdainful laughter from the Western world at this insolent amalgamation of pretensions, finesse and real barbarism. Yet Nesselrode's circular note, and the "ultimatissimum" of June 16, are not a bit worse than the so much admired master-pieces of Pozzo di Borgo and Prince Lieven. Count Nesselrode was at their time, what he is now, the diplomatical head of Russia.

There is a facetious story told of two Persian naturalists who were examining a bear; the one who had never seen such an animal before, inquired whether that animal dropped its cubs alive or laid eggs; to which the other, who was better informed, replied: "That animal is capable of anything." The Russian bear is certainly capable of anything, so long as he knows the other animals he has to deal with to be capable of nothing.

En passant, I may mention the signal victory Russia has just won in Denmark, the Royal message having passed with a majority of 119 against 28, in the following terms:

"In agreement with the 4th paragraph of the Constitution d. d. June 5, 1849, the United Parliament, for its part, gives its consent to the arrangement by His Majesty of the succession to the whole Danish Monarchy in accordance with the Royal message respecting the succession of Oct. 4, 1852, renewed June 13, 1853."

  1. "Pacification of Greece" -- An expression used in the diplomatic documents of the European powers with reference to their intervention of the Turko-Greek conflict caused by the liberation struggle of the Greek people against Turkish rule in the 1820s.
  2. The London conferences of the representatives of Britain, Russia and France were held in 1827-29 and discussed the Greek question. On July 6, 1827, the three powers signed a Convention which confirmed the Protocol on Greek autonomy signed by Britain and Russia in St. Petersburg on April 4 1826. Both the Protocol and the Convention contained clauses on the diplomatic recognition of Greece as an independent state and armed mediation in the Turko-Greek conflict. On the basis of this Convention the allied fleet was sent into Greek waters and took part in the battle of Navarino. A number of other documents concerning Greece were also signed, including a Protocol of March 22 1829, which established the borders of the Greek state and provided for a monarchical form of government in Greece. However, these agreements and the steps taken by Britain and France, who hoped to settle the conflict through diplomacy, without a defeat for Turkey in the Russo-Turkish was, could not make Turkey change her attitude on the Greek question. It was only after the victory of the Russian army under General Diebich in the 1829 campaign that Turkey agreed to make some concessions.
  3. A reference to Nesselrode's Note (a circular letter of June 11 1853) to Russian diplomats abroad. The Note criticized the Porte's actions and gave ground for presenting a new ultimatum to Turkey demanding that the Russian Tsar be recognized as the protector of the Christian subjects of the Sultan and threatening to resort to "decisive measures" if these demands were rejected. This ultimatum, which Marx calls below and "ultimatissimum", was presented to the Porte on June 16 1853.