Russia During the Petersburg Period (1703-1917) Part II

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Foreign policy and restorative order after the victory over Napoleon

Since the Congress of Vienna (1815), Alexander I, as the initiator of the Holy Alliance with Prince Metternich, became the guardian of the monarchical order in Europe, and since 1820 he has supported the anti-liberal and anti-revolutionary intervention policy. Under his brother Nicholas I (1825-55) Russia became after the suppression of the uprising of the Decembrists (1825) and the elevation in Poland (1830) to “European gendarme” and in association with Austria and Prussia to conservative supremacy. On the one hand, in the Greek struggle for freedom (1821-29), the emperor, together with the Western powers, did not refuse troop aid against the Ottoman Empire to the beleaguered fellow believers; on the other hand, he had the Hungarian uprising put down in 1849 at the request of Austria. He based his state ideology on the principles of autocracy, orthodoxy and nationality (“Uvarov Trinity”). With the codification of the imperial laws, M. M. Speranski created the prerequisites for a constitutional order in 1830/32. Despite surveillance by the police and civil servants, the reign of Nicholas I. a strong, albeit partially closed, development of intellectual life (conflict between Slavophiles and Westerners) and the first blossoming of literature (A. S. Pushkin, M. J. Lermontow, N. W. Gogol). Since then, however, a growing alienation from the state and a system-critical opposition based on the demand for freedom have remained characteristic of the intelligentsia. The military defeat in the Crimean War (1853 / 54–56) against the Western powers, which in the Peace of Paris (1856) inter alia. enforced the demilitarization of the Black Sea coast (“Pontus Clauses”) ended the Russian hegemony.

Reform policy and expansion to the east

Alexander II (1855–81) introduced a policy of reform with far-reaching consequences in the “new era”. The peasants’ liberation finally completed (abolition of the serfdom of the landlord peasants, 1861) was followed in 1863 by limited university autonomy (replaced again by strict state supervision in 1884), the establishment of elected rural self-government units (Zemstvo, 1864), the modernization of the judiciary (1864), and relaxation censorship (1865), the reform of urban self-government on the basis of three-class voting rights (1870) and army reform with the introduction of general conscription (1874). In terms of foreign policy, Russia continued to expand eastwards (founding Vladivostok in 1860).

China had to recognize Amur and Ussuri as borders in the treaties of Aigun (1858) and Beijing (1860), in 1875 southern Sakhalin was exchanged for the Kuril Islands by Japan. In Inner Asia, Russia advanced to the borders of Persia and Afghanistan (1864 Turkestan, 1865 Tashkent, 1868 Samarkand, 1873 Khiva, 1876 Kokand), while the outposts on the North American continent (Russian America) were cleared again (sale of Alaska and the Aleutians to the USA, 1867). In the Caucasus, the resistance of the mountain peoples under the legendary Imam Shamil had to fight for decades (until 1859) to be beaten down. The second Polish uprising (1863) sparked a wave of Russian nationalism. Thanks to the favorable constellation of the Franco-German War of 1870/71, the discriminatory Pontus clauses could be repealed in 1871. A Pan-Slavist mood urged the government in the Orient crisis of the 1970s to an active Balkan policy and to the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78, whose favorable result achieved in the preliminary peace of San Stefano modified under pressure from Great Britain and Austria-Hungary at the Berlin Congress in 1878 had to become.

Czarism did not succeed in achieving lasting reconciliation with progressive social forces. Under the impression of the negative social consequences of the reform measures introduced, the Enlightenment-idealistic movement of the Narodniki passed since 1878 into the revolutionary terrorism of the Narodnaya Volya, to which Alexander II fell victim in 1881. Alexander III (1881–94) returned to the state’s policy of repression, which was increasingly combined with a linguistic and institutional Russification of the peripheral areas (Poland, Baltic provinces, Finland).

In terms of foreign policy, Russia stuck to its three-emperor policy in spite of ongoing tensions with Austria-Hungary and, for a time, with the German Reich (war-in-sight crisis, 1875). In 1890 Germany’s refusal to renew the reinsurance treaty led to the Russian-French alliance concluded by Foreign Minister N. K. Giers (1891 consultative agreement, 1893 two-way association) as a counterweight to the Triple Alliance. With the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Transsib), which began in 1891, the economic development of Siberia to the Far East began. The Russian imperialist-capitalist economic expansion in Manchuria and Korea led to growing tensions with Japan (Russo-Japanese War 1904–05) and with Great Britain. They could only be resolved through the delimitation of the British-Russian spheres of interest in Inner Asia (Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet) in the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1907) and in the Russian-Japanese agreements on Korea, Manchuria and Mongolia (1907/10). In the Balkans, Russia suffered a diplomatic defeat in the Bosnian annexation crisis (1908-09) and lost its influence in Bulgaria, which became closer to its rivals Austria-Hungary. The loss of prestige could not be compensated for by the efforts to establish a Balkan confederation, which failed in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. After the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne in Sarajevo (June 28, 1914), the early general mobilization of Russia (July 30, 1914) led to the German declaration of war (August 1), whereby the initially limited conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary expanded. The First World War led to the fall of the tsarist system of rule in the February and October revolutions of 1917.

Russia During the Petersburg Period 2

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