Crimean War and Beginning of the Great Game


Beginning of the Great Game

The era of Alexander I, or rather, 1813, is known as the beginning of the so-called Great Game in the history of international relations. Thus, the English spy Arthur Connolly described the rivalry between the British and Russian empires for supremacy in Central Asia (1813-1907). Later this phenomenon was associated with British colonial history in India, made popular by the British writer Rudyard Kipling.

Besides the narrow sense, this concept can be interpreted more widely; this term can be used to describe a global confrontation between thalassocratic Britain and tellurocratic Russia. In this case, we have to include here not only the events in the Middle East or the Far East, but also all the important events in the international policy of the 19th century that affected the vital interests of Russia and England. In fact, the Great Game is the great war of continents, between Land civilization and Sea civilization, which is the main content of world geopolitical history. However, this confrontation between the Land and the Sea during the Great Game is considered in a particular historical period: the 19th century, and with two specific political actors: the British Empire and the Russian Empire.

Formally, the Russian Empire’s motivation for its expansion to the East was the will to “civilize the backward people of Central Asia”, to gain access to Central Asian goods, particularly cotton, and to stop the indigenous people’s raids on its territory. Britain, the largest colonizer, feared the possible loss of India and the strengthening of the Russian Empire on the world stage, via an apparent exit to the Indian Ocean through Persia and Afghanistan, by seizing new territories; the centuries-old Russian Colonialism was the real confirmation of this fact.

Since 1813, British diplomats were anxiously watching the military successes of the Russian army against Persia, and completed the signing of the Treaty of Gulistan and the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Russia annexed the territory of modern Armenia and Azerbaijan. The British military was engaged in training and re-equipping the Persian army, and supplied the Cherkess rebels with weapons. The main “nerve” of the collision between Russia and England was on the southern borders of Russia, where they were close to the English colonies or to lands where British influence was strong.

The expansion of the Russian empire in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the beginning of the 19th century and the military-political presence of Russian interests clashed with the British ones in the region. Britain, primarily, aimed at the retention and expansion of the territory of British India. The British came to India in the early 17th century and founded the East India Company. By the end of the 18th century, the whole of India was actually turned into the British colony.

There was only one power in the way of England’s world domination: Russia. The direct confrontation between the two countries happened under the next Russian monarch, the younger brother of Alexander I, Nicholas I. The most dramatic moment of the Great Game was the Crimean War.

Foreign Policy of Nicholas I

An important aspect of the foreign policy of Nicholas I was a return to the principals of the Holy Alliance. At that time, the role of Russia as the opposition to the bourgeois reforms in European life increased.

After ascending the throne, Nicholas I faced the Decembrist uprising, which tried to overthrow the monarchy and establish some new form of political system under the influence of the revolutionary-democratic and republicans (ideas obtained from the secret Masonic lodges). The different groups of Decembrists had various projects with the same final goal in mind. The Northern Society project introduced the constitutional monarchy with the expansion of the powers of the nobility, and was sent to replace the autocracy of the aristocratic form of government with the preservation of landownership. A more radical version was offered by Pestel, an activist of the Southern Society, and was called Russkaya Pravda (the Russian Truth). Here occurred the complete elimination of class, the introduction of a nationwide electoral system of governance, the abolition of serfdom, and the liberation of the peasants. Pestel’s model reproduced the bourgeois-democratic model of the European nations.

The suppression of the uprising gave the whole reign of Nicholas I a conservative climate and formed his sharp rejection of any revolutionary and bourgeois reforms. Therefore, Nicholas continued to support the idea of the Holy Alliance, which was proclaimed by his big brother.

At the request of the Austrian Empire, Russia took part in the suppression of the Hungarian revolution by sending 140,000 soldiers to Hungary, which was trying to free itself from Austrian oppression; the result was the preservation of Franz Joseph’s throne. This did not stop the Austrian Emperor, who was anxious about Russia strengthening its position in the Balkans, from becoming unfriendly to Nicholas during the Crimean War, and even threatened to join the war on the side of the hostile Russian coalition. Nicholas I regarded it as “ungrateful treachery”; Russian-Austrian relations were hopelessly corrupted until the end of both monarchies.

Nicholas I paid special attention to the issue of Eastern foreign policy. Russia, under Nicholas I, gave up the plan to conduct the partition of the Ottoman Empire, which was discussed under previous actors (Catherine II and Paul I), and began to carry out a completely different policy in the Balkans to protect the Orthodox population and to ensure their religious and civil rights, making them politically independent. This policy was conducted for the first time with the Akkerman Convention with Turkey in 1826. Under this document, Moldavia and Wallachia, while remaining a part of the Ottoman Empire, gained political autonomy with the right to elect their own government, which was formed under Russian control. After half a century of such autonomy, the State of Romania was founded in accordance with the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, as well as the Serbian principality according to the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, and the Greek kingdom under the same document and the London Protocol in 1830. In addition, Russia sought to ensure its influence in the Balkans and to use the Bosporus and the Dardanelles freely. During the Russian-Turkish wars of 1806-1812 (under Alexander I) and 1828-1829 (under Nicholas I) Russia successfully implemented the strategy of the gradual withdrawal of certain territories from the Ottoman influence. Russia declared itself as the patron of all the Sultan’s Christian subjects, thus he was forced to recognize the freedom and the independence of Greece and the autonomy of Serbia (1830); due to the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi (1833), which marked the apogee of Russia's influence in Constantinople, Russia had the right to block the passage of foreign ships in the Black Sea (which it lost in 1841). These are the reasons, as well as the support of the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire and the different regards on the Eastern issue, which made Russia’s relations with Turkey deteriorate in 1853; the consequence of this was the beginning of the war. The beginning of war with Turkey was marked by the brilliant victory of the Russian fleet under Admiral Nakhimov, which defeated the Turks at Sinop.

The conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Russia was solved in a complex diplomatic game with France, England, and Austria. The main Austrian statesman Metternich was anxious about the liberation movement of the nations that were part of the Ottoman Empire due to their general hostility to the bourgeois-democratic and national transformation. He was an opponent of the bourgeois reforms in France and British dominance. Therefore, the activity of the French, British, and Russians among the nations of the Ottoman Empire (Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, etc.) caused his counteraction.

The French and the British supported the national liberation movements of the Balkan people, but were anxious that, being Orthodox, these nations would become the part of the Russian zone of influence, as the vast majority of them confessed that religion. Therefore, the confrontation between the two countries was accompanied by intrigue against Russia. We should take into account that after the defeat of Napoleon, French policy significantly changed its vector and gradually transitioned from being anti-British (the Land) to pro-British (the Sea). Paris and London’s rapprochement had a serious sociological basis: the two powers among the other European countries were in the forefront of the bourgeois-democratic reform process, the liberalization of the economy, and the steady increase of the Third Estate’s role in political life. The formation of the Anglo-French axis was gradually associated with a thalassocratic geopolitical orientation.
This image in general was the geopolitical fabric of Russian-Turkish relations. It took place under Metternich's conservative policy, which preferred to leave everything as it was, and the Atlanticist policy of the Anglo-French alliance sought to weaken and disintegrate, if possible, the Ottoman Empire, but only in a way that Russia could not take advantage of. Thus, the Russian policy on the Turkish issue should be considered in the context of the geopolitical Great Game.

The Crimean War

The Russian military successes in Turkey caused a negative reaction among thalassocracy, which created the basis for the military alliance of Britain and France. This alliance was an expression of Sea power, and had an anti-Russian and anti-Land character. Once again, we can see at this moment the coincidence of force lining up with the objective geopolitical behavioral logic of politicians in all concerned parties. However, at this time, the States’ quantity changed a little bit. France was no longer a Land civilization (as it was in the Seven Years' War and under Napoleon), but was on the side of thalassocracy (the pole always represented by England). Russia couldn’t change its identity and followed strategic interests, trying to expand the area of influence in the south and southwest thought the decrepit Ottoman Empire. The Austrian Empire, at the same time, acted as a passive, continental, moderate land pole, exactly (in the line of geopolitics) reflecting Metternich’s ideas and his adherence to the Holy Alliance program. (The overthrow of the monarchy in France in 1830 and the revolutions in Belgium and Poland forced Austria, Russia, and Prussia to again confirm their fidelity to the Holy Union rules, which was stressed among other things by the decisions taken at the Munich Congress of the Russian and Austrian emperors and the Prussian Crown Prince in 1833).

Turkey acts predominantly as a Land power that is under pressure from all sides, both outside and inside, making it a desirable target for a wide variety of forces. Thus, the general geopolitical image in this period is focused on objective geopolitics and follows the basic geopolitical laws quite strictly.

In the context of the Great Game between England and Russia, i.e. thalassocracy against tellurocracy, the balance of power was formed on the eve of the Crimean War. In this scenario, Russia was in a difficult situation, as it was faced with a large thalassocracy coalition and did not have a reliable partner or ally in Europe. Austria left Russia at a critical moment, while Britain and France were on the side of Turkey, adding another important strategic component to the anti-Russian front. From a geopolitical point of view, it was a huge success for British diplomacy: London managed to isolate Russia from all possible allies, and such a coalition and its actions would only be successful for the British Empire, under any circumstances.

In 1854, Britain and France joined the war against Russia on the side of Turkey.

The main military events took place in Crimea. In October 1854, the Allies surrounded Sevastopol. The Russian army suffered a series of defeats and was not able to provide assistance to the seized fortress. Despite the heroic defense of the city, after the 11-month siege, in August 1855, Sevastopol’s defenders were forced to surrender the city.

In early 1856, after the death of Nicholas I and the accession of Alexander II, the Treaty of Paris was signed at the end of the Crimean War. According to the conditions, Russia could not deploy its naval forces in the Black Sea, or place arsenals and fortresses. Russia became weak in the region and was not able to further conduct its policy.

The Crimean War was a heavy defeat for Russia and the tellurocratic pole and, accordingly, a major victory for England, as well as the whole thalassocracy.