Chapter XXXVIII - Territorial Expansion And Foreign Policy
The rapid growth of Russia is one of the most remarkable facts of modern history. An insignificant tribe, or collection of tribes, which, a thousand years ago, occupied a small district near the sources of the Dnieper and Western Dvina, has grown into a great nation with a territory stretching from the Baltic to the Northern Pacific, and from the Polar Ocean to the frontiers of Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and China. We have here a fact well deserving of investigation, and as the process is still going on and is commonly supposed to threaten our national interests, the investigation ought to have for us more than a mere scientific interest. What is the secret of this expansive power? Is it a mere barbarous lust of territorial aggrandisement, or is it some more reasonable motive? And what is the nature of the process? Is annexation followed by assimilation, or do the new acquisitions retain their old character? Is the Empire in its present extent a homogeneous whole, or merely a conglomeration of heterogenous units held together by the outward bond of centralised administration? If we could find satisfactory answers to these questions, we might determine how far Russia is strengthened or weakened by her annexations of territory, and might form some plausible conjectures as to how, when, and where the process of expansion is to stop.
By glancing at her history from the economic point of view we may easily detect one prominent cause of expansion.
An agricultural people, employing merely the primitive methods of agriculture, has always a strong tendency to widen its borders. The natural increase of population demands a constantly increasing production of grain, whilst the primitive methods of cultivation exhaust the soil and steadily diminish its productivity. With regard to this stage of economic development, the modest assertion of Malthus, that the supply of food does not increase so rapidly as the population, often falls far short of the truth. As the population increases, the supply of food may decrease not only relatively, but absolutely. When a people finds itself in this critical position, it must adopt one of two alternatives: either it must prevent the increase of population, or it must increase the production of food. In the former case it may legalise the custom of "exposing" infants, as was done in ancient Greece; or it may regularly sell a large portion of the young women and children, as was done until recently in Circassia; or the surplus population may emigrate to foreign lands, as the Scandinavians did in the ninth century, and as we ourselves are doing in a more peaceable fashion at the present day. The other alternative may be effected either by extending the area of cultivation or by improving the system of agriculture.
The Russo-Slavonians, being an agricultural people, experienced this difficulty, but for them it was not serious. A convenient way of escape was plainly indicated by their peculiar geographical position. They were not hemmed in by lofty mountains or stormy seas. To the south and east--at their very doors, as it were--lay a boundless expanse of thinly populated virgin soil, awaiting the labour of the husbandman, and ready to repay it most liberally. The peasantry therefore, instead of exposing their infants, selling their daughters, or sweeping the seas as Vikings, simply spread out towards the east and south. This was at once the most natural and the wisest course, for of all the expedients for preserving the equilibrium between population and food-production, increasing the area of cultivation is, under the circumstances just described, the easiest and most effective. Theoretically the same result might have been obtained by improving the method of agriculture, but practically this was impossible. Intensive culture is not likely to be adopted so long as expansion is easy. High farming is a thing to be proud of when there is a scarcity of land, but it would be absurd to attempt it where there is abundance of virgin soil in the vicinity.
The process of expansion, thus produced by purely economic causes, was accelerated by influences of another kind, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The increase in the number of officials, the augmentation of the taxes, the merciless exactions of the Voyevods and their subordinates, the transformation of the peasants and "free wandering people" into serfs, the ecclesiastical reforms and consequent persecution of the schismatics, the frequent conscriptions and violent reforms of Peter the Great--these and other kinds of oppression made thousands flee from their homes and seek a refuge in the free territory, where there were no officials, no tax-gatherers, and no proprietors. But the State, with its army of tax-gatherers and officials, followed close on the heels of the fugitives, and those who wished to preserve their liberty had to advance still further. Notwithstanding the efforts of the authorities to retain the population in the localities actually occupied, the wave of colonisation moved steadily onwards.
The vast territory which lay open to the colonists consisted of two contiguous regions, separated from each other by no mountains or rivers, but widely differing from each other in many respects. The one, comprising all the northern part of Eastern Europe and of Asia, even unto Kamchatka, may be roughly described as a land of forests, intersected by many rivers, and containing numerous lakes and marshes; the other, stretching southwards to the Black Sea, and eastwards far away into Central Asia, is for the most part what Russians call "the Steppe," and Americans would call the prairies.
Each of these two regions presented peculiar inducements and peculiar obstacles to colonisation. So far as the facility of raising grain was concerned, the southern region was decidedly preferable. In the north the soil had little natural fertility, and was covered with dense forests, so that much time and labour had to be expended in making a clearing before the seed could be sown.* In the south, on the contrary, the squatter had no trees to fell, and no clearing to make. Nature had cleared the land for him, and supplied him with a rich black soil of marvellous fertility, which has not yet been exhausted by centuries of cultivation. Why, then, did the peasant often prefer the northern forests to the fertile Steppe where the land was already prepared for him?
* The modus operandi has been already described; vide supra, pp. 104 et seq.
For this apparent inconsistency there was a good and valid reason. The muzhik had not, even in those good old times, any passionate love of labour for its own sake, nor was he by any means insensible to the facilities for agriculture afforded by the Steppe. But he could not regard the subject exclusively from the agricultural point of view. He had to take into consideration the fauna as well as the flora of the two regions. At the head of the fauna in the northern forests stood the peace-loving, laborious Finnish tribes, little disposed to molest settlers who did not make themselves obnoxiously aggressive; on the Steppe lived the predatory, nomadic hordes, ever ready to attack, plunder, and carry off as slaves the peaceful agricultural population. These facts, as well as the agricultural conditions, were known to intending colonists, and influenced them in their choice of a new home. Though generally fearless and fatalistic in a higher degree, they could not entirely overlook the dangers of the Steppe, and many of them preferred to encounter the hard work of the forest region.
These differences in the character and population of the two regions determined the character of the colonisation. Though the colonisation of the northern regions was not effected entirely without bloodshed, it was, on the whole, of a peaceful kind, and consequently received little attention from the contemporary chroniclers. The colonisation of the Steppe, on the contrary, required the help of the Cossacks, and forms, as I have already shown, one of the bloodiest pages of European history.
Thus, we see, the process of expansion towards the north, east, and south may be described as a spontaneous movement of the agricultural population. It must, however, be admitted that this is an imperfect and one-sided representation of the phenomenon. Though the initiative unquestionably came from the people, the Government played an important part in the movement.
In early times when Russia was merely a conglomeration of independent principalities, the Princes were under the moral and political obligation of protecting their subjects, and this obligation coincided admirably with their natural desire to extend their dominions. When the Grand Princes of Muscovy, in the fifteenth century, united the numerous principalities and proclaimed themselves Tsars, they accepted this obligation for the whole country, and conceived much grander schemes of territorial aggrandisement. Towards the north and northeast no strenuous efforts were required. The Republic of Novgorod easily gained possession of Northern Russia as far as the Ural Mountains, and Siberia was conquered by a small band of Cossacks without the authorisation of Muscovy, so that the Tsars had merely to annex the already conquered territory. In the southern region the part played by the Government was very different. The agricultural population had to be constantly protected along a frontier of enormous length, lying open at all points to the incursions of nomadic tribes. To prevent raids it was necessary to keep up a military cordon, and this means did not always ensure protection to those living near the frontier. The nomads often came in formidable hordes, which could be successfully resisted only by large armies, and sometimes the armies were not large enough to cope with them. Again and again during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Tartar hordes swept over the country--burning the villages and towns, and spreading devastation wherever they appeared--and during more than two centuries Russia had to pay a heavy tribute to the Khans.
Gradually the Tsars threw off this galling yoke. Ivan the Terrible annexed the three Khanates of the Lower Volga--Kazan, Kipttchak, and Astrakhan--and in that way removed the danger of a foreign domination. But permanent protection was not thereby secured to the outlying provinces. The nomadic tribes living near the frontier continued their raids, and in the slave markets of the Crimea the living merchandise was supplied by Russia and Poland.
To protect an open frontier against the incursions of nomadic tribes three methods are possible: the construction of a great wall, the establishment of a strong military cordon, and the permanent subjugation of the marauders. The first of these expedients, adopted by the Romans in Britain and by the Chinese on their northwestern frontier, is enormously expensive, and was utterly impossible in a country like Southern Russia, where there is no stone for building purposes; the second was constantly tried, and constantly found wanting; the third alone proved practicable and efficient. Though the Government has long since recognised that the acquisition of barren, thinly populated steppes is a burden rather than an advantage, it has been induced to go on making annexations for the purpose of self-defence, as well as for other reasons.
In consequence of this active part which the Government took in the extension of the territory, the process of political expansion sometimes got greatly ahead of the colonisation. After the Turkish wars and consequent annexations in the time of Catherine II., for example, a great part of Southern Russia was almost uninhabited, and the deficiency had to be corrected, as we have seen, by organised emigration. At the present day, in the Asiatic provinces, there are still immense tracts of unoccupied land, some of which are being gradually colonised.
If we turn now from the East to the West we shall find that the expansion in this direction was of an entirely different kind. The country lying to the westward of the early Russo-Slavonian settlements had a poor soil and a comparatively dense population, and consequently held out little inducement to emigration. Besides this, it was inhabited by warlike agricultural races, who were not only capable of defending their own territory, but even strongly disposed to make encroachments on their eastern neighbours. Russian expansion to the westward was, therefore, not a spontaneous movement of the agricultural population, but the work of the Government, acting slowly and laboriously by means of diplomacy and military force; it had, however, a certain historical justification.
No sooner had Russia freed herself, in the fifteenth century, from the Tartar domination, than her political independence, and even her national existence, were threatened from the West. Her western neighbours, were like herself, animated with that tendency to national expansion which I have above described; and for a time it seemed doubtful who should ultimately possess the vast plains of Eastern Europe. The chief competitors were the Tsars of Moscow and the Kings of Poland, and the latter appeared to have the better chance. In close connection with Western Europe, they had been able to adopt many of the improvements which had recently been made in the art of war, and they already possessed the rich valley of the Dnieper. Once, with the help of the free Cossacks, they succeeded in overrunning the whole of Muscovy, and a son of the Polish king was elected Tsar in Moscow. By attempting to accomplish their purpose in a too hasty and reckless fashion, they raised a storm of religious and patriotic fanaticism, which very soon drove them out of their newly acquired possessions. The country remained, however, in a very precarious position, and its more intelligent rulers perceived plainly that, in order to carry on the struggle successfully, they must import something of that Western civilisation which gave such an advantage to their opponents.
Some steps had already been taken in that direction. In the year 1553 an English navigator, whilst seeking for a short route to China and India, had accidentally discovered the port of Archangel on the White Sea, and since that time the Tsars had kept up an intermittent diplomatic and commercial intercourse with England. But this route was at all times tedious and dangerous, and during a great part of the year it was closed by the ice. In view of these difficulties the Tsars tried to import "cunning foreign artificers," by way of the Baltic; but their efforts were hampered by the Livonian Order, who at that time held the east coast, and who considered, like the Europeans on the coast of Africa at the present day, that the barbarous natives of the interior should not be supplied with arms and ammunition. All the other routes to the West traversed likewise the territory of rivals, who might at any time become avowed enemies. Under these circumstances the Tsars naturally desired to break through the barrier which hemmed them in, and the acquisition of the eastern coast of the Baltic became one of the chief objects of Russia's foreign policy.
After Poland, Russia's most formidable rival was Sweden. That power early acquired a large amount of territory to the east of the Baltic--including the mouths of the Neva, where St. Petersburg now stands--and long harboured ambitious schemes of further conquest. In the troublous times when the Poles overran the Tsardom of Muscovy, she took advantage of the occasion to annex a considerable amount of territory, and her expansion in this direction went on in intermittent fashion until it was finally stopped by Peter the Great.
In comparison with these two rivals Russia was weak in all that regarded the art of war; but she had two immense advantages: she had a very large population, and a strong, stable Government that could concentrate the national forces for any definite purpose. All that she required for success in the competition was an army on the European model. Peter the Great created such an army, and won the prize. After this the political disintegration of Poland proceeded rapidly, and when that unhappy country fell to pieces Russia naturally took for herself the lion's share of the spoil. Sweden, too, sank to political insignificance, and gradually lost all her trans-Baltic possessions. The last of them--the Grand Duchy of Finland, which stretches from the Gulf of Finland to the Polar Ocean--was ceded to Russia by the peace of Friederichshamm in 1809.
The territorial extent of all these acquisitions will be best shown in a tabular form. The following table represents the process of expansion from the time when Ivan III. united the independent principalities and threw off the Tartar yoke, down to the accession of Peter the Great in 1682:
English Sq. Miles. In 1505 the Tsardom of Muscovy contained about 784,000 " 1583 " " " " 996,000 " 1584 " " " " 2,650,000 " 1598 " " " " 3,328,000 " 1676 " " " " 5,448,000 " 1682 " " " " 5,618,000
Of these 5,618,000 English square miles about 1,696,000 were in Europe and about 3,922,000 in Asia. Peter the Great, though famous as a conqueror, did not annex nearly so much territory as many of his predecessors and successors. At his death, in 1752, the Empire contained, in round numbers, 1,738,000 square miles in Europe and 4,092,000 in Asia. The following table shows the subsequent expansion:
In Europe and the Caucasus In Asia. Eng. sq. m Eng. sq. m. In 1725 the Russian Empire contained about 1,738,000 4,092,000 " 1770 " " " " 1,780,000 4,452,000 " 1800 " " " " 2,014,000 4,452,000 " 1825 " " " " 2,226,000 4,452,000 " 1855 " " " " 2,261,250 5,194,000 " 1867 " " " " 2,267,360 5,267,560 " 1897 " " " " 2,267,360 6,382,321
In this table is not included the territory in the North-west of America--containing about 513,250 English square miles--which was annexed to Russia in 1799 and ceded to the United States in 1867.
When once Russia has annexed she does not readily relax her grasp. She has, however, since the death of Peter the Great, on four occasions ceded territory which had come into her possession. To Persia she ceded, in 1729, Mazanderan and Astrabad, and in 1735 a large portion of the Caucasus; in 1856, by the Treaty of Paris, she gave up the mouths of the Danube and part of Bessarabia; in 1867 she sold to the United States her American possessions; in 1881 she retroceded to China the greater part of Kuldja, which she had occupied for ten years; and now she is releasing her hold on Manchuria under the pressure of Japan.
The increase in the population--due in part to territorial acquisitions--since 1722, when the first census was taken, has been as follows:--
In 1722 the Empire contained about 14 million inhabitants. " 1742 " " " 16 " " 1762 " " " 19 " " 1782 " " " 28 " " 1796 " " " 36 " " 1812 " " " 41 " " 1815 " " " 45 " " 1835 " " " 60 " " 1851 " " " 68 " " 1858 " " " 44 " " 1897 " " " 129 "
So much for the past. To sum up, we may say that, if we have read Russian history aright, the chief motives of expansion have been spontaneous colonisation, self-defence against nomadic tribes, and high political aims, such as the desire to reach the sea-coast; and that the process has been greatly facilitated by peculiar geographical conditions and the autocratic form of government. Before passing to the future, I must mention another cause of expansion which has recently come into play, and which has already acquired very great importance.
Russia is rapidly becoming, as I have explained in a previous chapter, a great industrial and commercial nation, and is anxious to acquire new markets for her manufactured goods. Though her industries cannot yet supply her own wants, she likes to peg out claims for the future, so as not to be forestalled by more advanced nations. I am not sure that she ever makes a conquest exclusively for this purpose, but whenever it happens that she has other reasons for widening her borders, the idea of acquiring commercial advantages acts as a subsidiary incentive, and as soon as the territory is annexed she raises round it a line of commercial fortifications in the shape of custom-houses, through which foreign goods have great difficulty in forcing their way.
This policy is quite intelligible from the patriotic point of view, but Russians like to justify it, and condemn English competition, on higher ground. England, they say, is like a successful manufacturer who has oustripped his rivals and who seeks to prevent any new competitors from coming into the field. By her mercantile policy she has become the great blood-sucker of other nations. Haying no cause to fear competition, she advocates the insidious principles of Free Trade, and deluges foreign countries with her manufactures to such an extent that unprotected native industries are inevitably ruined. Thus all nations have long paid tribute to England, but the era of emancipation had dawned. The fallacies of Free Trade have been detected and exposed, and Russia, like other nations, has found in the beneficent power of protective tariffs a means of escape from British economic thraldom. Henceforth, not only the muzhiks of European Russia, but also the populations of Central Asia, will be saved from the heartless exploitation of Manchester and Birmingham--and be handed over, I presume, to the tender mercies of the manufacturers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, who sell their goods much dearer than their English rivals.
Having thus analysed the expansive tendency, let us endeavour to determine how the various factors of which it is composed are acting in the present and are likely to act in the future. In this investigation it will be well to begin with the simpler, and proceed gradually to the more complex parts of the problem.
Towards the north and the west the history of Russian expansion may almost be regarded as closed. Northwards there is nothing to be annexed but the Arctic Ocean and the Polar regions; and, westwards, annexations at the expense of Germany are not to be thought of. There remain, therefore, only Sweden and Norway. They may possibly, at some future time, come within the range of Russia's territorial appetite, but at present the only part of the Scandinavian Peninsula on which she is supposed to cast longing eyes is a barren district in the extreme north, which is said to contain an excellent warm-water port.
Towards the south-west there are possibilities of future expansion, and already some people talk of Austrian Galicia being geographically and ethnographically a part of Russia; but so long as the Austro-Hungarian Empire holds together such possibilities do not come within the sphere of practical politics.
Farther east, towards the Balkan Peninsula, the expansive tendency is much more complicated and of very ancient date. The Russo-Slavs who held the valley of the Dnieper from the ninth to the thirteenth century belonged to those numerous frontier tribes which the tottering Byzantine Empires attempted to ward off by diplomacy and rich gifts, and by giving to the troublesome chiefs, on condition of their accepting Christianity, princesses of the Imperial family as brides. Vladimir, Prince of Kief, now recognised as a Saint by the Russian Church, accepted Christianity in this way (A. D. 988), and his subjects followed his example. Russia thus became ecclesiastically a part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the people learned to regard Tsargrad--that is, the City of the Tsar, as the Byzantine Emperor was then called--with peculiar veneration.
All through the long Tartar domination, when the nomadic hordes held the valley of the Dnieper and formed a barrier between Russia and the Balkan Peninsula, the capital of the Greek Orthodox world was remembered and venerated by the Russian people, and in the fifteenth century it acquired in their eyes a new significance. At that time the relative positions of Constantinople and Moscow were changed. Constantinople fell under the power of the Mahometan Turks, whilst Moscow threw off the yoke of the Mahometan Tartars, the northern representatives of the Turkish race. The Grand Prince of Moscow thereby became the Protector of the Faith, and in some sort the successor of the Byzantine Tsars. To strengthen this claim, Ivan III. married a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, and his successors went further in the same direction by assuming the title of Tsar, and inventing a fable about their ancestor Rurik having been a descendant of Caesar Augustus.
All this would seem to a lawyer, or even to a diplomatist, a very shadowy title, and none of the Russian monarchs--except perhaps Catherine II., who conceived the project of resuscitating the Byzantine Empire, and caused one of her grandsons to learn modern Greek, in view of possible contingencies--ever thought seriously of claiming the imaginary heritage; but the idea that the Tsars ought to reign in Tsargrad, and that St. Sophia, polluted by Moslem abominations, should be restored to the Orthodox Christians, struck deep root in the minds of the Russian people, and is still by no means extinct. As soon as serious disturbances break out in the East the peasantry begin to think that perhaps the time has come for undertaking a crusade for the recovery of the Holy City on the Bosphorus, and for the liberation of their brethren in the faith who groan under Turkish bondage.
Essentially different from this religious sentiment, but often blended with it, is a vague feeling of racial affinity, which has long existed among the various Slav nationalities, and which was greatly developed during last century by writers of the Panslavist school. When Germans and Italians were striving after political independence and unity, it naturally occurred to the Slavs that they might do likewise. The idea became popular among the subject Slav nationalities of Austria and Turkey, and it awoke a certain amount of enthusiasm in Moscow, where it was hoped that "all the Slav streams would unite in the great Russian Sea." It required no great political perspicacity to foresee that in any confederation of Slav nationalities the hegemony must necessarily devolve on Russia, the only Slav State which has succeeded in becoming a Great Power.
Those two currents of national feeling ran parallel to, and intermingled with, the policy of the Government. Desirous of becoming a great naval Power, Russia has always striven to reach the sea-coast and obtain good harbours. In the north and north- west she succeeded in a certain degree, but neither the White Sea nor the Baltic satisfied her requirements, and she naturally turned her eyes to the Mediterranean. With difficulty she gained possession of the northern shores of the Black Sea, but her designs were thereby only half realised, because the Turks held the only outlet to the Mediterranean, and could effectually blockade, so far as the open sea is concerned, all her Black Sea ports, without employing a single ship of war. Thus the possession of the Straits, involving necessarily the possession of Constantinople, became a cardinal point of Russia's foreign policy. Any description of the various methods adopted by her at different times for the attainment of this end does not enter into my present programme, but I may say briefly that the action of the three factors above mentioned--the religious feeling, the Panslavist sentiment, and the political aims--has never been better exemplified than in the last struggle with Turkey, culminating in the Treaty of San Stefano and the Congress of Berlin.
For all classes in Russia the result of that struggle was a feeling of profound disappointment. The peasantry bewailed the fact that the Crescent on St. Sophia had not been replaced by the Cross; the Slavophil patriots were indignant that the "little brothers" had shown themselves unworthy of the generous efforts and sacrifices made on their behalf, and that a portion of the future Slav confederation had passed under the domination of Austria; and the Government recognised that the acquisition of the Straits must be indefinitely postponed. Then history repeated itself. After the Crimean War, in accordance with Prince Gortchakoff's famous epigram, La Russie ne boude pas elle se recueille, the Government had for some years abandoned an active policy in Europe, and devoted itself to the work of internal reorganisation; whilst the military party had turned their attention to making new acquisitions of territory and influence in Asia. In like manner, after the Turkish campaign of 1877-78, Alexander III., turning his back on the Slav brethren, inaugurated an era of peace in Europe and of territorial expansion in the east. In this direction the expansive force was not affected by religious feeling, or Panslavist sentiment, and was controlled and guided by purely political considerations. It is consequently much easier to determine in this field of action what the political aims really are.
In Asia, as in Europe, the dominant factor in the policy of the Government has been the desire to reach the sea-coast; and in both continents the ports first acquired were in northern latitudes where the coasts are free from ice during only a part of the year. In this respect, Nikolaefsk and Vladivostok in the Far East correspond to Archangel and St. Petersburg in Europe. Such ports could not fulfil all the requirements, and consequently the expansive tendency turned southwards--in Europe towards the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and in Asia towards the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Pechili.
In Persia the Russian Government pursues the policy of pacific infiltration, and already the northern half of the Shah's dominions is pretty well permeated with Russian influence, commercial and political. In the southern half the infiltration is to some extent checked by physical obstacles and British influence, but it is steadily advancing, and the idea of obtaining a port on the Persian Gulf is coming within the range of practical politics.
In Afghanistan also the pressure is felt, and here too the expansive tendency meets with opposition from England. More than once the two great Powers have come dangerously near to war-- notably in 1885, at the moment of the Penjdeh incident, when the British Parliament voted 11,000,000 pounds for military preparations. Fortunately on that occasion the problem was solved by diplomacy. The northern frontier of Afghanistan was demarcated by a joint commission, and an agreement was come to by which this line should form the boundary of the British and Russian spheres of influence. For some years Russia scrupulously respected this agreement, but during our South African difficulties she showed symptoms of departing from it, and at one moment orders were issued from St. Petersburg for a military demonstration on the Afghan frontier. Strange to say, the military authorities, who are usually very bellicose, deprecated such a movement, on the ground that a military demonstration in a country like Afghanistan might easily develop into a serious campaign, and that a serious campaign ought not to be undertaken in that region until after the completion of the strategical railways from Orenburg to Tashkent.
As this important line has now been completed, and other strategic lines are in contemplation, the question arises whether Russia meditates an attack on India. It is a question which is not easily answered. No doubt there are many Russians who think it would be a grand thing to annex our Indian Empire, with its teeming millions and its imaginary fabulous treasures, and not a few young officers imagine that it would be an easy task. Further, it is certain that the problem of an invasion has been studied by the Headquarters Staff in St. Petersburg, just as the problem of an invasion of England has been studied by the Headquarters Staff in Berlin. It may be pretty safely asserted, however, that the idea of a conquest of India has never been seriously entertained in the Russian official world. What has been seriously entertained, not only in the official world, but by the Government itself, is the idea-- strongly recommended by the late General Skobelef--that Russia should, as quickly as possible, get within striking distance of our Indian possessions, so that she may always be able to bring strong diplomatic pressure on the British Government, and in the event of a conflict immobilise a large part of the British army.
The expansive tendency in the direction of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean was considerably weakened by the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the rapid development of an aggressive policy in the Far east. Never, perhaps, has the construction of a single line produced such deep and lasting changes in the sphere of Weltpolitik.
As soon as the Trans-Siberian was being rapidly constructed a magnificent prospect opened up to the gaze of imaginative politicians in St. Petersburg. The foreground was Manchuria a region of 364,000 square miles, endowed by nature with enormous mineral resources, and presenting a splendid field for agricultural colonisation and commercial enterprise. Beyond was seen Korea, geographically an appendix of Manchuria, possessing splendid harbours, and occupied by an effete, unwarlike population, wholly incapable of resisting a European Power. That was quite enough to inflame the imagination of patriotic Russians; but there was something more, dimly perceived in the background. Once in possession of Manchuria, supplied with a network of railways, Russia would dominate Peking and the whole of Northern China, and she would thus be able to play a decisive part in the approaching struggle of the European Powers for the Far-Eastern Sick Man's inheritance.
Of course there were obstacles in the way of realising this grandiose scheme, and there were some cool heads in St. Petersburg who were not slow to point them out. In the first place the undertaking must be extremely costly, and the economic condition of Russia proper was not such as to justify the expenditure of an enormous capital which must be for many years unproductive. Any superfluous capital which the country might possess was much more urgently required for purposes of internal development, and the impoverished agricultural population ought not to be drained of their last meagre reserves for the sake of gigantic political schemes which did not directly contribute to their material welfare. To this the enthusiastic advocates of the forward policy replied that the national finances had never been in such a prosperous condition, that the revenue was increasing by leaps and bounds, that the money invested in the proposed enterprise would soon be repaid with interest; and that if Russia did not at once seize the opportunity she would find herself forestalled by energetic rivals. There was still, however, one formidable objection. Such an enormous increase of Russia's power in the Far East would inevitably arouse the jealousy and opposition of other Powers, especially of Japan, for whom the future of Korea and Manchuria was a question of life and death. Here again these advocates of the forward policy had their answer ready. They declared that the danger was more apparent than real. In Far- Eastern diplomacy the European Powers could not compete with Russia, and they might easily be bought off by giving them a very modest share of the spoil; as for Japan, she was not formidable, for she was just emerging from Oriental barbarism, and all her boasted progress was nothing more than a thin veneer of European civilisation. As the Moscow patriots on the eve of the Crimean War said contemptuously of the Allies, "We have only to throw our hats at them," so now the believers in Russia's historic mission in the Far East spoke of their future opponents as "monkeys" and "parrots."
The war between China and Japan in 1894-5, terminating in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ceded to Japan the Liaotung Peninsula, showed Russia that if she was not to be forestalled she must be up and doing. She accordingly formed a coalition with France and Germany, and compelled Japan to withdraw from the mainland, on the pretext that the integrity of China must be maintained. In this way China recovered, for a moment, a bit of lost territory, and further benefits were conferred on her by a guarantee for a foreign loan, and by the creation of the Russo-Chinese Bank, which would assist her in her financial affairs. For these and other favours she was expected to be grateful, and it was suggested to her that her gratitude might take the form of facilitating the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. If constructed wholly on Russian territory the line would have to make an enormous bend to the northward, whereas if it went straight from Lake Baikal to Vladivostok it would be very much shorter, and would confer a very great benefit on the north-eastern provinces of the Celestial Empire. This benefit, moreover, might be greatly increased by making a branch line to Talienwan and Port Arthur, which would some day be united with Peking. Gradually Li-Hung-Chang and other influential Chinese officials were induced to sympathise with the scheme, and a concession was granted for the direct line to Vladivostok through Chinese territory.
The retrocession of the Liaotung Peninsula had not been effected by Russia alone. Germany and France had co-operated, and they also expected from China a mark of gratitude in some tangible form. On this point the statesmen of Berlin held very strong views, and they thought it advisable to obtain a material guarantee for the fulfilment of their expectations by seizing Kiaochau, on the ground that German missionaries had been murdered by Chinese fanatics.
For Russia this was a most unwelcome incident. She had earmarked Kiaochau for her own purposes, and had already made an agreement with the authorities in Peking that the harbour might be used freely by her fleet. And this was not the worst. The incident might inaugurate an era of partition for which she was not yet prepared, and another port which she had earmarked for her own use might be seized by a rival. Already English ships of war were reported to be prowling about in the vicinity of the Liaotung Peninsula. She hastened to demand, therefore, as a set-off for the loss of Kiaochau, a lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan, and a railway concession to unite these ports with the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Chinese Government was too weak to think of refusing the demands, and the process of gradually absorbing Manchuria began, in accordance with a plan already roughly sketched out in St. Petersburg.
In the light of a few authentic documents and many subsequent events, the outline of this plan can be traced with tolerable accuracy. In the region through which the projected railways were to run there was a large marauding population, and consequently the labourers and the works would have to be protected; and as Chinese troops can never be thoroughly relied on, the protecting force must be Russian. Under this rather transparent disguise a small army of occupation could be gradually introduced, and in establishing a modus vivendi between it and the Chinese civil and military authorities a predominant influence in the local administration could be established. At the same time, by energetic diplomatic action at Peking, which would be brought within striking-distance by the railways, all rival foreign influences might be excluded from the occupied provinces, and the rest might be left to the action of "spontaneous infiltration." Thus, while professing to uphold the principle of the territorial integrity of the Celestial Empire, the Cabinet of St. Petersburg might practically annex the whole of Manchuria and transform Port Arthur into a great naval port and arsenal, a far more effectual "Dominator of the East" than Vladivostok, which was intended, as its name implies, to fulfil that function. From Manchuria the political influence and the spontaneous infiltration would naturally extend to Korea, and on the deeply indented coast of the Hermit Kingdom new ports and arsenals, far more spacious and strategically more important than Port Arthur, might be constructed.
The grandiose scheme was carefully laid, and for a time it was favoured by circumstances. In 1900 the Boxer troubles justified Russia in sending a large force into Manchuria, and enabled her subsequently to play the part of China's protector against the inordinate demands of the Western Powers for compensation and guarantees. For a moment it seemed as if the slow process of gradual infiltration might be replaced by a more expeditious mode of annexation. As the dexterous diplomacy of Ignatief in 1858 had induced the Son of Heaven to cede to Russia the rich Primorsk provinces between the Amur and the sea, as compensation for Russian protection against the English and French, who had burnt his Summer Palace, so his successor might now perhaps be induced to cede Manchuria to the Tsar for similar reasons.
No such cession actually took place, but the Russian diplomatists in Peking could use the gratitude argument in support of their demands for an extension of the rights and privileges of the "temporary" occupation; and when China sought to resist the pressure by leaning on the rival Powers she found them to be little better than broken reeds. France could not openly oppose her ally, and Germany had reasons of her own for conciliating the Tsar, whilst England and the United States, though avowedly opposing the scheme as dangerous to their commercial interests, were not prepared to go to war in defence of their policy. It seemed, therefore, that by patience, tenacity and diplomatic dexterity Russia might ultimately attain her ends; but a surprise was in store for her. There was one Power which recognised that her own vital interests were at stake, and which was ready to undertake a life-and-death struggle in defence of them.
Though still smarting under the humiliation of her expulsion from the Liaotung Peninsula in 1895, and watching with the keenest interest every move in the political game, Japan had remained for some time in the background, and had confined her efforts to resisting Russian influence in Korea and supporting diplomatically the Powers who were upholding the policy of the open door. Now, when it had become evident that the Western Powers would not prevent the realisation of the Russian scheme, she determined to intervene energetically, and to stake her national existence on the result. Ever since 1895 she had been making military and naval preparations for the day of the revanche, and now that day was at hand. Against the danger of a coalition such as had checkmated her on the previous occasion she was protected by the alliance which she had concluded with England in 1902, and she felt confident that with Russia alone she was quite capable of dealing single-handed. Her position is briefly and graphically described in a despatch, telegraphed at that time (28th July, 1903) by the Japanese Government to its representative at St. Petersburg, instructing him to open negotiations:
"The recent conduct of Russia in making new demands at Peking and tightening her hold upon Manchuria has led the Imperial Government to believe that she must have abandoned her intention of retiring from that province. At the same time, her increased activity upon the Korean frontier is such as to raise doubts as to the limits of her ambition. The unconditional and permanent occupation of Manchuria by Russia would create a state of things prejudicial to the security and interests of Japan. The principle of equal opportunity (the open door) would thereby be annulled, and the territorial integrity of China impaired. There is, however, a still more serious consideration for the Japanese Government. If Russia were established on the flank of Korea she would constantly menace the separate existence of that Empire, or at least exercise in it a predominant influence; and as Japan considers Korea an important outpost in her line of defence, she regards its independence as absolutely essential to her own repose and safety. Moreover, the political as well as commercial and industrial interests and influence which Japan possesses in Korea are paramount over those of other Powers; she cannot, having regard to her own security, consent to surrender them to, or share them with, another Power."
In accordance with this view of the situation the Japanese Government informed Count Lamsdorff that, as it desired to remove from the relations of the two Empires every cause of future misunderstanding, it would be glad to enter with the Imperial Russian Government upon an examination of the condition of affairs in the Far East, with a view to defining the respective special interests of the two countries in those regions.
Though Count Lamsdorff accepted the proposal with apparent cordiality and professed to regard it as a means of preventing any outsider from sowing the seeds of discord between the two countries, the idea of a general discussion was not at all welcome. Careful definition of respective interests was the last thing the Russian Government desired. Its policy was to keep the whole situation in a haze until it had consolidated its position in Manchuria and on the Korean frontier to such an extent that it could dictate its own terms in any future arrangement. It could not, however, consistently with its oft-repeated declarations of disinterestedness and love of peace, decline to discuss the subject. It consented, therefore, to an exchange of views, but in order to ensure that the tightening of its hold on the territories in question should proceed pari passu with the diplomatic action, it made an extraordinary departure from ordinary procedure, entrusting the conduct of the affair, not to Count Lamsdorff and the Foreign Office, but to Admiral Alexeyef, the newly created Viceroy of the Far East, in whom was vested the control of all civil, military, naval, and diplomatic affairs relating to that part of the world.
From the commencement of the negotiations, which lasted from August 12th, 1903, to February 6th, 1904, the irreconcilable differences of the two rivals became apparent, and all through the correspondence, in which a few apparent concessions were offered by Japan, neither Power retreated a step from the positions originally taken up. What Japan suggested was, roughly speaking, a mutual engagement to uphold the independence and integrity of the Chinese and Korean empires, and at the same time a bilateral arrangement by which the special interests of the two contracting parties in Manchuria and in Korea should be formally recognised, and the means of protecting them clearly defined. The scheme did not commend itself to the Russians. They systematically ignored the interests of Japan in Manchuria, and maintained that she had no right to interfere in any arrangements they might think fit to make with the Chinese Government with regard to that province. In their opinion, Japan ought to recognise formally that Manchuria lay outside her sphere of interest, and the negotiations should be confined to limiting her freedom of action in Korea.
With such a wide divergence in principle the two parties were not likely to agree in matters of detail. Their conflicting aims came out most clearly in the question of the open door. The Japanese insisted on obtaining the privileges of the open door, including the right of settlement in Manchuria, and Russia obstinately refused. Having marked out Manchuria as a close reserve for her own colonisation, trade, and industry, and knowing that she could not compete with the Japanese if they were freely admitted, she could not adopt the principle of "equal opportunity" which her rivals recommended. A fidus achates of Admiral Alexeyef explained to me quite frankly, during the negotiations, why no concessions could be made on that point. In the work of establishing law and order in Manchuria, constructing roads, bridges, railways, and towns, Russia had expended an enormous sum--estimated by Count Cassini at 60,000,000 pounds--and until that capital was recovered, or until a reasonable interest was derived from the investment, Russia could not think of sharing with any one the fruits of the prosperity which she had created.
We need not go further into the details of the negotiations. Japan soon convinced herself that the onward march of the Colossus was not to be stopped by paper barricades, and knowing well that her actual military and naval superiority was being rapidly diminished by Russia's warlike preparations,* she suddenly broke off diplomatic relations and commenced hostilities.
* According to an estimate made by the Japanese authorities, between April, 1903, and the outbreak of the war, Russia increased her naval and military forces in the Far East by nineteen war vessels, aggregating 82,415 tons, and 40,000 soldiers. In addition to this, one battleship, three cruisers, seven torpedo destroyers, and four torpedo boats, aggregating about 37,040 tons, were on their way to the East, and preparations had been made for increasing the land forces by 200,000 men. For further details, see Asakawa, "The Russo-Japanese Conflict" (London, 1904), pp. 352- 54.
Russia thus found herself engaged in a war of the first magnitude, of which no one can predict the ultimate consequences, and the question naturally arises as to why, with an Emperor who lately aspired to play in politics the part of a great peacemaker, she provoked a conflict, for which she was very imperfectly prepared-- imposing on herself the obligation of defending a naval fortress, hastily constructed on foreign territory, and united with her base by a single line of railway 6,000 miles long. The question is easily answered: she did not believe in the possibility of war. The Emperor was firmly resolved that he would not attack Japan, and no one would admit for a moment that Japan could have the audacity to attack the great Russian Empire. In the late autumn of 1903, it is true, a few well-informed officials in St. Petersburg, influenced by the warnings of Baron Rosen, the Russian Minister in Tokio, began to perceive that perhaps Japan would provoke a conflict, but they were convinced that the military and naval preparations already made were quite sufficient to repel the attack. One of these officials--probably the best informed of all-- said to me quite frankly: "If Japan had attacked us in May or June, we should have been in a sorry plight, but now [November, 1903] we are ready."
The whole past history of territoral expansion in Asia tended to confirm the prevailing illusions. Russia had advanced steadily from the Ural and the Caspian to the Hindu Kush and the Northern Pacific without once encountering serious resistance. Not once had she been called on to make a great national effort, and the armed resistance of the native races had never inflicted on her anything worse than pin-pricks. From decrepit China, which possessed no army in the European sense of the term, a more energetic resistance was not to be expected. Had not Muravieff Amurski with a few Cossacks quietly occupied her Amur territories without provoking anything more dangerous than a diplomatic protest; and had not Ignatief annexed her rich Primorsk provinces, including the site of Vladivostok, by purely diplomatic means? Why should not Count Cassini, a diplomatist of the same type as Ignatief, imitate his adroit predecessor, and secure for Russia, if not the formal annexation, at least the permanent occupation, of Manchuria? Remembering all this, we can perceive that the great mistake of the Russian Government is not so very difficult to explain. It certainly did not want war--far from it--but it wanted to obtain Manchuria by a gradual, painless process of absorption, and it did not perceive that this could not be attained without a life-and- death struggle with a young, vigorous nationality, which has contrived to combine the passions and virtues of a primitive race with the organising powers and scientific appliances of the most advanced civilisation.
Russian territorial expansion has thus been checked, for some years to come, on the Pacific coast; but the expansive tendency will re- appear soon in other regions, and it behooves us to be watchful, because, whatever direction it may take, it is likely to affect our interests directly or indirectly. Will it confine itself for some years to a process of infiltration in Mongolia and Northern Thibet, the line of least resistance? Or will it impinge on our Indian frontier, directed by those who desire to avenge themselves on Japan's ally for the reverses sustained in Manchuria? Or will it once more take the direction of the Bosphorous, where a campaign might be expected to awaken religious and warlike enthusiasm among the masses? To these questions I cannot give any answer, because so much depends on the internal consequences of the present war, and on accidental circumstances which no one can at present foresee. I have always desired, and still desire, that we should cultivate friendly relations with our great rival, and that we should learn to appreciate the many good qualities of her people; but I have at the same time always desired that we should keep a watchful eye on her irrepressible tendency to expand, and that we should take timely precautions against any unprovoked aggression, however justifiable it may seem to her from the point of view of her own national interests.