[ Propaganda from Signal ] → Why Germany and Russia? Lessons of History
The following text is a verbatim transcript of the article from the English edition of Signal. (Photo captions have not been transcribed.)
Lessons of History
One day in August 1913, a year before the Great War, a memorandum was handed to Tsar Nicholas II, sent by the chamberlain Durnovo. The Tsar read it attentively, and then it wandered into the archives. It was first discovered and published after the Revolution. But nobody took any particular notice of it, as at that time there were too many sensational revelations.
Even so, the contents of this memorandum were extremely remarkable. The prudent chamberlain warned the Tsar of the danger of war with Germany. He not only prophesised the defeat of Russia, but he also reckoned, which is most extraordinary, with the possibility of Britain and France emerging from this conflict victorious, in spite of Russia's defeat. If this were the case, he wrote, the Allies would in no way defeat the interests of Russia during peace negotiations. The result would be the end of the reigning dynasty in Russia. Such a risk could only be incurred in the event of there being no solution to the conflict of vital interests as between Germany and Russia. There could be no question, however, of such conflict of interests, and a glance at the history of both empires should be sufficient to prove this.
Even in old Russia there were men who could see clearly and who possessed the talend of political foresight. Hada they possessed the qualities of political leadership as well, Russia would have been spared disastrous wars.
Durnovo did not possess these qualities, he was certainly a leader, but only the leader of the ultra-conservative group in the Council of State, called the "Bisons", whose reactionary policy finally led to the Revolution. The greatest statesman who arose during the dynasty of the Tsar towards the end of the 19th century was the minister Witte. He too dreamt of a triple pact between Germany, Russia and the U.S.A. Witte was an exponent of Russiam imperialism in the period before the Great War. He had definite goals. He followed them with tenacity and achieved them. "Peaceful penetration" into Manchuria, the occupation of the Pacific coast, the construction of the East China railway, all these were his work. An active policy in Asia on the part of Russia was, however, in his opinion only possible so long as Russia continued to be on terms of peace and harmony with Germany. All the essentials for this actually existed. Russian expansion consisted only in pushing towards the east and southeast. None of Russia's or Germany's important interests could ever clash with one another. Germany's need for colonial expansion caused just as little disturbance to Russia as Russia's expansion in Asia caused Imperial Germany.
Such a train of thought was a mere matter of course to the older generation of Russian statesmen. These politicians had won their political spurs in the 19th century.
Their fathers had fought side by side with Prussian regiments against Napoleon, at a time when the Russian Field Marshal Prince Kutuzov had proclaimed for the peoples of Europe "Liberation from the tyranny of the Corsican" in the joint names of the Russian Tsar and the Prussian King. Such memories live long. There was also a fact not without importance, namely, that Tsar Alexander I and his brother and successor Nicholas I were racially more German than Russian, in addition to being both married to German princesses. It was during that period of "traditional friendship" that Russia under the Tsars was the most powerful and her frontiers extended furthest. Why could not this state of affairs have remained? It did remain, until British diplomacy succeeded in provocing the Crimean War. In 1853, one month after Turkey had declared war on Russia, the Turkish fleet was destroyed by the Russian fleet in the Anatolian harbour of Sinope. A storm of indignation broke out in England. The same Foreign Minister, Palmerston, who had represented the bombardment of Copenhagen without a declaration of war to be a praiseworthy [or: praise-worthy] act, now spoke of a "Sinope massacre". The British Government continued the policy of provocation. The diplomatic conference in Vienna, under Prussia's influence, had worked out conditions for a compromise which would be acceptable to Turkey and was recognized in advance by Tsar Nicholas I. As soon as these proposals for a compromise became known, an Anglo-French fleet appeared in the waters of the Black Sea and turned what had appeared to the whole world to be Russia's voluntary acceptance into an agreement imposed by force.
Here the British had counted on the Tsar's character, on his feudal and chivalrous ideas of honour, justice and prestige, for he declared: "However great the risk may be, I will now never assent to a compromise."
The Treaty of Paris in 1856, which concluded the war, showed what Britain's aims were. Russia was obliged to renounce the fortification of her harbours and her fleet in the Black Sea. Russia did not forget, however, that Prussia had been the only power during the Crimean War to have no direct or indirect connexion with the anti-Russian coalition and had not in any way benefited from Russia's misfortune.
The result of the Crimean War was a political success for British diplomacy, and at the same time a personal triumph for Napoleon III. 42 years previously Tsar Alexander I had defeated the great Napoleon. Now, the nephew of Napoleon I dictated peace terms to the nephew of Alexander I in Paris. The Russian nephew, however, was not long in replying. His answer took the form of a retort on France and at the same time an expression of thanks to Prussia: in 1866 during the Austro-Prussian War, Alexander II, decided to adopt an attitude of friendly neutrality towards Prussia. In 1870 he went still further: he informed Vienna that if Austria should rise against Prussia, the Russian army would occupy Galicia with 300,000 men.
Was this merely a policy of personal revenge and thanks? No, behind it stood Russia's true interests. The Tsar made use of the French defeat to set aside the Treaty of Paris and to build up a new fleet in the Black Sea.
It now appeared as if a new period of "traditional friendship" between Germany and Russia would begin. The gains which the conformity of their foreign policies had achieved were apparent to everyone.
Meanwhile British diplomacy did not remain idle. Twenty years after the Crimean War, when a new war broke out between Russia and Turkey, ending this time in complete victory for Russia, Britain again showed her hand. At the same moment as the Grand Duke Nicholas – father of the Commander-in-Chief in the Great War – was dictating provisional peace terms to Turkey, 19 miles from Constantinople in the little village of San Stefano, the British fleet appeared in the Sea of Marmara and anchored before the Turkish capital.
As usual, "public opinion" in England demanded war "as the Empire had been dealt a heavy blow", although it was not quite certain how or why. At that time "Jingoism" made its appearance in England; in those days in all the London music halls a new popular song was to be heard: "We don't want to fight, but by Jingo if we do, we've got the men, we've got the ships, we've got the money too." "By Jingo", an old form of oath such as "the devil take you", now came to stand for "jingoism" and thus became the challenging symbol of British imperialism.
Russia's advance into the Balkans brought another Power on to the scene: namely, the Habsburg monarchy, for which the Balkans represented the sole possibility of political and commercial expansion. The position became critical. Russia began to arm for a new war. But even if Russia's prospects of victory were very small, the dangers which this war held for Austro-Hungary were very great.
Such were the considerations which led Bismarck to take up the difficult rôle of an intermediary, of an "honest broker" in the conflict which threatened to overthrow all existing conditions in Europe. He played this rôle in a masterly fashion. At the Congress of Berlin, he literally "took command" in the truest sense of the word of all the representatives of the Powers gathered there togethere, wrote a participant, although they represented the élite of European diplomacy.
Bismarck did his utmost to safeguard the interests of Russia at the conference. As he himself later relates, he looked upon his own part as if he were a fourth Russian plenipotentiary. "I behaved in such a way at the Congress that at its conclusion I thought that if I were not already in possession of the highest Russian Order set in diamonds, I would have to receive it now", said Bismarck, amid loud laughter, in his speech to the Reichstag on 6th February 1888. At the critical moment of Anglo-Russian tension, the Reich chancellor presented himself late at night to the British plenipotentiary, Lord Beaconsfield (Disraeli), who was ill in bed, nevertheless obtained his consent to further negotiations. It was only thanks to Bismarck that Russia received at that time the town of Batum on the Black Sea from Turkey.
When Anton von Werner, the painter, was commissioned by the city of Berlin to paint a picture of the Congress in full session, the chancellor insisted that he should be portrayed sitting side by side with the second Russian representative, Count Schuwaloff, whom Bismarck esteemed very highly as a man and a diplomat, in contrast to the first representative, Prince Gorchakov. On the other side, however, Bismarck placed the representative of Austro-Hungary, Count Andrassy, thereby revealing the whole difficulty of his position. Bismarck was really looking for a compromise; he defended Russia everywhere he could, but at the same time he could not simply sacrifice the interests of the Habsburg monarchy in favour of Russia.
To the Emperor William I, the Chancellor wrote: "Your Majesty knows that on the many occasions when we have been obliged to make a choice between Russia and Austria, I have always, wherever feasible, shown a greater inclination to favour Russia." It was however, not always and not in every case "feasible", and the Chancellor advised his Emperor to cultivate German relations with Austria with greater assiduity than hitherto.
No; Bismarck, however hard he tried, could not be a "broker" in the real sense of the word. The real broker, the true Shylock of diplomacy during the Congress, was Lord Beaconsfield. His grandfather had not been a merchant of Venice for nothing. He succeeded with inimitable ingenuity in isolating Russia and leaving her, after a victorious war, with possessions of very small value in the Caucasus. And actually, he did not even want to cede these. During a very heated discussion about a piece of land near the Turkish town of Kars, someone asked: "Where is Kars then?"
"Will Your Lordship be so kind as to point out the desired frontier?" said Prince Gorchakov. "Will Your Lordship be so kind as to point out the desired frontier?" said Prince Gorchakov. [! - composition error in the original text] [...] finger could not find Kars. Everybody smiled. "The matter is not important enough to waste time on" said Disraeli sharply.
This was his concern for the "vital interests" of Turkey. But his ability in regard to cutting "his pound of flesh" from his friends was shown a few days later. While Disraeli was passionately defending the interests of Turkey in Berlin, The British Ambassador in Constantinople signed a treaty for the cession of Cyprus by Turkey to Britain. This information reached the members of the congress through the newspapers.
To the protests of France's representatives in Berlin, Disraeli answered: "Just take Tunis!" And when the Italians protested, he said to them very confidentially: "Just take Tunis!"
Simultaneously, the British were able to create the impression in St. Petersburg that Bismarck had assisted them against Russia. France was at variance with Italy, Russia with Germany – and Britain had pocketed Cyprus!
Bismarck, in order to check this British manoe[single glyph]vre, should have openly associated himself with the Tsar and abandoned Austria. He was unable to do this. It was not a question of diplomatic failure, but the tragedy of a great man for whom St. Peterburg had just as little comprehension as Berlin. Tsar Alexander said: "Prince Bismarck planed himself at the head of the anti-Russian coalition." Later Emperor William II said: "Prince Bismarck is Russian, always was Russian, will always remain Russian and be at heart a resolute antagonist of Austria." Both statements were absolutely wrong. The political dilettanti could not understand the superhuman objectivity of a man prepared to sacrifice his sentiments and himself to the interests of the State.
It is, however, sometimes very difficult to comprehend this interest. But here it was absolutely apparent. This was the opinion of the chamberlain Durnowo. In a period of two hundred years, the co-ordination of German and Russian foreign policy had always resulted in brilliant successes for both sides; antagonism led to disappointment, even to catastrophe as in the Great War. In history, whenever France went to war against England, or Japan against Russia, one country was always victorious and the other lost. When Germany and Russia clashed in mortal combat, both countries lost. The year 1939 proved that this lesson was not in vain.