Behind the Balkan Wars: Russian Policy toward Bulgaria and the Turkish Straits, 1912-13


Ronald Bobroff



(The Russian Review 59 (January 2000): 76-95)



- Before the war
- Bulgarians at the gates
- Bulgarian advance redux


As society moves toward the beginning of a new millennium, it has begun to reflect actively on the century now ending, trying to understand how one hundred years filled with such technological advances, such human achievement could also have been burdened with so much bloodshed and destruction. A focal point for comprehending the change has been and must be the First World War. The Great War irreparably destroyed the conservative political systems still in place in central and eastern Europe, taking with it four great empires, and foreshadowed much that was to come in the next world conflict, born out of the muddled resolution of the first. Indeed, some of our foremost historians have recently set their sights on the First World War, provoking readers to think once more about the causes and courses of the war. [1]


At the same time, the ongoing Balkan crises have called attention to Russian activity in the area. When discussing the Russian Federation's current attempts to assist Serbia, journalists and commentators sometimes refer to Russia's traditional sympathies for the Slavic peoples of southeastern Europe in an attempt to understand Russia's intentions. The juxtaposition of the current crises with the new attention to the First World War suggest a useful avenue of approaching the problem of Russian policy toward other Slavic states. Aside from the climactic decision taken in July 1914 to go to war ostensibly on behalf of Serbia, the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13 provide an excellent field for studying Russia's relationships with the Slavic states in the area. While a good deal of attention



1. Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War: Explaining World War I (New York, 1999); Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (New York, 1994); John Keegan, The First World War (New York, 1999). Dates in this essay are in New Style.





has been given to the Russian defense of Serbian desires for an Adriatic port and to Russia's reaction to the politics of the "system of Balkan alliances," this has been done in relative isolation from one of Russia's most vital interests: the security of the Turkish Straits. [2]


Long the subject of historical investigation, the centrality of the Straits question in Russian diplomacy has been accepted by all sides of the debate, even with some differences of interpretation over the primacy of the issue vis-à-vis the need to contain the expansionism of the Germanic empires. [3] Given the general acceptance of their critical nature, it is surprising that the role of the Straits in Russian policy during the Balkan Wars has been neglected. They provide an excellent example of how Russia had to choose between its own interests and those of one of the new Slavic states whose very existence Russia had done much to assure. When faced with Bulgarian aspirations to a role at the Straits, the Russian government steadfastly opposed it, refusing to allow the Bulgarians permanent access to Constantinople, the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus, or the Sea of Marmora. Leading this effort, Foreign Minister Sergei D. Sazonov repeatedly made clear that his government could allow no power, large or small, the opportunity to control the Straits save for Turkey or, ultimately, Russia. His policy was the preservation of the status quo at the Straits for as long as possible, until Russia would be able to take them over itself. This policy complicated Russian attempts to keep Bulgaria at a distance from Vienna and ultimately brought Russia to seriously consider armed intervention, even at the risk of wider escalation. These efforts ultimately succeeded in preserving Turkish sovereignty in these areas but proved to have unforeseen, negative consequences, calling into question the value of the policy in the first place. Sazonov would do what he could for Bulgaria, but he would not permanently sacrifice Russia's own interests for Sofia's benefit.


Russia's interest in the Straits was both complex and shared by other states. Russian policymakers had been seriously concerned with the Straits since Catherine II had made Russia a riparian power on the Black Sea. By Sazonov's time, their economic value had increased significantly, especially as southern Russian production of oil, manganese, and coal grew. [4] In terms of total value of trade, over 1906-13 the southern ports averaged 26.1 percent of total Russian international trade, while the Baltic ports averaged 30.4 percent over those same years. More crucial, the Black Sea ports were the gateway largely for exports, while the majority of imports came through the northern ports. Thus, at a time when the government was attempting to export as much as possible in order to afford



2. On the Balkan Wars see Ernest C. Helmreich, The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 (Cambridge, MA, 1938); Andrew Rossos, Russia and the Balkans.  Inter-Balkan Rivalries and Russian Foreign Policy, 1908-1914 (Toronto, 1981); Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914, 3 vols., ed. and trans. Isabella M. Massey (London, 1952-57), 1: chaps. 7-8; and George B. Zotiades "Russia and the Question of Constantinople and the Turkish Straits during the Balkan Wars" Balkan Studies 11:2 (1970): 281-98.


3. See, for example, Count M. Montgelas, The Case for the Central Powers (London, 1925); Sidney B. Fay, The Origins ofthe World War, 2 vols. (New York, 1929); I. V. Bestuzhev, "Bor'ba v Rossii po voprosam vneshnei politiki nakanune pervoi mirovoi voiny (1910-1914 gg.)," Istoricheskie zapiski 75 (1965): 44-85; V. S. Vasiukov, "'Glavnyi priz': S. D. Sazonov i soglashenie o Konstantinopole i prolivakh," in Rossiisskaia diplomatiia v portretakh, ed. A. V. Ignat'ev et al. (Moscow, 1992), 355-77; and others cited below.


4. See D. W. Spring, "Russian Foreign Policy, Economic Interests, and the Straits Question, 1905-1914," in New Perspectives in Modern Russian History, ed. Robert B. McKean (New York, 1992), 217-18. The figures below are from pp. 209-10.





critical technological imports, maintaining that export route took on added significance. The Turkish closure of the Straits to all shipping for about a month in April and May 1912, because of an Italian attack on the Dardanelles, made the Russians even more protective of this vulnerable connection to the Mediterranean Sea.


Russia's naval interests at the Straits began to change shortly before Sazonov became foreign minister in 1910. Russia's southern coast had long been protected by the prohibition against the passage of foreign warships through the Straits without the Sultan's permission, but from the time of the Russo-Japanese War this prohibition proved more a hindrance than a help. During that war, St. Petersburg had been unable to send reinforcements from the Black Sea to the Pacific. Then, although the 1907 Anglo-Russian entente reduced traditional fears of a British attack on Russia, technological advances and renewed Turkish interest in naval arms complicated Russia's situation. The invention of the dreadnought-class battleship — faster, better-armed, and better-armored than anything else afloat — quickly made everything on the Black Sea obsolete. After the Young Turks began to rule Turkey in 1908, they began having warships built broad, which could then be brought into the Black Sea. Effectively unable to bring their own warships through the Straits, the Russians had to build them themselves, but they did not possess capable southern shipyards until 1911-12. Even once these installations existed, the slow pace of Russian naval construction kept Russia from compensating for the efficiency of western and central European shipyards. [5] The Straits regime thus played a critical part in Russia's sense of national security.


Before the Balkan Wars, efforts to change this situation had begun. Diplomatically, there had been two notable Russian attempts to change the Straits regime. In 1908, Foreign Minister A. P. Izvolskii tried to exchange Russian acquiescence to Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina for Austrian support for allowing Russia to move warships through the Straits. Austria, however, annexed the provinces before Izvolskii could obtain the agreement of other powers, and the resultant diplomatic crisis dealt Russian prestige a serious blow. The lesson that Izvolskii's successor, Sazonov, must have learned from this event was that until Russia was strong enough to seize the Straits, and this only in the context of a pan-European conflict, a change at the Straits would have to wait. [6] Thus, when N. V Charykov tried in late 1911 to take advantage of the Turks' distraction during the Italo-Turkish war by pressing them to allow Russian warships to pass the Straits, Sazonov refused to condone his attempt, opposed to making any unilateral effort on this question. [7]


If that war did come, the armed forces were preparing to seize at least the Bosphorus. In 1885 planning began to send an expedition to capture the waterway. [8] During the crisis



5. Castelet dep. 173 to Ministre de la Marine, 22 December 1910, Service Historique de la Marine (Paris), BB7, 131, d. c.; Peter Gatrell, Government, Industry, and Rearmament in Russia, 1900-1914: The Last Arggument of Tsarism (Cambridge, England, 1994), 231-32, 286, 303. By 1914 the pace of such work had significantly increased. See David Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe, 1904-1914 (Oxford, 1996), 349.


6. On the link between European war and the Straits see Serge Sazonov, Fateful Years 1909-1916 (London, 1928), 126-27, 242.


7. 0n the "Charykov Mission" see Edward C. Thaden, "Charykov and Russian Foreign Policy at Constantinople in 1911," Journal of Central European Affairs 16 (1956/57): 25-43.


8. Zhilinski and Danilov rep. 6 to Sukhomlinov, 23 January 1912, Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi voenno-istoricheskii arkhiv (RGVIA), f. 2000, op. 1, d. 2220, II. 133-37.





over the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1895-96, St. Petersburg resolved to seize the Bosphorus if London forced the Straits in an attempt to push reforms on the Porte. The Russians intended such an action to prevent the British from sending its ships into the Black Sea or from imposing international control over the Straits, thus threatening Russia's interests in keeping them closed to foreign warships. [9] Opposition from their French allies, however, prevented Russia from making final preparations along these lines. As the Balkan Wars began in 1912, the Russian army and navy were energetically updating and preparing plans and troops for such an operation, if the need arose. [10]


The temporary closure of the Straits in 1912 also made apparent how concerned people outside of government were with the Straits. Several ministers received a large number of letters and telegrams from merchants, bankers, and others interested in trade on the Black Sea, calling on the Russian government to do something to help them. [11] A wide spectrum of deputies in the Russian State Duma also believed that Russia should actively work to improve its situation at the Straits. [12] Furthermore, the press was vehement in its criticism of Sazonov's policies and sought a stronger line. [13]


But the existence or volume of such opinion does not equal power over policy. While Sazonov was certainly aware of the criticism and recognized the concrete concerns of specific interest groups, he thought little of the press and did not pay it much heed when formulating policy, contrary to the assumptions of most historians. [14] Revealingly, Sazonov informed his representatives that not only would he not be bullied by attacks from the Russian press, but in fact the attacks would serve his purposes. The Russian government had been able "to use statements about apparent disorder to incline cabinets to the idea of the necessity of taking into account the difficulty of our position and to fight with the onslaught of our public opinion." [15] While it could be argued that this statement was an attempt to try to hide the fact that he was actually following public opinion on this issue, none of his extended writings from this period betray any sympathy for the clamor in the press or elsewhere, and instead show frustration and disgust. In contrast, there is reason to believe that Sazonov felt that he better understood public opinion than the papers did. [16] In June 1913 he wrote to Izvolskii about how difficult he had found this winter of 1912-13, when attacks on his policy came from all sides. He deeply appreciated that Nicholas II had stood behind him the whole time, for which he felt Russia also ought to be grateful.



9. M. S. Anderson, The Eastern Question (London, 1966), 256-58.


10. See, for example, materials in RGVIA, f. 2000, op. 1, d. 2219-2221; and Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv voenno-morskogo flota (RGAVMF), f. 418, op. 1, dd. 734, 784, and 2936, and f. 418, op. 2, dd. 260, 267, and 273.


11. See the materials received in Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv (RGIA), f. 1276, op. 7, d. 469b. For the materials received by S. I. Timashev, minister of trade and industry, see Timashev letter 3636 to Kokovtsov, 23 April 1912, ibid., I. 43, sent to Sazonov as letter 2204 on 25 April 1912.


12. K. F. Shatsillo, Russkii imperializm i razvitie flota (1906-1914 gg.) (Moscow, 1968), 194-96.


13. Bestuzhev, "Bor'ba" 55ff.


14. See, for example, Rossos, Russia and the Balkans. Note that Great Britain's policymakers acted similarly (Zara B. Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War [New York, 1977]).


15. Sazonov letter 678 to Izvolskii, Benckendorff, et al., 31 October 1912, Arkhiv vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi imperii (AVPRI), f. 151, op. 482, d. 130, II. 78-81.


16. See David M. McDonald, "A Lever without a Fulcrum: Domestic Factors and Russian Foreign Policy, 1905-1914," in Imperial Russian Foreign Policy, ed. Hugh Ragsdale (Cambridge, England, 1993), 271-72.





Furthermore, he felt that "one deeply comforting fact" had to be noted: "The government as represented by me during the Balkan crisis more truly reflected public opinion of the country than did the nationalist press with the unscrupulous Novoe vremia at its head." [17] With such an attitude, it would be easier to continue to pay little heed to the press, but at the same time use it as a tool for gaining greater concessions from other states.


A whole different set of factors were at work in Bulgaria. Russia had helped Bulgaria gain independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s and 1880s, which made for a strong feeling of amity among Bulgarians toward Russia. But Russia's constant meddling in Bulgarian affairs drove the two states apart. After Russia succeeded in having Alexander of Battenberg removed from the throne, the Bulgarians chose, against Russia's wishes, Ferdinand of Coburg, a prince and officer in the Austrian army. While Russia came to accept Ferdinand as Prince of Bulgaria several years after his succession, Ferdinand often displayed an alarming inclination toward Vienna as he sought the most advantageous position from which to advance Bulgarian desires. Among the most important of them was territorial expansion to reacquire the borders given to it by the Russo-Turkish Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, which had been so quickly overturned by the Great Powers. [18] This aspiration put Bulgaria at odds with the Ottoman Empire, which still possessed the land that Sofia wanted, and with Greece and especially Serbia, which had their own aspirations to land the Bulgarians claimed in Macedonia. As unrest in Albania and Macedonia grew in the years leading to 1911, followed by the Italian war with Turkey that year, Bulgaria and the other Balkan states reconsidered their mutual disagreements and signed treaties, uniting them to end Turkish power in Europe. They hoped to divide up its territory while Turkey was distracted by war elsewhere and before Russia and Austria-Hungary themselves intervened and imposed a solution on the area. [19] But more than that, Ferdinand and some nationalists hoped for even more, especially the conquest of Constantinople, making it the new capital of an even larger Bulgarian state. [20] These dreams were known outside Bulgaria and had for several years alarmed the makers of Russian foreign policy, among others. [21] With the commencement of the Balkan Wars, Bulgaria sought to fulfil these dreams.


The Ottoman government, of course, was working in the opposite direction. After decades of decay, a group of nationalist Turkish officers seeking the recentralization of the state and reestablishment of Turkish strength, seized power in 1908-9. The foreign policy of these "Young Turks" (officially, the Committee of Union and Progress) dealt primarily with resisting the territorial expansion of the Balkan states — at Turkish expense — and reducing the influence of the Great Powers over their nation, enshrined in privileges known as capitulations. [22] While the leading members of the leadership disagreed about the overall orientation Ottoman foreign policy, suspicion of Russia's intentions toward the Straits



17. Sazonov letter to Izvolskii, 26 June 1913, AVPRI, f. 340, op. 835, d. 39, II. 35-36.


18. Anderson, Eastern Question, 227-31; Barbara Jelavich, Russia's Balkan Entanglements 1804-1914 (Cambridge, England, 1991), chap. 5.


19. Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, chaps. 1 and 2.


20. A. Nekludoff, Diplomatic Reminiscences before and during the World War, 1911-1917 (London, 1920), 11620.


21. See Bax-Ironside letter 22 to Grey, 24 February 1912, in British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914 (BD) (London, 1933), 9.1, no. 554; and Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, 87-90.


22. F. A. K. Yasamee, "Ottoman Empire," in Decisions for War, 1914, ed. K. Wilson (London, 1995), 229-68.





and Armenia remained strong, and the Turkish government tended to seek better relations with Germany and Austria-Hungary, while preserving beneficial ties with Great Britain and France. [23]


The interests of the other great powers in the Straits question varied. Great Britain had been Russia's traditional opponent on the problem and had long sought to keep Russia bottled up in the Black Sea to protect British lines of communication to India. But by the beginning of the twentieth century new factors were altering London's views. The existence of the Franco-Russian alliance meant that war with Russia would bring war with France, reducing the value of the Straits since the French fleet would be able to threaten the Royal Navy even if the Straits were bottled up. Increasingly sophisticated naval thinking and a strengthening position in Egypt made the Admiralty less worried about its ability to protect access to Britain's Asian empire. A few members of the Foreign Office were already beginning at this time to link their position in Persia with the Russian position at Constantinople, but readiness to make a quid pro quo would come only once World War I had begun. [24] French policymakers were more concerned at this time with Turkey's financial situation and their interests in what is now Syria and Lebanon. [25] Decades of investments had given them large and often controlling stakes in a variety of Ottoman agricultural and industrial ventures, mining, and infrastructure. Paris was thus very anxious to avoid offending the Turkish government to the extent that its influence or return on investment was threatened, especially if Germany would benefit from the shift. But the French also hoped that the Straits would remain closed, to prevent any change in the balance of naval power that would come if Russia could bring its warships out of the Black Sea. [26] France—Russia's ally— thus proved to be a bigger obstacle than Russia's old rival, Great Britain.


For Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire represented a possible partner in containing Russian expansion and limiting its pan-Slav activities since all three states stood to lose from Russian success. In Germany's case, Turkey also served a colonial purpose as its dreams of an African empire faded. Germany invested heavily in railway projects, most notably the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad project, which would serve as a means of economic penetration and of spreading German influence through the 0tto- man Empire as it further weakened. Austria-Hungary, however, felt far more ambivalent than Germany did about the Turks themselves. Vienna opposed the partition of the 0tto- man Empire, including Russia's gain of the Straits, while they had no foothold in the empire that would fall to them in case of its disintegration. Turkey's assistance against the Balkan states was what interested the Austrians the most. [27]



23. Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, 13-15.


24. Keith Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar (Oxford, 1995); 114-15, 233, 284; Geoffrey Miller, Straits: British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign (Hull, 1997), pt. 3.


25. John F. V. Keiger, France and the Origins of the First World War (New York, 1983), 74.


26. L. Bruce Fulton, "France and the End of the Ottoman Empire," in The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Marian Kent (London, 1984), 141-71.


27. F. R. Bridge, "The Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire, 1900-18," in Kent, The Great Powers, 31-51.








Fearing armed conflict on the Balkan Peninsula during the summer of 1912, the Great Powers increased their pressure for an end to the Italo-Turkish war to help Turkey look less vulnerable to the Balkan allies. Beyond these efforts, Sazonov sought to ward off any threat of change in control and access to Constantinople and the Straits along two lines: first with the Great Powers, and second with Bulgaria.


First, the Russian foreign minister sought to prevent the Straits from becoming a topic of discussion among the Great Powers. Simultaneously, however, he refused to take any step that might suggest that Russia had washed its hands of interest in the fate of these Turkish possessions. These efforts developed most clearly in three high-level meetings with the German, French, and British governments in July, August, and September 1912. In none of these meetings did Sazonov raise the Straits as a subject for serious discussion, even though these would have been perfect opportunities for Russia to have sought new declarations of support for a change in the Straits regime. At the same time, however, Sazonov refused to cooperate with French suggestions that the Powers declare their "disinterestedness" in the region: he sensed and resented that the French were motivated by suspicion of Russian motives; and he believed it impermissible to trample upon Slavic sensibilities in the region and to sacrifice Russian interests there as well. [28]


This extended effort by Sazonov to minimize discussion of the Straits and Constantinople does not mean, however, that he ignored the issue. On the contrary, as the threat of war on the Balkan Peninsula grew more serious, so too did the Russian fear of Bulgarian action against the Turkish capital. This threat was enhanced, ironically, by the Russians' own actions—the encouragement of a system of military alliances under their aegis among Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro—which increased the chances of a victory over the Ottoman Empire and reduced the hesitation of those allied states to opt for war. [29] Adding to the irony, one of the factors behind the Russian support for a Balkan alliance was protection of the status quo at the Straits and Constantinople. [30] But as it grew increasingly apparent through 1912 that Bulgaria posed a danger to Turkish control of these areas, Sazonov warned the Bulgarian government against capturing Constantinople. In May he told Bulgarian leader S. Danev that Russia could not condone any Bulgarian conquests that included Adrianople (the last fortress city between Bulgaria and Constantinople), or points beyond. [31] During the summer, Sazonov cautioned the Bulgarians that Russia



28. See the correspondence in BD, 9.1; Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia vepokhu imperializma (MO) (Moscow, 1939-40), ser. 2, 20.1-2; and Documents Diplomatiques Françaises (1871-1914) (DDF) (Paris, 1931-34), 3.3, for June-September 1912.


29. The Russians, and Sazonov in particular, were very aware of this possibility at the time. See O'Beirne letter 416 to Grey, 14 October 1912, BD, 9.1, no. 193.


30. On the Russian role in the formation of the Balkan League see Rossos, Russia and the Balkans; Helmreich, Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars; and E. C. Thaden, Russia and the Balkan Alliance (University Park, PA, 1965), chaps. 3 and 4.


31. Sazonov letter 299 to Nekliudov, 23 May 1912, MO, 20.1, no. 64; and Sazonov memorandum to Nicholas II, 10 May 1912, MO, 19.2, no. 878.





would endeavor to stop them at Adrianople, [32] but if they defeated the Turks there and turned to Constantinople, "Russia would be obliged," Sazonov said, "to warn them off, as, though she had no desire to establish herself at Constantinople, she could not allow any other Power to take possession of it." [33] As long as Russia was unable to control the process of change, Sazonov demanded that Constantinople remain Turkish. He believed that all Russia needed to do was to "present an ultimatum at Sofia and that would suffice to arrest the further advance of the Bulgarian army." [34] This overconfidence in the weight of Russia's warnings is symptomatic of the larger Russian delusion that they could dictate the actions of the Slav peoples in the Balkans. Much to the Russians' chagrin, they would find that they were almost as powerless to set limits to the Balkan states' expansion as they were to prevent them from going to war. But Bulgaria entered the First Balkan War well aware of Russia's attitude about Constantinople and the Straits.





Throughout the first weeks of the war and beyond, the Great Powers searched for a way to end the Balkan war as quickly as possible while keeping themselves out of the actual combat, but formulating an effective policy proved more difficult that any of them had anticipated. [35] Sazonov's task was complicated by the need to prevent either side from gaining a victory so great that it might threaten the status quo at the Straits and further destabilize the region. He therefore had to prevent the Bulgarian armies from seizing the Turkish capital and, conversely, to avoid an exaggerated Turkish victory over Bulgaria. Early in the war the Powers expected the Balkan armies to have a difficult time against the German- trained Ottoman forces, so the Russians consented to promising Turkey full control of its capital and surrounding area, while the rest of its empire in Europe would be subject to European control and reform and kept under the nominal suzerainty of the Porte. [36]


The Balkan allies' surprising success, however, allowed the Great Powers to accept territorial changes at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. The Bulgarian advance on the Chatalja lines — the main defensive works before Constantinople — increasingly alarmed Sazonov because it seemed to possess the momentum to reach all the way to the Turkish capital. Sazonov thus sought to define and protect what he saw as Russia's interests. On 31 October he sent a circular to the Russian representatives in the capitals of the Great Powers and of the new belligerents setting out the bases of Russian policy. Russia required that, if the territorial status quo could not be preserved, Constantinople and a region to its west defined largely by the Maritsa River, including the fortress city of Adrianople, "must remain under the real sovereignty of the Sultan in guaranteeing the security of Constantinople and of the related European and Russian interests of the first



32. Nekliudov letter to Sazonov, 20 July 1912, MO, 20.1, no. 216; Doulcet tels. 443 and 444 to Poincare, 14 September 1912, DDF, 3.3, no. 402.


33. Buchanan letter 283 to Grey, 18 September 1912, BD, 9.1, no. 722.


34. Ibid.


35. Montenegro went to war on 8 October, and Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia on 17 October.


36. Sazonov letter 671 to Izvolskii, 23 October 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 130, II. 47-50.





order." [37] This was not a new demand, so Sazonov expected that Bulgaria would not make things difficult for itself and Russia by ignoring his position.


To persuade the Bulgarians, Sazonov tried two strategies. First, he warned them against storming the Chatalja lines since that might cause riots in the capital. The powers of Europe most deeply invested there — Britain and France — could thereupon turn against Bulgaria, leaving the latter vulnerable to intervention by Austria and Rumania. [38] This attempt to scare the Bulgarians into stopping did not work, for London and Paris were not so easily swayed against the Bulgarians as Sazonov intimated they might be. [39] Second, with perhaps as much wishful thinking, he pointed out that a failure of the siege of Adrianople might seriously reduce the territorial acquisitions that the allies could receive.


Regardless of their reaction to this, Sazonov stressed to the Bulgarians and the Great Powers that there could be no misinterpretation of Russia's insistence on the Sultan keeping the land from the Maritsa River, including Adrianople, under his own real control. [40] He personally told the Bulgarian minister in St. Petersburg,


"Be content with San Stefano Bulgaria and do not enter Constantinople under any circumstances, because you will otherwise complicate your affairs too gravely." [41]


Less directly, he sought the cooperation of his Entente partners on 31 October and 1 November, requesting that they, too, push the Bulgarian government to halt its attacks at the Chatalja line, or, failing that, not to occupy Constantinople. Britain and France agreed that the San Stefano borders had to be the "basis of the future settlement." [42] Both, however, opposed pressuring Bulgaria in the manner that the Russians desired, fearing either that an abandonment of the offensive would allow the Turkish forces to regroup, or that intense pressure "could alienate the Bulgarians from the Powers of the Triple Entente and ease for Austria a separate agreement with [Sofia]." [43]


Sazonov nonetheless persisted in seeking united action by the Powers to halt the Bulgarians. He hoped not only to prevent the riots and massacres across the Ottoman Empire that could result from the Bulgarians' entry into Constantinople, but also to deny Sofia the bargaining chip for future negotiations that possession of the city would hand it, since Bulgaria might retreat from Constantinople only if the Powers forced it to do so. [44] Ultimately, he insisted to the British ambassador that the capital and the region around it "must either remain Turkish [or] become Russian, and that Russia would regard any attempt made by another Power to take permanent possession of them as a casus belli." [45] In this way Sazonov clearly indicated how vital the location was to Russia; the only other event that might otherwise have brought Russian military intervention was an Austrian attack. He



37. Sazonov letter 678 to Izvolskii et al., 31 October 1912, ibid., II. 78-81.


38. Sazonov tel. 2403 to Nekliudov, 31 October 1912, ibid., d. 3699, I. 273.


39. Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, 88.


40. Sazonov tel. 2403 to Nekliudov, 31 October 1912.


41. Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, 87-88.


42. Buchanan tel. 401 to Grey, 1 November 1912, BD,, 9.2, no. 85; Fleuriau tel. 326 to Poincaré, 1 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 307; Benckendorff tel. 288 to Sazonov, 1 November 1912, Krasnyi arkhiv (KA), 16, no. 47.


43. Izvolskii tel. 314 to Sazonov, 1 November 1912, KA, 16, no. 49; Grey letter to Benckendorff, 1 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 92; Bertie tel. 189 to Grey, 2 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 97.


44. Sazonov tel. 2423 to Izvolskii, Benckendorff, et al, 2 November 1912, Materialy po istorii franko-russkikh otnoshenii za 1910-1914 g.g. (FRO) (Moscow, 1922), 293.


45. Buchanan private telegram to Grey, 2 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 98.





was absolutely opposed to the Bulgarians remaining at Constantinople and trying to incorporate it into some larger Bulgarian state.


But along with this stubbornness, Sazonov appeared ready to compromise in other areas considered less vital. On 2 November, in a private conversation with Sir George Buchanan, the British ambassador to Russia, Sazonov elucidated lines of policy that would define his position for the rest of the crisis: while Bulgaria would be allowed to expand beyond the San Stefano borders, to include even Adrianople, the Sultan must continue to possess real sovereignty over the Straits, their shores, and Constantinople, with a zone sufficient for its defense. [46] On 3 November this view was confirmed in a high-level meeting that included Sazonov, Prime and Finance Minister V. N. Kokovtsov, Naval Minister Adm. I. K. Grigorovich, and Chief of the General Staff Gen. I. G. Zhilinskii. Deferring to the opinion of the War Ministry that Adrianople was not essential to the defense of Constantinople, the members of the meeting decided that Bulgaria could keep the city as a fortress if it desired. But to preserve his own diplomatic options Sazonov tried to restrict this news to a small circle of people in the Entente capitals. [47] As long as this decision remained secret, Sazonov would have a stronger bargaining position with the Bulgarians if the situation demanded it.


Indeed, developments suggested that the time might not be far off when he would need to negotiate the Bulgarians out of Constantinople. Fearing that they were about to be overwhelmed by the Bulgarian forces, on 3 and 4 November the Turkish government pleaded with the Powers for help in forcing the Balkan allies to accept an immediate armistice and preventing the Bulgarians, and especially King Ferdinand, from entering Constantinople and causing riots and destruction. [48]


Still trying to obtain the cooperation of his Entente partners, Sazonov informed the French foreign minister, Raymond Poincare, and the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, that if Constantinople were captured, Russia would be forced to send its entire Black Sea fleet there at once. Thus it would be much better if they would help pressure Germany and Austria-Hungary to agree to a general plan lest Russia be forced to deploy its fleet, an action that could well have pan-European complications. [49] But Poincare and Grey refused, believing that such pressure was pointless and might even be counterproductive, driving Bulgaria into the hands of Austria-Hungary. [50]


With no support from his foreign allies, and with Sofia pressing its attack toward Constantinople, Sazonov felt obliged to try to tempt the Bulgarians by announcing that



46. Buchanan tel. 405 to Grey, 2 November 1912, BD, 9.2 no. 100.


47. Buchanan tel. 408 to Grey, 4 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 119; Louis tel. 511 to Poincare, 4 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 343; J. Cambon tel. 393 to Poincare, 4 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 333.


48. Giers tel. 982 to Sazonov, 4 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 3700, I. 92; Sazonov tel. 2451 to Izvolskii, 4 November 1912, tel. 2451, ibid., d. 130, I. 94.


49. Sazonov tel. 2455 to Izvolskii, 4 November 1912, ibid., II. 96-97; Benckendorfftel. 302 to Sazonov, 6 November 1912, in Graf Benckendorfs Diplomatischer Schriftwechsel (GBDS), ed. B. Siebert (Berlin, 1928), 2: no. 710.


50. Poincare tel. 804 to Louis, 2 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 313; Izvolskii tel. 324 to Sazonov, 3 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 3700, I. 49; Benckendorff tel. 295 to Sazonov, 2 November 1912, in Entente Diplomacy and the World: Matrix of the History of Europe, 1909-1914 (London, 1921), no. 448; Poincare tel. 810 to Fleuriau, 5 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 349.





Russia had no objections to their retaining Adrianople after the war. [51] But this did not deflect the Bulgarians' drive, and by 6 November Sazonov had become so pessimistic that he appeared to make the penultimate concession: he informed the French, British, and Bulgarian governments that the Russian government "did not want to oppose the temporary occupation of Constantinople by the allies." [52] He did point out, however, that a Turkish withdrawal to Asia Minor would make subsequent negotiations more difficult, as the Turkish army could then regroup, "and for the Porte, the necessity would not arise of showing any particular tractability while convinced that affairs could not get worse." [53] Furthermore, he reminded them that an extended occupation of Constantinople would compel Russia to station its Black Sea fleet off Constantinople until the Balkan allies departed. Until the attack by the overextended Bulgarian army failed at the Chatalja lines on 17-18 November, Sazonov continued to speak in this manner and, as the French ambassador to Russia, Georges Louis, put it on 10 November, seemed "resigned" to a Bulgarian entrance into Constantinople, even though he still refused to allow that they might remain there. [54]


Although most historians have believed that Sazonov was ready to acquiesce to a brief Bulgarian occupation of Constantinople, rarely cited documents raise grave doubts about the willingness of Sazonov and the Russian government to see this occupation take place. While telling the Powers that the Russian government would endure a temporary Bulgarian occupation of Constantinople, the Russians actually were preparing to land troops there, ostensibly to keep order in the city and protect the European colonies and the wider Christian population. Prompted by Izvolskii, who recalled tentative Russian plans to occupy Constantinople during disturbances in 1896-97 and 1908, Sazonov, Kokovtsov, and the Naval Ministry began to discuss a similar expedition. [55] As the Bulgarians drew closer to the Chatalja lines, the Porte invited each Great Power to send a single (then a second) warship to Constantinople to help maintain order in the capital. [56] The Russian government decided to do more. First, between 4 and 8 November direct telegraphic communications were established between the commander of the Black Sea Fleet in Odessa and the Russian ambassador in Constantinople, M. K. Giers, so that warships, which were already on a war footing, could be called in without waiting for approval from St. Petersburg. [57] Second, Sazonov notified Giers on 6 November that the second warship for Constantinople would contain two companies of soldiers, some one thousand men, which he also could call in at his discretion. Noting that it would be desirable for the troops to arrive in Constantinople before the Bulgarians, lest it be too difficult to maintain order, Sazonov asked Giers whether



51. Grey tel. 139 to Bax-Ironside, 2 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 99; Bax-Ironside tel. 120 to Grey, 3 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 109; Buchanan tel. 412 to Grey, 5 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 130.


52. Sazonov tel. 2474 to Izvolskii, 6 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 130, I. 104. See also Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, 89.


53. Sazonov tel. 2474 to Izvolskii.


54. Louis tels. 517 and 518 to Poincare, 10 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 411.


55. Izvolskii letter to Sazonov, 23 October 1912, FRO, 289-91; Entente Diplomacy and the World, no. 430.


56. See note in BD, 9.2, p. 89; and Helmreich, Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 201.


57. Sazonov tel. 2426 to Giers, 2 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 3700, I. 30; Sazonov tel. to Nicholas II, 4 November 1912, ibid., I. 57; Nicholas's approval on telegram of same date, ibid. I. 58; Grigorovich tel. 320 to Nicholas II, 8 November 1912, in Ia. Zakher, "Konstantinopol' i prolivy," KA, 6, 51.





a thousand men would be sufficient. [58] In response, Giers informed the minister that a minimum of five thousand soldiers would be needed simply to protect the European part of the city. [59] This figure was approved, the troops were prepared, and the navy, unable to accommodate such a large number of troops on the single troop transport it had available at Sevastopol, began the process of chartering two large steamers from the Volunteer Fleet in Odessa. [60]


Amid the intense planning and preparation of November, Sazonov composed two long letters, just before the commencement of the Bulgarian attack on the Chatalja lines. These letters to Kokovtsov, the service ministers, and Giers of 12 and 14 November allow a better understanding not only of the rationale behind the plan to land Russian troops in Constantinople but also of his wider views on the Straits question. [61] First, Sazonov spelled out what would be the government's official, public explanation for dispatching troops: to maintain order and security "for Europeans and local Christians, and also for the numerous enterprises and interests of a world center, like Constantinople." [62] Since Russia was the closest Great Power and the traditional protector of Christians in the Ottoman Empire, it was natural for it to be the one to send the troops for this purpose. But this legitimate reason masked more pressing issues that concerned the Russian foreign minister, his government, and his emperor. Most important, Sazonov saw this deployment as an opportunity to gain more influence over the fate of Constantinople and the Straits if the Turks were forced to retreat to Asia Minor. Sazonov suggested that the longer the Bulgarians spent in Constantinople, the greater were the chances that the fate of Constantinople and the Straits could be decided in a fashion contrary to Russia's interests. Thus Russia had to possess sufficient force to give it "the deciding voice" in any resolution of these matters. [63] Here, then, was the crux of the matter: Sazonov meant to employ the legitimate needs of the local and European population for Russia's own ends: ensuring that any resolution of this issue would accord with Russia's interests. Here too was one of the earliest, but rarely identified, times after the Russo-Japanese War that Russia considered employing military force to support its diplomacy. But given the distances involved and the presence of ships from all the other Great Powers, Russia was forced to make these preparations quietly, in stark contrast to the open measures it was taking along its western border with Austria-Hungary, where the two nations were engaged in an armed standoff, defending their interests vis-à-vis Serbia. [64] At Constantinople, Russia could not be sure of its ability to apply constant pressure so was forced to prepare more subtle, if still military, measures.


Sazonov then explained the resolution that would best suit those needs. First, he dismissed internationalization of Constantinople and neutralization of the Straits as an insufficient guarantee of Russia's key interests. Land or sea forces could be used to violate



58. Sazonov tel. 2473 to Giers, 6 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 130, I. 103.


59. Giers tel 1000 to Sazonov, 7 November 1912, ibid., d. 3700, I. 182.


60. Sukhomlinov to Kokovtsov, 19 November 1912, letters 1735 and 1736, RGIA, f. 1276, op. 8, d. 465, II. 4 and 18-19.


61. Sazonov letter to [Kokovtsov, Service chiefs], 12 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 3700, II. 242-49; Sazonov letter to Giers, 14 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 138, op. 467, d. 459/478, II. 22-24.


62. Sazonov to Kokovtsov, 12 November 1912, 242.


63. Ibid., 244.


64. See Stevenson, Armaments, 232-46 and 253-66.





any treaty that disarmed these areas, threatening both the closure of the Straits and the penetration of other Powers' warships into the Black Sea. Russia must not rely on written agreements, Sazonov concluded, but instead must physically assure its vital interests at this crucial waterway.


Finding such an arrangement, of course, was no easy matter. The radical option was to seize Constantinople and the Straits by force. Such an arrangement would give Russia several advantages, including control of a center of world trade and a "key to the Mediterranean Sea." It also would provide the "basis of an unprecedented development of Russian power" through a relatively short but very strongly fortified border with Bulgaria, complemented by equipping the Dardanelles with the "most modern fortress armaments." [65] Not only would the result be Russian domination of the Balkan states, Sazonov predicted, but also Russian accession to "a world position which is the natural crown of her efforts and sacrifices over two centuries of our history."


The grandeur of such a mission and all the innumerable consequences of its achievement in religious, cultural, economic and political relations would bring a healing (ozdorovlenie) in our internal life, [and] would give the Government and society those achievements and that enthusiasm (pod"em) which could unite them in the service of a matter of indisputable pan-national (obshchenarodnoi) importance. [66]



Taking Constantinople, then, not only would greatly improve Russia's strategic position but also act as a healing balm upon Russia's troubled internal affairs.


After expressing these lofty thoughts, however, Sazonov brought his readers back down to earth by turning to the dilemmas involved in implementing such a plan. Russia could fulfill its long-standing desire to seize these regions, but that would likely prompt Austria-Hungary to act similarly at the expense of the very Balkan peoples for whom Russia had been struggling under the rubric of "the Balkans for the Balkan peoples." The consequent loss of Balkan support would weaken Russia against the Triple Alliance and on the Balkan Peninsula in general. [67] For Sazonov, it was obvious that if a choice had to be made between Russia possessing the Straits, or uniting the Balkan peoples against Austrian expansion, then the latter was the only possible option. When all of Russia's interests in the region were considered, therefore, Sazonov was prepared to defer Russia's own expansion to prevent Austria-Hungary's, thereby preserving the independence of the peoples Russia had worked so hard to liberate over the previous decades.


Sazonov's preferred option was to control the upper Bosphorus, once further Turkish rule there was impossible, either as an outright possession or through a long-term lease. Most important, a fortified position on the Bosphorus would allow St. Petersburg to prevent



65. Sazonov to Kokovtsov, 12 November 1912, 246.


66. Ibid.


67. Ibid., 246-47. On Austria-Hungary's plans see Goleevskii Report 108 to Russian General Staff, 14 August 1912, MO, 20.2, no. 468, which was sent in abbreviated form to the Foreign Ministry as Zhilinskii letter 2455 to Sazonov, 5 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 3717, II. 43-44. On the other hand, if Austria-Hungary took the initiative in seizing territory, Russia would then have "complete freedom in arriving at a decision" about subsequent action (Sazonov to Giers, 14 November 1912).





any hostile ships from entering the Black Sea. Constantinople itself could be internationalized, and the Dardanelles stripped of any fortifications. Under such an arrangement, Sazonov hypothesized, the strengthening of the Russian Black Sea Fleet would allow Russia freedom of passage through the Dardanelles. [68] In this manner, Russia would occupy a minimum of territory but acquire a significant change in its rights at the Straits. Russia would also have made an important first step toward someday acquiring the whole region.


From this analysis, then, certain things stand out in Sazonov's attitude toward Constantinople and the Straits. First, he believed that any arrangement would have to satisfy Russian needs on the ground, for no written agreement could protect Russia's economic, military, and cultural interests there. Second, while Sazonov was fully aware of Constantinople's and the Straits' potential importance to the Russian Empire, the current threat of Austrian expansion outweighed them in his calculations. Here, then, was not some blind, romantic pursuit of traditional aspirations, but a calculated appraisal of Russia's strategic position. Austrian expansion into the Balkans would not only destroy further hopes of containing the Germanic powers but also destroy Russia's position as protector and leader of the southern Slavs, a role Russia had claimed for itself, albeit more recently than its gravitation toward the Straits. While the Straits were critical in his view, their immediate possession could be outweighed by other considerations—and he would make similar choices again in the future.


With the commencement of the Bulgarian attack on the Chatalja lines on 17 November and the initial failure of talks between the allies and the Turks for an armistice, it still appeared that Bulgaria might take the Turkish capital. Sazonov was forced to speak, at least to the French ambassador, of the possibility not only of internationalizing Constantinople but also of neutralizing the Straits, but he deferred a definitive statement until he could consult with the tsar and other authorities. [69] While the internationalization of Constantinople had been foreseen in the above writings, the change at the Straits had not. Given the importance of the matter to the Russians, however, one must wonder if this suggestion was not a Russian ploy to attract France's goodwill and support before claiming later that the tsar and others would not allow the full neutralization of the Straits, because of reasons similar to those Sazonov developed above.


But with the collapse of the Bulgarian offensive and the ebbing of the threat to Constantinople, St. Petersburg could devote its attention to other issues created by the near- complete Ottoman retreat from Europe. The Straits and Constantinople appeared in Russian statements during these talks only in a negative sense, which is to say that as long as Constantinople remained Turkish, Russia had no desire to raise the subject. [70] Indeed, once



68. Sazonov was a vigorous proponent of a stronger Black Sea Fleet. See Shatsillo, Russkii imperializm; and Ronald Bobroff, "Roads to Glory? Sergei D. Sazonov, the Turkish Straits, and Russian Foreign Policy, 1910-1916" (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 2000).


69. Louis dep. 330 to Poincaré, 20 November 1912, DDF, 3.4, no. 506. Zotiades also takes note of this intimation by Sazonov but makes more of it than is warranted by the context of Sazonov's writings in November, the full text of the despatch, and the military and naval preparations on the Black Sea ("Russia and the Question of Constantinople," 292).


70. Buchanan tel. 446 to Grey, 22 November 1912, BD, 9.2, no. 254; Sazonov letter 787 to Izvolskii, 29 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 131, II. 110-13; Sazonov tel. 2764 to Izvolskii, 30 November 1912, ibid., I. 56.





the conference of the ambassadors got under way in London, the fate of Constantinople and the Straits remained on the sidelines. But in October and November these questions had received significant attention. Although Russia had been pushed by the Bulgarian successes to concede on most territorial points, it remained steadfast in its opposition to permanent Bulgarian access to the Straits and possession of the Ottoman capital. Its resolve was such that it was preparing to send an expedition of troops to Constantinople to protect what it considered to be its vital interests. Not trusting any agreement on paper to uphold Russia's desires, Sazonov had the agreement of his colleagues and tsar to take military steps to ensure that its voice would be heard.





The failure of the December armistice and the renewed fighting from 2 March 1913 sparked a renewed Bulgarian attempt to capture Adrianople and revived Russian fears for the safety of Constantinople. This in turn inspired St. Petersburg to return to the policies of the fall: insisting that Bulgaria must not possess Constantinople or have land access to the Straits, and preparing to dispatch ships and troops to Constantinople to protect the Christian population and Russia's interests. On 22 March, with a renewed attack on Adrianople seemingly imminent, Sazonov began to implement these policies in a discussion with the visiting Bulgarian general, Radko Dimitriev. Dimitriev indicated that Bulgaria wished to receive a border with Turkey that included coastline on the Sea of Marmora. He simultaneously threatened Sazonov that refusal could mean the replacement of the present Russophile government by another more inclined to look toward Austria-Hungary for support. Sazonov replied by reminding the general that Russia had made a serious concession by allowing Bulgaria to take Adrianople, which Sazonov duplicitously described as crucial to the defense of the Turkish capital, even though, as noted above, on 4 November it had been decided that Adrianople was not as important as first thought. Sazonov, furthermore, would not be intimidated by his interlocutor's warning of a change in government. He informed the general that if the government in Sofia did take a pro-Austrian line, then that would show how little Russia should value Bulgaria, negating any reason for making the concession. Sazonov also refused the general's suggestion that Sofia could make Constantinople a gift to St. Petersburg since the question of Constantinople was too complicated to be resolved though a Russo-Bulgarian bilateral agreement. Sazonov recognized that in the wake of the 1878 Congress of Berlin any change at the Straits would have to be on a multilateral basis. Given this and the current state of reorganization of the Russian army, the present moment was not the best to resolve these issues. [71] Additionally, the consequences of a Bulgarian occupation of the city both for the Christian population of the Ottoman capital and empire and for Russian interests there were too potentially disastrous to allow the Bulgarians so much influence over the pace of events.


After Adrianople's fall to the allied armies on 27 March, a Bulgarian seizure of Constantinople loomed. Sazonov responded to this in the same way as he did in November



71. Sazonov letter 262 to Nekliudov, 22 March 1913, AVPRI, f. 138, op. 467, d. 318/321, II. 4-5.





1912: he planned to send the fleet and troops to the capital to maintain order and protect Russian interests. On 28 March, after renewing Giers's power to summon the Russian fleet if the Bulgarians threatened Constantinople, [72] Sazonov informed the tsar that the justification for the dispatch of the ships was


not only the necessity to take measures for the protection of the peaceful Christian population of Constantinople during a disorderly retreat of the Turkish army, but also the desirability, in case of the entry of the Bulgarian army into Constantinople, to place a powerful Russian force in the waters of the Bosphorus, with its arrival able to render the requisite pressure for preventing such solutions to the questions of Constantinople and the Straits which would be incompatible with the interests of Russia. [73]



But in a manner that suggested his real intentions were otherwise, Sazonov told the tsar that if the fleet was sent to the Turkish capital, the government could anticipate misunderstandings in the press by making it known that the Russian ships would stay only until the final conditions of peace were settled. While Sazonov would subsequently tell the Powers that Bulgarian seizure of Constantinople would result in the appearance of the Russian fleet off its shore, there is no indication in any of the documents that he told any other nation of Russia's intention to send five thousand troops there as well.


Although the troops were again prepared for dispatch in April 1913, there was now insufficient transport for such a number of men. [74] Until a ship or ships arrived that could carry the soldiers (and was then unloaded and prepared for their conveyance—a process already shown to take several days), Russia could not move the men and was thus powerless to protect either the inhabitants or its own interests at the capital. With the Bulgarians only one set of defensive works away from Constantinople, Russia possessed fewer options to stop them than previously. Giers, unaware of the transport situation, wrote on 1 April that if Russia was unable to send these troops, "it was extremely necessary to hasten the conclusion of peace before the fall of the Chatalja position and then to apply all of our efforts to never again be surprised by events." [75]


Thus stripped of one of his few physical means of influencing events, Sazonov redoubled his efforts in the diplomatic arena. Even before learning how limited his options were, Sazonov attempted to satisfy the Bulgarians and head off a continuation of their military operations with one further territorial concession. On 27 March he accepted Sofia's request for a border with Turkey not following the flow of the river Ergene between Enos and Midia, but instead a straight line between those two cities. He pressed for speed in having the Powers and Turkey accept such a line, fearing that "any delay means a serious danger for Constantinople," but he insisted that this must be the very last concession. [76] As



72. Zakher, "Konstantinopol' i prolivy," 62.


73. Sazonov report to Nicholas II, 28 March 1913, AVPRI, f. 138, op. 467, d. 721/780, II. 58-59. This letter was approved by Nicholas on 29 March and then sent to Kokovtsov for his information in Sazonov letter 288 to Kokovtsov, 30 March 1913, RGIA, f. 1276, op. 9, d. 600, I. 1.


74. Shatsillo, Russkii imperializm, 102.


75. Giers tel. 218 to Sazonov, 1 April 1913, RGIA, f. 1276, op. 9, d. 600, I. 5.


76. Sazonov tel. 723 to Giers, 27 March 1913, in Der Diplomatische Schriftwechsel Iswolskis 1911-1914. Aus dem Geheimakten derRussischen Staatsarchiv (DSI), ed. Friedrich Stieve (Berlin, 1926), 3, no. 789.





mentioned above, under no circumstances would Bulgaria be allowed to obtain seashore on either the Straits or the Sea of Marmora. [77] This met little resistance from the Great Powers and so was incorporated into their terms for peace. One Bulgarian demand was thus met.


Civil-military conflict in Bulgaria, however, gave this concession debatable value, since the civilian leadership was recognized to have little influence over the policy followed by King Ferdinand and his army chiefs. [78] Although the civilian leadership responded to the offer of the straight Enos-Midia line in return for an assurance that Bulgaria did not intend to attack Constantinople, Ferdinand and his generals were expected to attack the Turkish capital as soon as possible. Indeed, even Bulgarian Prime Minister I. S. Gueshov feared that if an armistice did not come very soon, an attack on the Chatalja lines "could not be avoided." [79] Sazonov thus sought to make the offer to the Bulgarian leadership more attractive.


While at the same time trying to temper Sofia's expectations, Sazonov sought to gain the Powers' acceptance of a Turkish indemnity for Bulgaria that the Bulgarian envoys had requested in St. Petersburg in mid-March, along with the revised border. [80] He hoped that once the Powers promised such compensation to Sofia, Bulgaria would accept an armistice and not attack Constantinople. In contrast to the proposal for the straight Enos-Midia line, the indemnity was met with hostility, especially by France. Paris, already afraid that these new changes would lead Vienna to put forward demands serving its interests, felt that such an addition to Turkey's financial burden directly affected France's interests. [81] France carried 45 percent of the Ottoman debt and had huge capital investments there, so was especially interested in Turkey not going bankrupt under the added debt. Moreover, other powers, especially Germany, would surely resist, and were an indemnity imposed on the Turks, the Germans would make use of this pressure to show itself as a better friend of the Porte. [82] As much as Sazonov insisted on meeting the Bulgarians on this issue, therefore, the French would agree only to allow the commission in Paris in charge of the Ottoman debt to examine the issue after the war.


While he struggled with the French on this issue, Sazonov did make diplomatic use of what military cards he could rely on—the dispatch of the Black Sea fleet to the Straits and Constantinople. Unlike the secrecy surrounding the preparation of the large detachment of troops for occupation of Constantinople, Sazonov made very clear to Britain and France Russia's readiness to employ its fleet. On 31 March the governments in Paris and London learned that Russia would send a squadron of warships to Constantinople if the Turkish army retreated from that city. This would be done not only to protect the Christian population from any disorders that might occur but also "in case of the Bulgarian entry into Constantinople, the presence of an imposing Russian force is necessary in the waters of the Bosphorus in order to exercise by its presence the needed pressure and to prevent solutions



77. Sazonov tel. 724 to Benckendorff, 27 March 1913, DSI, 3, no. 790


78. Rossos, Russia and the Balkans,; chaps. 4, 7.


79. Panafieu tels. 95 and 96 to Pichon, 29 March 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 109.


80. Sazonov tel. 680 to Benckendorff, 22 March 1913, DSI, 3, no. 783.


81. Izvolskii tel. 139 to Sazonov, 31 March 1913, in Un Livre Noir: Diplomatie d'avantguerre d'apres les documents des archivesrusses, novembre 1910-juillet, 1914 (LN), ed. Rene Marchand (Paris, 1922-34), 2:59.


82. "Note de Directeur des Affaires politiques" (Maurice Paleologue), 7 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 222.





on the subject of Constantinople and the Straits incompatible with the interests of Russia." [83] Furthermore, Sazonov noted that he would inform the press that the warships would remain off the coast of Constantinople only until conclusion of the peace. Here again, though, the wording of the communique, together with his earlier statements on the subject, suggests his actual intentions were otherwise — the fleet would remain until Constantinople's fate was resolved to Russia's satisfaction.


This element of Sazonov's policy was not lost on the British and especially the French, who sought to limit the scope of Russia's unilateral actions. While the French held strong suspicions about Russia's intentions, the British were more inclined to support Russian action. Grey suggested that all the Powers could send ships to Constantinople and disembark troops to keep order (unaware of Sazonov's plans to that effect), and his assistants also made it clear that they did not oppose Russia taking independent action. [84] Britain thus appeared to be unknowingly condoning the measures quietly being prepared in St. Petersburg.


The reaction in Paris to Russia's intentions was significantly different. Not only did the French anticipate an aggressive Austrian reaction, [85] but, as noted above, they also feared what Russia might do once in de facto possession of the Turkish capital, and they opposed any unilateral action by Russia that would place it in a commanding position there. Indeed, the French may not have hidden their suspicions of Russian intentions well since even back in November 1912, Sazonov quietly complained to Izvolskii of his suspicions that the French were trying to encourage the Bulgarians to take the city. [86]


By 8 April, however, the likelihood of a Bulgarian attack on Constantinople began to diminish. Cholera had appeared in the Bulgarian army in Thrace months before, but now the disease seemed to dampen the Bulgarian enthusiasm for attack. On 8, 9, and 10 April, London and Paris reported increasing signals that Ferdinand was leaning against an attack on the Turkish capital. [87] Such news served to confirm information received in St. Petersburg that the Bulgarians were ready to come to terms with the Turks. [88]


Sazonov, however, concealed his knowledge of Bulgarian intentions from his Entente partners in order to gain some diplomatic leverage by following a policy more concessionary than it really was. Sazonov learned on 8 April that Poincare, now the French president but still central in French foreign policy formulation, would renounce the idea of collecting an international fleet off Constantinople if Sazonov had "the least objection" to it. [89]



83. "Note de l'ambassade de Russie," 31 March 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 127; Benckendorff tel. 287 to Sazonov, 31 March 1913, in GBDS, 3, no. 931; Communication from Etter, 1 April 1913, BD, 9.2, no. 788; Sazonov tel. 766 to Giers, 30 March 1913, GBDS, 3, no. 927; Sazonov tel. 777 to Benckendorff, 30 March 1913, GBDS, 3, no. 928.


84. Grey letter 235 to Bertie, 3 April 1913, BD, 9.2, no. 800; Benckendorff tel. 298 to Sazonov, 3 April 1913, RGIA, f. 1276, op. 9, d. 600, I. 6; Beckendorff tel. 301 to Sazonov, 3 April 1913, RGIA, f. 1276, op. 9, d. 600, I. 7.


85. Pichon tel. 393 and 393 bis to Delcasse, 7 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 217.


86. Sazonov tel. 2502 to Izvolskii, 8 November 1912, AVPRI, f. 151, op. 482, d. 130, I. 110.


87. P. Cambon tel. 111 to Pichon, 8 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 234; Bertie tel. 46 to Grey, 9 April 1913, BD, 9.2, no. 822; Delcasse tels. 188, 189, and 190 to Pichon, 10 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 254; P. Cambon tel. 118 to Pichon, 10 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 262, with content passed along by Izvolskii in tel. 171 to Sazonov, 11 April 1913, LN, 69.


88. Rossos, Russia and the Balkans, 127.


89. Izvolskii tel. 165 to Sazonov, 8 April 1913, LN2:66.





Believing that Sofia was about to make peace, thereby removing the need to send ships, Sazonov now accepted the proposal, which he had earlier opposed. [90] Furthermore, attempting to use this opportunity to develop the fiction of public influence on his policy, he stipulated that the ships should be sent only in case of imminent danger and that, in such a case, the Powers should arrange things so that the Russian squadron would not arrive at their destination after those of the other Powers, lest a public storm of disapproval arise in Russia. [91] With the Russian navy unable to furnish transport for the large number of troops that he wished to send to Constantinople, Sazonov's effective options for strengthening Russian influence were rather limited, but given that he felt the danger was passing, he could afford such a concession. And on 15 April the need for such a demonstration disappeared with the agreement of Bulgarian and Turkish forces to an armistice. It appeared that the conclusion of fighting on the eastern Balkan front ended not only the threat to Constantinople but also Russia's immediate worries for its interests at the Turkish capital and in the Straits. The allied victories gave St. Petersburg hope that Russia would now have stronger help in resisting Austrian expansion to the Aegean and in protecting the back door to Constantinople and the Straits.


Before the first war had even ended, disputes arose among the allies over the division of the spoils, especially in Macedonia. The growing hostility between Serbia and Greece, on the one hand, and Bulgaria on the other came to a head at the end of June, when the Bulgarian army attacked the Serbian army in Macedonia. Greece quickly came to Serbia's aid, followed closely by Rumania, interested in obtaining its own compensation for Sofia's gains. While the Russian government deplored this internecine struggle that threatened its advantageous position in the Balkans so soon after its construction, Sazonov admitted that having Bulgaria chastened was not all bad: it might create a balance of power on the peninsula that would lend itself to a future alliance of these small powers. [92] This reduction of Bulgaria's strength would also lessen the threat to the Straits and Constantinople.


Sazonov did not oppose the aggrandizement of the Christian states at Bulgaria's expense, but he sought to prevent Turkey from recapturing Adrianople. He learned on 12 July that the Porte was preparing to do so, therefore he tried to rush Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania and Serbia into peace talks, but this foundered on the irreconcilability of the demands of the two sides. Sazonov also attempted to coordinate joint diplomatic action against the Porte by the Great Powers, but this attempt also collapsed because of the differing priorities of the Powers, which made any cooperative action nearly impossible. Once again, France's financial interests proved to be one of Russia's biggest obstacles, as Paris refused to apply financial pressure on Constantinople in much the same fashion as it had with Bulgaria. But the issues now had less to do with the security of the Straits than with the absolute humiliation of the Bulgarians and reapplication of Muslim rule over Christian Balkan peoples. The Ottoman Empire regained Adrianople and some European territory, in large part because of the Bulgarian military collapse coupled with the deadlocked diplomacy of the Great



90. Sazonov tel. 897 to Benckendorff, 9 April 1913, DSI, 3, no. 832; "Note de l'ambassade de Russie," 10 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 252; and Delcasse tels. 188, 189, and 190 to Pichon, 10 April 1913, DDF, 3.6, no. 254.


91. Buchanan tel. 147 to Grey, 13 April 1913, BD, 9.2, no. 843.


92. Sazonov letter to Izvolskii, 10 July 1913, AVPRI, f. 340, op. 835, d. 39, II. 37-38.





Powers, but their advance halted short of forcing a unilateral Russian intervention. Sofia continued to harbor the hope that the Powers would demand a review of the Turko-Bulgarian treaty of 29 September 1913, but the Powers, exhausted, literally, by the exertions of the previous year of Balkan War diplomacy, left it unchanged.


Thus, Sazonov endeavored in 1913, as he had in 1912, to keep the Bulgarian forces out of Constantinople. This time, faced with the inability to transport troops to Constantinople and the refusal of Russia's French ally to cooperate in effective measures, Sazonov had to rely even more on diplomacy, making concessions and seeking additional inducements for Sofia, but as before, always refusing to concede Bulgaria a permanent role at the Turkish capital and on the Straits.



By the end of the twelve months from the outbreak of the First Balkan War to the conclusion of the Turko-Bulgarian agreement, Russia had achieved very mixed results from its diplomatic exertions. Most positively, the Turkish Straits remained completely under Turkish control with the Bulgarians a relatively safe distance away. Furthermore, by deferring longer-term interests, Russia helped prevent Austrian military intervention in the conflict, thereby allowing all the Balkan states to gain territory and strength to some degree. Conversely, Sazonov's policies of opposing Bulgaria at some times while supporting it at other times, much as Russia did with other Balkan states, alienated those states to some extent, especially Bulgaria, setting the stage for Bulgaria's entrance into World War I on the side of the Central Powers. Frustratingly for Sazonov, his French ally, looking carefully after its own interests in the region, proved to be little help in pressuring Bulgaria or Turkey. With the loss of prestige abroad came blows to his prestige at home, and the renewing internal effects he had hoped that victories abroad would bring remained far off.


But this crisis does provide an important window into Russian patterns of policy formulation when faced with competing interests. On the one hand, Sazonov worked to preserve as much influence as possible among the Balkan states by deferring any grab for the Straits, which could have brought Austrian moves for compensation. While this meant that Russian gained nothing at the Straits, it also meant that its losses on the Balkan Peninsula were limited in their magnitude compared to that which would have resulted from an Austrian annexation of more territory. On the other hand, Sazonov did not let this concern for the Slavic states damage Russian vital interests at the Straits. While Russia might have gained great favor by allowing King Ferdinand to recapture Constantinople from its Muslim possessors, it would have faced the interference of a new power in the freedom of the Straits. This Sazonov could not allow, and he worked to prevent it even at the cost of diminished influence at Sofia and increased friction in Russia's alliance with France. This lesson must be kept in mind when trying to understand and predict the Russian Federation's policies in the Balkans today. While Russia may tout the strength of its bonds to the Balkan Slavs and be prepared for some sacrifice, that sacrifice will not extend to the most vital of its interests. Russia, like most states, will continue to look after its own interests first, standing up for others only when the risk to itself is not too great.



Research for this paper was supported in part by a grant from the International Research & Exchanges Board, with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of State. Funds have also been provided by the Duke University Graduate School; Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies; Center for International Studies; and Center for European Studies. None of these organizations is responsible for the views expressed.


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