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Russia's role in European politics
Russia's role in European politics

During the reign of Peter I, Russia became an important participant in European politics. The peak of power came in the decades after the Napoleonic Wars.

Until the 18th century, the Russian state had little participation in the political life of Europe, confining itself to wars with the Commonwealth, Sweden and periodic clashes with Turkey.

In the West, in turn, the idea of ​​a distant and incomprehensible eastern country was rather vague - this situation has seriously changed at the end of the 17th century, with the accession to the throne of Peter Alekseevich Romanov. Starting from the future Peter I, Russia will firmly become one of the most important players in the European political life of the New Time.

Northern war - the dawn of Russia

The young tsar, in fact, just starting his independent rule, left for Europe to the Grand Embassy to search for allies in a future war with Turkey - the problem of access to the southern seas was then seen as more urgent than other issues. However, making sure that no one really wanted to go against the Ottoman sultan, Peter quickly changed his foreign policy goals, having achieved the creation of an alliance against Sweden. Russia initiated a major war called the Great Northern.


The conflict began with the crushing defeat of the Russian troops near Narva in 1700 - however, taking advantage of the distraction of the main forces of the Swedes against Denmark and Saxony, Peter I was able to carry out reforms that were vital for the troops, which allowed them to win a number of major victories over the enemy, among which Poltava Victoria in 1709.

Despite the fact that the war continued for another long 12 years, it was clear that Russia would not miss the victory. The Nishtad Peace of 1721 consolidated the new position that had developed in Eastern Europe, and Russia turned from a border state into a powerful empire, firmly entering the system of international relations of its time.

Despite the era of instability that followed the death of Peter I, expressed in endless palace coups, Russia became an important player in the “European concert”.

Petersburg autocrats participated in almost all important events of the "Gallant Age" - conflicts over the Austrian and Polish inheritance and the global Seven Years' War, "World Zero", where Russian troops played an important role in the defeat of Prussia. However, the problem of the security of the southern borders and the expansion of its influence in the Black Sea basin, where the Ottoman Empire was the main enemy of the Romanovs, became more important for Russia.

Russian troops in Berlin, 1760

Russia and Turkey: a century of wars

The first attempts to solve the "southern question" were made by Peter I, but they cannot be called successful. Despite the fact that in 1700, as a result of successful military actions, Russia managed to annex Azov, these achievements were canceled out by the failed Prut campaign. The first Russian emperor switched to other tasks, judging that gaining access to the Baltic was a higher priority for the country at the moment, leaving the "Turkish problem" at the mercy of his heirs. Her decision stretched out almost for the entire 18th century.

The first conflict with the Ottomans flared up in 1735, but did not lead to the desired results for St. Petersburg - the borders were slightly expanded, and Russia did not get access to the Black Sea. The main achievements in solving the "southern question" will be accomplished during the reign of Catherine II with the help of the brilliant victories of Russian arms.

The war of 1768 - 1774 allowed Russia to finally secure for itself a solid outlet to the Black Sea and strengthen its positions in the Caucasus and the Balkans.European countries began to watch with caution the successes of their powerful eastern neighbor - it was at this time that a tendency to support the Ottoman Empire in its confrontation with Russia began to take shape, which would be fully revealed in the next century.

"Allegory of the victory of Catherine II over the Turks and Tatars" by Stefano Torelli, 1772

The second "Catherine's" war with Turkey lasted 4 years - from 1787 to 1791. Its results were even more impressive than the conditions of the Kuchuk-Kainadzhir peace treaty concluded more than 10 years earlier.

Now Russia has finally secured the Crimean peninsula, the Black Sea coast between the Bug and Dniester, and also strengthened its influence in the Transcaucasus. Successful wars on the southern borders prompted the Russian elites to think about the creation of New Byzantium, which will be ruled by the Romanov dynasty. However, these plans had to be shelved - a new era began in Europe, the beginning of which was laid by the Great French Revolution.

Napoleonic Wars - Russia's Decisive Role

Worried about the revolutionary ideas that spilled out and began to be embodied in France, the European states united and began hostilities. Russia took the most active part in anti-French coalitions, beginning with the reign of Catherine the Great. Petersburg could radically change its foreign policy only once at the end of the reign of Paul I - however, this was prevented by the violent death of the emperor.

Napoleon's successes on the European battlefields led to the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit between France and Russia in 1807. De jure, Alexander I found himself in allied relations with the former enemy and joined the Continental blockade. However, de facto the conditions of peace were not respected, relations between the sovereigns rapidly deteriorated. As time went on, it became more and more obvious that the two hegemons of Europe had clashed - which happened in 1812.

Meeting of the emperors at Tilsit, June 25, 1807

The Patriotic War, which began in the summer, was a turning point in the Napoleonic era. The thousands-strong "Great Army" was defeated for the first time - military operations were transferred to the territory of Europe. As a result of the Foreign Campaign of the Russian army in 1814, Paris was taken by the Allied troops. Russia, thus, made a major contribution to the defeat of France, which provided the Romanov power with a dominant position in Europe following the results of the Vienna Congress.

Gendarme of Europe: Crimean shame

The end of the Napoleonic Wars marked the beginning of a new period in European history. England withdrew into "brilliant isolation", and on the continent the main forces, Prussia, Austria and Russia, united in the Holy Alliance, the main purpose of which was to preserve the established order. Russia played a leading role in the unification, becoming the outpost of conservatism in Europe. This position was defended not only in words - so, during the revolutionary uprisings of 1848, the Russian army helped the Austrian allies to suppress the uprising in Hungary.

However, the presence of one hegemon always leads to unification against him. So it happened in the case of Russia - the "Gendarme of Europe" should have ceded the throne, and in the middle of the 19th century, circumstances were in favor of this. An attempt by Nicholas I to "finally" resolve the Turkish issue led to the unification of European countries led by Great Britain - the "sick man of Europe" had to be protected.

This led to the disastrous Crimean War for Russia, during which the main problems of the Romanov monarchy were revealed. The Paris Peace Treaty, signed in 1856, led to the de facto diplomatic isolation of Russia.

The battle on the Malakhov Kurgan

The defeat in the clash with the European powers, however, allowed for serious reforms in the country. During the reign of Alexander II, Russia was gradually able to emerge from isolation thanks to the skillful policy of Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov.

From the Crimean to the First World War

The second half of the 19th century became for Russia a time of partial return of the lost positions.The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 again strengthened the position of the Romanov monarchy in the Balkans, despite the fact that the initial plans to create a strong Bulgaria met with resistance from other European powers. The new political reality dictated new conditions - two powerful coalitions began to take shape in Europe.

In response to the creation of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy, there is a rapprochement of seemingly ideological opponents - monarchical Russia and republican France.

In 1891, the countries signed an alliance treaty, and the next year a secret military convention, which called for joint actions against a common enemy, which was seen primarily as Germany. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, nevertheless, up to this point had been playing a successful diplomatic game, temporarily even formalizing allied relations with Russia - however, political reality bent its own line.

Allied parade in Kronstadt, 1902

By the beginning of the 20th century, there was no longer any doubt that in a new military clash, Russia would act in close cooperation with France - which happened in 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, which became the last major armed conflict of the Romanov empire.

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