Russian Expansion, in the 19th Century. At the opening of the 19th century, the Russian empire, with a territory of some seven and a half millions of square miles, was by far the largest state in the world. Its population, however, of, say 40,000,000, though greater than that of France or Germany, was smaller than that of the part of India already under British control, and insignificant compared with the teeming swarms in China. The huge, thinly settled dominions of which Alexander I became ruler in March, 1801, extended over three continents; and except where they reached the seas which for the most part closed them in rather than served as outlets, and except where they were cut off from China by the range of the Tian-Shan mountains, they lacked almost everywhere natural geographical boundaries. Since then the growth of Russia has been of a twofold kind, namely, the filling up of vacant spaces within her own borders and an expansion along obvious lines; for, over and above the ambition of individuals and the accidents of historical development, we can perceive the great natural forces which have determined her march toward the open sea and toward immediate contact with the firm limits of the other chief powers of the civilized world. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that certain impulses which have often built up empires have in her case been conspicuously absent. Even in Russia the days of crusades are nearly over, while those of commercial expansion are only just beginning. Nationalism, too, which has made modern Germany and Italy, though it led the government of the czar in the 19th century to attempt with more or less success the Russification of his subject peoples, did not influence changes of boundaries. The partition of Poland had already brought under one rule all the branches of the nationality (Great, Little, and White Russians) except the three millions of Little Russians once Polish subjects, now Austrian, and in religious communication under their own rites, with Rome, not Moscow. United Russia has with this exception, long been a fact, and the shallow, unpractical doctrines of Panslavism have brought no lost sheep into the national fold.
For the sake of clearness, we shall trace the changes first on one and then on another of the frontiers of the empire, rather than follow strictly chronological order, noticing at the outset that almost all the gain since 1815 has been made in Asia, while the European acquisitions belong to the earliest years of the century, and Russian America has ceased to exist. We thus get the keynote to the policy that has been followed and the ground of its success. Progress has been made along the lines of least resistance and most profit. There has been comparatively little desire to annex thickly settled regions inhabited by highly civilized peoples; and at the other extreme the region we now call Alaska was abandoned as too remote to be worth the effort of retaining. Russian territory is hence not only larger but more compact than it was a century ago.
Beginning with the European and N.W. frontier, the first great acquisition of the czars in the 19th century was the province of Finland. Finland had been for 600 years a part of Sweden; the upper classes and the populations of the towns spoke Swedish, and the whole people had accepted Lutheran Protestantism. In spite also of some discontent, chiefly among the aristocracy, the land as a whole was perfectly loyal to the government at Stockholm. What made a Russian conquest of Finland almost inevitable sooner or later was the position of St. Petersburg. Peter the Great founded his capital on his enemy's soil, and even the victorious treaties concluded by him and by his daughter Elizabeth, still left the town within a few miles of the frontier. How great the danger might be was shown in 1789 by the sudden attack of Gustavus III. of Sweden, at a moment when the Russian armies were in the far South operating against the Turks. Probably nothing but the mistakes of the Swedish king and the disloyalty of his officers saved Russia on this occasion from the humiliation of seeing her capital fall into the hands of the enemy. The peril still existed, for, however weak Sweden was herself, her territory might be used as a base of operations by some stronger power. It is not remarkable, then, that Alexander profited by the first opportunity of despoiling his neighbor, showing, indeed, little scrupulousness as to his methods. In 1807 his coalition against France had failed, for Austria had submitted to Napoleon after the battle of Austerlitz, Jena had made the conqueror master of Prussia, and Friedland exposed the czar's own lands to invasion and to the dangers of a Polish revolt. He accordingly reversed his policy, and after the interview on the raft in the Niemen and the Peace of Tilsit (June 7, 1807), the two sovereigns, now sworn friends, agreed to combine against England and to divide the continent of Europe, as suited them. In return for a free hand in the West, the French emperor abandoned Sweden and Turkey to the czar. In in this transaction we can hardly blame Napoleon for showing little tenderness for his fanatical opponent, Gustavus IV., who had declared him to be the beast of the Apocalypse, Alexander might have been expected to have some hesitation in attacking a recent ally who had given him no real provocation. Even though the blindly foolish conduct of Gustavus did furnish the pretext wanted, the act was one of cold-blooded and successful rapacity. Finland, in spite of the bravery of her troops, was badly defended, owing to the incompetence of the king and some of his officers. By the treaty of Frederikshamm (Sept. 17, 1809) Sweden surrendered the province, and three years later, Charles XIV. (the former French Marshal Bernadotte) actually entered into an alliance with Russia, accepted definitely what had happened, in return for the prospect of getting Norway.
Thus Finland was added with little difficulty to the territories of the czar, but the circumstances connected with the acquisition are a burning question today. Alexander I. had been brought up in the cosmopolitan ideas of the 18th century, so different from the rabid nationalism of the present time. He was as anxious as anyone to enlarge his possessions, but the idea that they must have an exclusive Russian character was not one that would appeal to a prince and court whose language in everyday life was French. Then, too, in this the earlier period of his reign, he was full of liberal dreams. His sentimental nature saw no incongruity in his being at the same time autocrat of all the Russias and constitutional sovereign of people used to a freer form of government. As a result, he treated Finland with startling liberality; he made it a grand-duchy, almost independent of Russia, except in foreign affairs; he gave it a constitution based on the former one of Sweden, and he even added to the province that part of its lands which had been conquered and taken away by Peter the Great and Elizabeth. Under this regime Finland has greatly prospered; unfortunately, however, the prosperity has not unnaturally excited the anger and envy of Russians. They point out that the grand-duchy has had all the advantages of its connection with a mighty empire without bearing its proportionate share of the burdens, and they declare that what a czar had given a czar can take away, and that the promises of Alexander I. cannot be regarded as binding on his successors when they entail an obvious injustice to the rest of his peoples. More than once has the autonomy of Finland been menaced, and at the present time when the reaction against Liberalism is still dominant, and when Russia, like many other countries, is under the fierce influence of a national spirit that would like to impose one language, one law, and even one religion on all the peoples of the empire, the privileges of the grand-duchy are more than menaced. Already the separate tariffs, stamps, and coinage are gone; the army is to be raised to the same proportionate strength as that of Russia, and practically incorporated into it; affairs common to all parts of the emperor's domain are to be settled in St. Petersburg alone; Russian will be the official language; and more is yet to come. The Finns have protested and entreated, but as they are far too weak to be able to offer forcible resistance, their ultimate fate would seem to be only a question of time.
The same spirit which influenced Alexander as regards Finland dictated his conduct toward his Polish provinces. Though of the three powers that had partitioned Poland, Russia had obtained the largest share, she had acquired comparatively few subjects of strictly Polish blood. The great majority of the genuine Poles (with their two capitals, Warsaw and Cracow, had fallen to Prussia and Austria, while the Empress Catherine had taken territories chiefly inhabited by Lithuanians and Little and White Russians, which she might hope in time to assimilate with the rest of her empire. Alexander I. early showed an eagerness for all the Polish territory that he could get. At the peace of Tilsit it was arranged that he should obtain the province of Bialystok, at the expense of his faithful ally the Prussian king; at the peace of Vienna (1809) he was given the district of Tarnopol in Galicia in return for his pretense of assisting Napoleon in the war against Austria; in 1814 and 1815 at the Congress of Vienna he pushed to the verge of a general European conflict his claim to the whole grand-duchy of Warsaw, and yielded only to the combined opposition of Austria, England, and France, which forced himself to content himself without Galicia and Posen. But Alexander's policy in all this was far from being a national one; on the contrary, under the influence of his friend Prince Czartoryski, he re-created the constitutional kingdom of Poland, the old rival and at one time the dangerous enemy of Russia; and he even would have given to it the disputed Lithuanian territories but for the unanimous opposition of his Muscovite subjects. However well meant, it is very questionable whether the experiment tried in 1815 was not doomed to failure from the outset. Since that time the frontiers of the czar's dominions in this region have remained unaltered; but the kingdom of Poland disappeared after the insurrection of 1830, and its last national privileges were taken away after that of 1863.
When we turn to the South we find that the war between Russia and Turkey, which ended with the peace of Bucharest in 1812, gave to the czar the territory of Bessarabia between the Dniester and the Pruth. Alexander's proverbial good fortune served him well here, as, in order to use all his forces against Napoleon's great invasion he needed peace, in spite of his victories, more than did the Turks. Seventeen years later, by the peace of Adrianople in 1829 Russia acquired the islands of the Danube delta, which she lost again in consequence of the Crimean War and has never got back, though the part of Bessarabia that she was deprived of after her defeat was returned to her by the treaty of Berlin. Her frontier is thus practically the same was it was after 1812, though she had a different neighbor. Instead of the Ottoman empire, which she no longer touches in Europe, she is contiguous to the independent kingdom of Rumania.
In the mountainous regions of the Caucasus, the spread of Russian rule has been marked by an almost uninterrupted series of wars and expeditions, during the first three-quarters of the 19th century. Already, in 1782, Heraclius, Prince of the Christian State of Georgia, had put himself under the protection of Catherine II. This led to war with the Shah of Persia, who claimed overlordship of the country. Paul I withdrew the Russian troops that had been sent, but in 1801 the last Prince of Georgia abdicated in favor of the czar, and Alexander I. promptly dispatched fresh forces to the rescue. In 1803 and 1804 the Georgian dependencies of Mingrelia and Imeritia were taken over, and hostilities with Persia continued until the treaty of Gulistan in 1813, by which Russia obtained not only Georgia and its appurtenances, but also the coast of the Caspian at the E. end of the Caucasus, including the famous pass of the Iron Gates. The war of 1826-1828 brought a fresh accession of Persian territory in the shape of the provinces of Erivan and Nakhchivan, with a frontier extending to Mt. Ararat. The fierce mountaineers of the main chain, hoewver, especially the Circassians in the W. and the Lesghians and Tchesmeans in the E., long defied the efforts of the great armies employed against them. For many years, the Russian government occupied only the coast of the Kuban on the Black Sea to cut off the Circassians from foreign aid, and it was not till 1864 that they were finally subdued, and the chief tribes N. of the mountains were given the choice of moving into other less inaccessible lands or of emigrating into Turkey. In the E., in Dagestan, Kazi Mollah and his more famous successor Shamyl after 1824 kept up a desperate resistance repeatedly escaping or defeating the expeditions sent against them, till the capture of Gunib and of Shamyl himself in 1859. From Turkey, Russia acquired by the treaty of Adrianople the regions about the towns of Poti and Achalzig; by the treaty of Berlin, the seaport of Batum and the territory and fortress of Kars, though owing to the opposition of England she was obliged to retrocede the city of Bayezid, near Mt. Ararat, which had surrendered to her at San Stefano. The province of Transcaucasia now has an area of 94,000 square miles and a population of some eight and a half millions, unequaled perhaps in the world for variety of nationality and language.
On the other side of the Caspian, in the huge but thinly inhabited regions of central Asia, we find the greatest extension of Russia in the last century and particularly in the latter half; for previous to the reign of Alexander II. she had done little but occupy a few bases of operations and send Perovski's unfortunate expedition against Khiva in 1839 and 1840. Even leaving out of consideration any ambition of the statesmen of St. Petersburg to push the borders of the empire toward the open sea, or to occupy such a position on the flank of India as would force Great Britain to think twice before making trouble in other parts of the world, the conquest of Turkestan (as it used to be called) was inevitable, sooner or later. No uncivilized modern State submits in the long run to the neighborhood of a jumble of barbarous principalities and tribes, unable and often unwilling to maintain order within their own boundaries or to prevent depredations beyond them. The Muscovite campaigns in central Asia may have been due to political schemes of the time or to the ambition of individuals, but at bottom they were brought about by perfectly natural causes, like the spread of British rule in India after it had once obtained a real foothold. It is unnecessary here to do more than recapitulate the chief steps.
By 1864 Tchernaiev had conquered most of the region to the E. of the Syr-Daria, or Jaxartes; in the following year he took Tashkend by storm; in 1868 Samarkand was annexed and the defeated Emir of Bokhara compelled to submit; in 1873 Kaufmann made his successful expedition against Khiva, which was reduced to a vassal state and the desert regions to the E. and W. of it were added to the empire; in 1876 Khokand, having revolted against its khan, was subdued and annexed. Up to this point Russian progress had been from the N., and much impeded by the huge desert stretches the troops had been obliged to traverse. Now, immediately after the last war with Turkey which so nearly led to a conflict with England, we find the Russians starting from a new base of operations, their posts at the S.E. of the Caspian, and pushing with more conscious purpose along a line just N. of the Persian frontier, maintaining their communications and greatly strengthening their position by building the Transcaspian railway behind them. In 1881 Skobelev took Geok Tepe by storm; two years later Merv surrendered without resistance; in 1885 Komarov defeated the Afghans at the Kooshk river; and the frontier marked out by the Anglo-Indian Delimitation Commission in the following year gave Russia the district of Penjdeh. Farther to the E., in the high mountains of the Pamir plateau, the meeting place of empires, a definite boundary which now brings the two mighty rivals into immediate, if almost inaccessible contact, was established in 1895. In Persia the conflict of influence between them has lasted for the greater part of a century, and still continues. At present, a treaty made recently seems to put the government at Teheran financially in the hands of that of St. Petersburg, but as yet we cannot call Persia a part of the dominions of Nicholas II., any more than we can say Afghanistan belongs to King Edward. On the other hand, Khiva and Bukhara (most maps to the contrary notwithstanding) are as much a portion of the Russian Empire as an native Indian state is of the British.
To the N.E. of central Asia, Kooldja, in the valley of the upper waters of the Ili river, had fallen into a state of anarchy at the time of the great Dungan rebellion against China. Profiting by the confusion, as the district was on their side of the mountains and seemed only a natural geographical continuation of their own province of Semiretchinsk, the Russians occupied it and held it for 10 years. The Chinese, however, having rëestablished their authority elsewhere, now demanded back Kooldja, to obtain which they appeared ready to go to war if necessary. As such a war would have been most unwelcome to the government of St. Petersburg it yielded after some negotiation, and gave up the greater part of the territory, though retaining the W. portion.
Turning now to Siberia, we find that almost the whole of it has belonged to Russia since much earlier than the 19th century. Its recent history, therefore, has chiefly been one of internal development and of filling up with an immigrant population, for long very slowly, but with an ever-increasing rush in the last dozen years. The Trans-Siberian railway, whose traffic is already far beyond the estimates will greatly facilitate the development of the fresh sources of wealth of many kinds that are being discovered; and the annual immigration, in spite of a tendency on the part of the government to restrict it, has risen to something like two hundred thousand people. When Siberia most needed was an outlet to the E., for the treaty of Nerchinsk, in 1689, had cut off Russia for nearly two centuries from the lower valley of the Amur and any seacoast with a temperate climate. One man, Muraviev (appointed Governor of East Siberia in 1847), acting on his own initiative and in spite of the coldness of his superiors, made a marvelous change in the situation. Trusting to the decay of Chinese strength and authority in these regions, he descended the Amur river and established on its banks a series of posts, including the factory of Nikolaievsk at the very mouth (1851); and finally, profiting by the Taiping rebellion, the troubles of China with England and France, and the general confusion and imbecility at Peking, he signed after six days' negotiation in 1858 the treaty of Aigun, which, supplanted by that of Peking two years later, gave Russia the entire N. bank of the Amur, but also the maritime province between its S. affluent, the Ussuri, and the sea, with the site of the present city of Vladivostok. The importance of these acquisitions can hardly be overestimated. Russia gained not only a rich territory of extreme value to the rest of Siberia, but her relations with the Chinese empire were revolutionized; she now had a position of vantage which properly defended, was of great strategic and commercial importance.
We may note as a small later gain the part of the island of Sakhalin held by the Japanese and ceded by them in 1875 for the return of the Kurile Islands, but we need not include in our account here the interference of Russia in the Chinese-Japanese War, her designs on Korea, her lease of Port Arthur and Talien-Wan, and her acquisition of partially sovereign rights in Manchuria. In none of these cases was there definite, absolute cession of territory, though it practically amounted to this for Liao-tung peninsula; still, in view of what was happening in China, these last events may be treated as mere preliminaries to a chapter of history belonging to the 20th century. It is worth noting, however, that in her attitude toward China, Russia seemed to be partly actuated by the modern motives of commercialism, which hitherto had played little role in her history, owing to the very recent industrial development. In concluding our survey of the changes of boundaries of the empire of the czar, we must not forget that, on the American continent, not only did the attempt to found settlements near the Columbia River in 1809 and in California in 1812 lead to nothing, but in 1867 Russia sold all her American possessions, amounting to over half a million square miles, to the United States for the small sum of $7,200,000. See ALASKA.
When we try to sum up our impressions of a century of Russian expansion, the first glance at the figures should show us the error of the common Anglo-Saxon notion that we are dealing with a particularly rapacious power growing faster than any other. Counting up gains and losses, we find that the increase of Russian territory during the century has been far less than that of Great Britain, or of the United States, or even of France, and is hardly larger than the colonies acquired by Germany in the last 15 years. Even as lately as a generation ago, the Russian empire was double the size of the British; it is now the smaller of the two by over 30 per cent. Its great accession of strength has come chiefly from the natural growth of its population and the development of its resources. If it were suddenly reduced today to its frontiers of the year 1800, it would still be the second largest State in the world, with a population of over a hundred millions of inhabitants. What makes the power of Russia appear so imposing, and her advance so irresistible, is not so much the size of her armies and the skill of her statesmen, whose reputation has often been exaggerated; it is rather the compactness of her enormous mass which gives her the same sort of practical invulnerability possessed by the United States. Whereas we can without much difficulty conceive of a war that would deprive England or France or Germany of all their colonial possessions, and even mutilate their territories so that they would forfeit indefinitely the position of great world powers which they now hold, such a disaster is almost inconceivable of Russia. She might be beaten by a coalition, and exhausted, as she was by the Crimean War; she might lose Finland, Poland, her territories S. of the Caucasus; none of these would affect her vitally, and even the taking away of her coast on the Pacific might check, but could not prevent the development of Siberia, and would be difficult to maintain in the end. However the extremities might suffer the great national bulk of the empire would remain little harmed and would need but a few years' rest to begin to expand again along natural lines. No wonder that the progress of Russia has been compared to that of a glacier. This progress, like that of every conquering empire has been marked by much that is unjustifiable, but though perhaps there has been more Eastern crookedness in her methods than in those of some other countries, on the score of rapacity or the desire to extend the benefits of civilization,--call it what you will,--no one of the great nations of the world can afford to throw stones at the others. The Anglo-Saxon finds it difficult to sympathize with the Muscovite ideals of government, and is often loud in his denunciation of the practices of the Russians; but he must admit that with the possible exception of Finland and Poland, all the regions which have passed under their rule in the 19th century have found it, whatever its faults, unquestionably superior to anything they had before known.
Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.