1. Russia under the Czars

The Russian empire was huge, taking in eastern and western peoples. It was multi-racial because it included, for example, Poles, Cossacks, Mongols and Siberian peoples. A number of different religious groups were also to be found within the Russian empire, such as Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Muslims.

From the time of Peter the Great (1689-1725), Russia had tried to modernise and westernise; advances were made in such disparate areas as the development of the navy and in dentistry. French was the 'civilized' language of the court and foreign experts were imported to help the country to modernise. Russia saw itself as a western power and expanded into Europe in the 18th Century at the expense of Poland, which was partitioned in 1772, 1793 and 1795. Russia's main political ambition was the acquisition of permanent warm water ports and access to the world shipping routes. The easiest way to do this was to gain access from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean via the Straits — the Bosphorous, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles — which were part of the Ottoman Empire. Russia also tried to expand what was essentially a feudal agricultural economy.

Britain was determined to resist Russia's ambitions to gain entry into the Mediterranean because that would affect the independence of the Ottoman Empire and also would have an adverse impact on Britain's trade in the Mediterranean. In both of these cases, Russian aspirations were in opposition to Britain's principles of foreign policy. However, the attitudes and ambitions of both Russia and Britain are understandable.

2. Austria-Hungary under the Hapsburg emperors

The system of government in the Austrian empire and Hungarian monarchy was through a dual crown: the emperor had to be crowned both in Vienna and Budapest. The symbol of Austria-Hungary, appropriately, was a double-headed eagle — one head looking east and the other looking west. The empire was divided between being an eastern power and a western power.

Austria-Hungary was a multi-racial empire containing, for example, Germans, Poles, Serbs, Croats, Magyars, Slavs, Czechs and Italians. There was no cohesion and no reason for the existence of this empire. It had been built up by acquisition, conquest and accident. On its eastern frontier, Austria-Hungary was concerned with Russian designs on Turkey. Austria-Hungary depended on the Danube for trade because it gave the largely land-locked country access to the Black Sea the so to the Mediterranean Sea. However, at Belgrade the Danube entered Turkish territory. There was much Liberal Nationalism in Austria-Hungary and a desire for self-government by many different national groups. Ultimately, this was one of the causes of the First World War.

Britain had no particular enmity towards Austria-Hungary, nor did she have any preconceived policies. Relations were usually amicable. The problem for Britain was how to maintain amicable relations whilst supporting Liberal Nationalism there. Britain needed the friendship of Austria-Hungary to keep Russia out of the Ottoman empire.

3.Turkey — the Ottoman Empire — under the Sultan in Constantinople

This was a huge empire that rivaled Russia in size. It stretched east almost to the borders of India. The Sultan ruled from Constantinople. However, the Turkish Empire suffered from chronic maladministration although it refused to collapse. It was a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-linguistic, multi-cultural empire that was crippled by campaigns for Liberal Nationalism in, for example, Greece and Egypt: Greece was the first flash point. Had the Turkish Empire collapsed, a power-vacuum would have been created exactly where Britain did not want a one.

Britain assumed a policy of maintaining the integrity of the Turkish Empire as a weak buffer to Russian expansionism and also as a method of maintaining the status quo. The problem for Britain was how to do this and support Liberal Nationalism. Britain would only support Liberal Nationalism if the new states were both constitutional and really neutral. Britain felt that she had to prevent the dismemberment of Turkey to stop others attempting it. The Sultans had a regular policy of capitalising on their weakness and turning them into strengths. They played off the Powers against each other successfully because they knew the strategic value of their Empire.

4. Prussia

Again, this was an eastern and a western power that comprised the divided territories of East and West Prussia. Prussia had expanded after 1815 because at the Congress of Vienna it was ceded the territories of Westphalia, Pomerania and North Saxony to help to consolidate Prussian lands. Prussia was an absolutist state ruled by the King and the Junkers [noblemen]. It was a militaristic state: conscription became compulsory in 1733 and in the 19th Century the Prussian army had at least ¼ million soldiers. Militarism accounted for 5/6 of Prussia's annual income.

Last modified 30 April 2002