Crimean War

France in the Crimean War

Matthew Durghali

In 1853, Nicholas I tried to get an understanding with England about the position of Turkey. He also wanted to prevent a rapprochement between England and France. The Russians did not want an English establishment in Constantinople, but they did not want to annex it either. Russia had always wanted to get a secure outlet from the Black Sea, and they saw an opportunity of temporary occupation.

Russia had discussions with Foreign Minister of Britain Russell and suggested an independent Moldavia and Walachia, an independent Bulgaria and a Serbia under Russian protection, and to the English, Egypt and Crete. Russell rejected these ideas, saying that France would have to be consulted first.

The main, immediate cause of the Crimean War was the Franco-Russian dispute over the holy places in Palestine. France’s interest in Palestine had been stimulated by a domestic crisis in 1840. Napoleon II pushed it because he relied on support from militant clerical groups in France. In 1850 Napoleon III requested the restoration to French Catholics of the Capitulations of 1740. The French wanted the key to the Church of the Nativity in the old city of Jerusalem so that they could have the right to put a silver star on Jesus Christ's birthplace in Bethlehem. The French then threatened military action if the Porte did not get out of the way. The Russians threatened to occupy Moldavia and Walachia if he did. The Porte did the best he could under the conditions they were in and gave a yes answer to both foreign parties. This bit of typical Turkish duplicity was soon discovered. When it was discovered, the French sent their warship the Charlemagne to Constantinople and a squadron of ships to the Bay of Tripoli. In December 1852, having no other choice, the Porte gave in to Paris.

In February of 1853, Nicholas responded by mobilizing two army corps. He then sent his ambassador, Menshikov, to Constantinople. Menshikov demanded not only the restoration of Greek rights, but also a secret alliance and the protection of all orthodox laymen under Turkish rule. This meant about 12 million subjects of the Porte. At this point, the British got into the act by sending in a man by the name of Stratford de Redcliffe. The latter outsmarted Menshikov, who received concessions on the Greek rights issue but non of the other demands.

France wanted to shatter the continental alliance that had crippled her for around half of a century. This was the essential factor of the Franco-Russian dispute. National interests were involved here. Both France and England reacted to popular sentiment stirred up by patriotic, liberal, financial and trading groups within them. Russia, however, did not. The Black Sea trade was still inconsequential.

When Menshikov’s Mission became public knowledge it reinforced the anti-Russian faction in the British cabinet. The British decided it was worth going to war to keep and expand their interest in the Eastern Mediterranean area. In June of 1853 an Anglo-French naval force entered the Dardanelles. In July, Russians invaded the principalities of Moldavia and Walachia (which is modern day Rumania).

In October of 1853, Turkey declared war on Russia. The Anglo-French fleet was anchored in the

Bosporus. The Russians crushed the Turkish fleet off the coast of Sinope in the Black Sea in November. After the Anglo-French fleet sailed into the Black Sea in January, 1854, France, England and Turkey made a formal alliance. When the Russian troops crossed the Danube, the Turkish war also became a war against European coalition. This is what Nicholas had tried to avoid.

In 1855, Piedmont joined the war. Prussia and Austria signed a defensive alliance. They then joined France and England in a diplomatic demarche demanding the withdrawal of Russia from Moldavia and Walachia. Russia soon, however, withdrew from those principalities. Austria proceeded to occupy Moldavia and Walachia. The new Prime Minister of England since 1855, Lord Palmerston, wanted the partial dismemberment of Russia. Napoleon III and Francis Joseph of Austria did not.

Even though the Allies had better equipment then the Russians, there was no swift defeat. The Danube campaign of Gorchakov turned into a disaster. Russian resistance at the Svavstopol naval base shocked the Allies. The Russians, however, beat the Turks at the battle of Kars, their only victory. Total Russian losses were about 600,000. The selfish aspirations and negligent actions of Napoleon, Nicholas, Palmerston and Stratford played a large roll in the disaster of the war.

At the Treaty of Paris in 1856, the coup de grace was delivered by the Austrian ultimatum. Napoleon offered to help Russia secure "peace with honor." Palmerston opposed this. Napoleon and Walewski supported Russia as much as they could in the Congress of Paris without intimidating and hurting and Anglo-French alliance.

Savastopol was exchanged for Kars. A piece of southern Bessarabia was ceded to Moldavia to insure internal navigation of the Danube. Everyone promised not to interfere with Turkey. The Straits stayed closed to warships. The Black Sea was neutralized. Moldavia and Walachia were put under Turkish suzerainty. The same would later happen for Serbia, with Ottoman troops garrisoned in the territory. Russia was forbidden to station troops on the Aland Islands.

France, with Britain and Austria, signed a special treaty to defend the Paris settlement by force if necessary. It was obvious that this whole settlement was quite anti-Russian. This is why Russia was still a little hostile to it. Britain also was to some extent.

Gorchakov, Foreign Minister throughout the reign of Alexander II, carried out an elegant diplomacy with substance. From 1856 to 1859, a Franco-Russian friendship existed. Alexander, however, was suspicious of Napoleon III.

Russia and France both supported the union of Moldavia and Walachia. This is why Russia remained neutral during the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 which began the process of Italian unification. Russian effort to get diplomatic demarche of the powers, with regard to the oppressed Christian subjects of the Porte, did not gain French support in 1860. France continued to support efforts of Polish revolutionaries.

Napoleon called for a congress on the issue of Russia and trying to crush the Poles again, but could not intervene to help the Poles, because of the fact that he was busy with his Mexican expeditions.