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Russian Imperialism in Comparative Perspective

Tyson Luneau
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 06 April 2012 HIST 401: European Empires in the 19th Century

The nineteenth-century European imperial era is a highly controversial period in human history. Often cited for the negative impacts that European colonization had on areas like Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, this era is one of the most debated topics among historians as far as its definition and what is included under the umbrella of imperialism. The classic examples of the British Empire in India, the French Empire in Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies are largely inarguable in their classification as imperial conquests. However, Russias physical expansion into Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and other surrounding regions is one of some debate regarding its status as imperialism. On the surface, Russias colonization and expansion differs in that the empire elected to expand into the regions surrounding it. This is unlike the traditional perception of European imperialism, where nations colonize areas overseas. This difference is just one between the imperialisms of Russian and Western Europe. Nonetheless, the Russian model of expansion and colonization shares many of the critical characteristics of imperialism. Though some differences exist between Russias imperial conquests and those of Western Europe, Russias efforts can be considered a form of imperialism. Russias methods of expansion, desire to spread its culture and religion, as well as its distinct attitudes regarding the native people of its colonies is strikingly similar to those of the cases commonly associated with traditional imperialism. In order to understand how Russia fits in with the larger scope of imperialism, one must attain a proper understanding of what the term entails. While the characteristics of imperialism are a large, highly debated topic within itself, there are a few common conclusions about the definition of imperialism. Historian Robert Johnson identifies the problems with defining imperialism in his work concerning the British Empire, claiming that the term imperialism

generates considerable controversy and has a tortured historiography.1 Despite his identification of this crisis, after identifying common Marxist themes and definitions, Johnson attempts to define imperialism as political domination, economic exploitation, and military subjugation, adding that it might also include aggrandizement of a policy through colonization of a territory by settlers or invaders.2 While Johnsons definition may be simple in nature, it represents a commonly held belief toward the era of nineteenth-century European imperialism. However, many historians have sought a different analysis of imperialism. Johan Galtung, author of a 1971 article entitled A Structural Theory of Imperialism, sought to analyze the complex relationship between imperial powers and the areas in which they elected to spread their influence. Avoiding broad accusations of exploitation, Galtung explores the complexities of what he refers to as a dominance relation. In explaining this, Galtung wrote:

Imperialism will be conceived as a dominance relation between collectives, particularly between nations. It is a sophisticated type of dominance relation which cuts across nations, basing itself on a bridgehead which the center in the Center nation establishes in the center of the Periphery nation, for the joint benefit of both. It should not be confused with other ways in which one collectivity can dominate another in the sense of exercising power over it. Thus, a military occupation of B by A may seriously curtail Bs freedom of action, but is not for that reason an imperialist relationship unless it is set up in a special wayThus, imperialism is a species in a genus of dominance and power relationships. It is a subtype of something, and has itself subtypes to be explored later.3 Unlike the traditional definition that implies exploitation, Galtungs definition is careful to avoid presumptions of abuse. This definition is particularly useful when analyzing the case of

Robert Johnson, British Imperialism (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), eBrary, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/mcla/docDetail.action?docID=10076884 (accessed March 18, 2012), 2. 2 Johnson, 2. 3 Johan Galtung, A Structural Theory of Imperialism, Journal of Peace Research 8, no. 2 (1971): 81, http://www.jstory.org/stable/422946 (accessed March 19, 2012).

Russian imperialism in Eurasia. While there were certainly cases of exploitation, and borderline ethnic cleansing, there were certain imperial relationships that proved to be mutually beneficial in many ways. To provide a sweeping generalization of exploitation within the imperial sectors of the Russian Empire would simply be inaccurate. Historian Ronald J. Horvath takes a similar approach to defining imperialism and colonialism, identifying the characteristic of domination without assuming the necessary presence of exploitation or harm. Though Horvath identifies the common correlation between dominance and exploitation, he does not define it as an absolute quality of imperialism. Horvath defines colonialism as a form of domination the control by individuals or groups over the territory and/or behavior of other individuals of groups.4 As noted, the geographic differences between the traditional examples of European imperialism and that of Russia represent a major division among historians as to whether the expansion of the nineteenth-century Russian Empire can be considered an imperial conquest. H.L. Wesseling is among the group of historians that doubt the credibility of Russian imperialism. In his view, Russias physical expansion into its surrounding areas is no different from the United States westward expansion and does not fit the imperial model. According to Wesseling, Whether Russian imperialism ever existed is a moot pointsince imperialism and colonialism are chiefly associated with overseas expansion. In Rupert Emersons definition of the term, this is even a necessary part of itstrictly speaking, the notion of a necessary salt water separation does not wash, because the Roman and Ottoman empires can also be viewed as a form of colonial expansion. Yet the hesitation to call Russian expansion imperialistic is understandable, because overland expansion is scarcely distinguishable from the usual process of state formation.5
Ronald J. Horvath, A Definition of Colonialism, Current Anthropology 13, no. 1 (February 1972): 46, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2741072 (accessed March 18, 2012). 5 H.L. Wesseling, The European Colonial Empires, 1815-1919 (New York: Pearson Longman, 2004), 142.

Thus, by Wesselings own definition, overseas expansion is not an entirely necessary characteristic of imperialism. Much like the Ottoman and Roman Empires, the Russian Empires expansion into Central Asia, the Caucasus, and other regions reflected the desire to spread Russian language and culture, the so-called civilizing mission, and ultimately the self-interest of the Russian state. One distinction between Russias imperial attitude and the non-colonial expansionism mentioned by Wesseling was that Russia did not necessarily view its newly acquired lands in these regions as new parts of the Russian motherland. However, definitions of imperialism along the lines of Wesselings interpretation do not allow for structural variations. The narrow-minded view that overseas expansion is a necessary characteristic of empire excludes not only Russia, but many other empires throughout history. Some historians, such as Dominic Lieven, suggest that more than one type of empire exists. In Dilemmas of Empire 1850-1918, Lieven suggests that two distinct types of empire existed in the nineteenth century. The first and most familiar type of empire, exhibited by the West European maritime empires like Britain and France, involves the aforementioned overseas expansion, as well as the movement of raw materials and resources from colony to mothercountry.6 These empires, because of their generally uniform nature, are easier to analyze and interpret as classic imperialism. However, Lieven also identifies a second type of empire, which he refers to as huge, multi-ethnic polities governed by (in principle) centralized bureaucracies and absolute monarchs, and ruling overwhelmingly agrarian societies.7 This type of empire, exhibited by those of the Ottomans and the Qing-era Chinese, is structurally very different from those of the West

Dominic Lieven, Dilemmas of Empire 1850-1918, Journal of Contemporary History 34, no. 2 (April 1999), 163-164, http://www.jstor.org/stable/261214 (accessed April 01, 2012). 7 Lieven, Dilemmas of Empire, 1850-1918, 163.

Maritime empires, but nonetheless retains common traits of imperialism such as the civilizing mission, separation of cultures, and the relationship of dominance over colonized areas. Russia however, is unique in its classification in that it does not fit distinctly into either one of these categories. Though the Russian Empire perhaps fell more into the category of second-tier empires, its Christian identity and absorption of western ideas and technology separated it from the less effective empires like that of the Ottomans. Its unique nature and inability to be easily classified have in part tossed the academic study of the Russian Empire aside. Nonetheless, the nineteenth-century Russian Empire represented a complex blend of the two distinct types of empire.8 Russian historian Alexei Miller addresses this view, drawing comparisons to the imperial attitudes of Britain, France, and other imperial powers of the era. Though the expansion into surrounding territories is controversial in terms of imperialism, the identity of those conquered under this expansion, at least in the eyes of the imperial power, is critical to the definition. In the case of the Russians, their attempts to draw a distinction between ethnic Russians and the peoples of their various conquests make a strong case for the legitimacy of the empire. Miller noted these comparisons, claiming

It was exactly with the view toward establishing imperial control over particular territories that most colonial wars were waged, not in order to include them in the national territory. The English attempted to establish the British identity only in one part of their empire the British IslesRussian nationalism was also selective in its project. At the same time, for Russian nationalism, just as for French, British, or Spanish nationalism, an attempt to consolidate the nation was far from irreconcilable with an attempt to preserve, and, given the opportunity, expand the empire.9

Lieven, Dilemmas of Empire, 1850-1918, 163-166. Alexei Miller, The Empire and the Nation in the Imagination of Russian Nationalism, in Imperial Rule, ed. Alexei Miller and Alfred J. Rieber (New York: Central European University Press, 2005), 11-12, eBrary, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/mcla/docDetail.action?docID=10170960 (accessed March 13, 2012).

Though racial prejudice was not as prevalent perhaps in the Russian Empire as the Western European Maritime Empires, there was nonetheless a certain notion of inequality between ethnic Russians and the various ethnic groups of the colonies. This inequality is, in some ways characteristic of imperialism according to Ronald Grigor Suny, who claimed that notions of vast size, supreme authority, diversity of peoples or realms, and the inequitable and discriminatory rule of one people over others are clustered in the ordinary uses of the word empire.10 Likewise, equality among citizens of different distinct ethnic groups and regions is more characteristic of a nation-state than an empire in its homogeneity. Without this divide, a relationship of dominance cannot reasonably exist. The relative autonomy enjoyed by many of Russias colonies also relates to other cases of imperialism. While Russia claimed rule over these various lands, its administration of them was somewhat loose, unlike a nation looking to simply expand its national borders. Allowing relative autonomy among its various imperial possessions was central to Russias ability to maintain such a vast and diverse empire. This idea was especially relevant to Russias eastern frontier, where the sort of autocratic and dominating rule displayed in the Russian mother-country would have been expensive and unrealistic to execute. Dominic Lieven noted the following. British legal and political traditionscontributed to the ultimate spread of democracy worldwide. But self-governing institutions also contributed to the creation of separate colonial identities in Britains White coloniesin eighteenthcentury Russia, Cossack and Siberian frontier communities were vastly different from the aristocratic, serf-owning Muscovite core of the empire. Given freedom and representative institutions, they could very easily have sustained separate identities and established, in time, independent nation-states.11

Ronald Grigor Suny, Nationalities in the Russian Empire, Russian Review 59, no. 4 (October 2002), 488, http://www.jstor.org/stable/29274 (accessed April 01, 2012). 11 Dominic Lieven, Russia As Empire: A Comparative Perspective, in Reinterpreting Russia, eds. Geoffrey Hosking and Robert Service (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 10-11.


With a proper understanding of the definitive characteristics of imperialism, one can begin to analyze the case of the Russian Empire. While Russias history spans back many centuries, the age of Russian imperialism encompasses the end of the Tsardom of Russia and the foundation and life of the Russian Empire, established in 1721 by Peter the Great. French historian D. identifies three distinct periods of Russian history: La Priode Primitive (the Primitive Period), characterized by a patriarchal society and the gradual introduction of social class, La Priode Fodale (The Feudal Period), lasting from approximately the eleventh century until the end of the seventeenth century, characterized by the shift from feudal disunity to a centralized, absolute style of rule known as Tsardom, and La Priode Capitaliste (The Capitalist Period), lasting from the eighteenth century until October 1917, characterized by the growth of commercial and monetary trade.12 The period most relevant to the case of Russian imperialism is the Capitalist Period, most notably the second half of the eighteenth century and the entirety of the nineteenth century. Though the Russian Empire was founded in 1721, expansion did not truly begin to take shape until the reign of Catherine the Great, who assumed power in 1762 after the death of her husband, the Emperor Peter III. Catherines strength and leadership paved the way for a golden era of Russian expansion.13 Catherines acquisition of areas like Crimea, the Northern Caucasus, Ukraine, and Lithuania marked the first major expansion of the Russian empire. These expeditions also bred new conflicts and rivalries, particularly with the Ottoman Empire and the kingdom of LithuaniaPoland, from whom Russia acquired these new territories. Subsequent wars with each of these

D. Eeckaute, La Priodisation de LHistoire Russe [The Periodization of Russian History], Revue Historique 206, no. 2 (1951): 197, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40950223 (accessed February 10, 2012). 13 Gladys Scott Thomson, Catherine the Great and the Expansion of Russia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1947), 83-84.


regimes, particularly the Ottoman Turks, would become a major part of Russian life for the next century.14 Catherines acquisition of the Crimean Peninsula in 1774 was one of Russias first colonies, based upon the previously identified definition of colonialism. The annexation of Crimea, a peninsula extending into the Black Sea south of modern-day Ukraine, would serve as a strategic victory in the Russian struggle against the Ottoman Turks. However, unlike Russias outward expansion from the Muscovite region, Catherines annexation of Crimea was not an addition of land to the Russian motherland, as Walter Kolarz noted in his extensive work entitled Russia and Her Colonies. In fact, the Russian colony of Crimea saw an influx of people of multiple nationalities, while only witnessing a relatively small influx of Russian colonists themselves. This was due in part to a series of massive migrations of Crimean Tartars, the ethnic group that once controlled the prosperous Crimean state. On the issue, Kolarz noted that: The colonization of the Crimean and of the areas north of the peninsulawas an extremely complicated process. To fill the gap left by the Crimean Tartars the Russian Government recruited colonists from several European nationalities. Apart from the already mentioned German colonists, Bulgarian, Czech, and even Estonian settlers came to the peninsula. Russian colonization proper in the Crimea advanced at an amazingly slow pace with the result that at the time of the Crimean War only 15,000 Russian colonists had made their home there.15 As Kolarz implies, Catherines decision to annex Crimea was not designed to add to the Russian motherland, but rather a strategic move against a long-time enemy. Another important aspect involved Russia acquiring a warm-water port on the Black Sea, increasing its trade opportunities as well as its dominance in the region. In a note to Catherine, Russian Prince Grigory Potemkin urged her to authorize the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula based upon

Thomson, 194-200. Walter Kolarz, Russia and Her Colonies (New York: Archon Books, 1967), 77-78.


these strategic benefits. Potemkin, the developer of what would be known as New Russia, was one of the empires early imperial figureheads. In the note, Potemkin asked Catherine to do the following.

Now, just imagine that the Crimea is yours and no longer a thorn in your side; suddenly our frontier situation becomes splendid: along the Bug the Turks adjoin us directly and therefore have to deal with us themselves and not use others as a cover. Here we can see every step they takeThere are no powers in Europe that would not divide Asia, Africa, and America among themselves. The acquisition of the Crimea can neither strengthen nor enrich you, but it will give you security.16 When Catherine II died unexpectedly in 1796, the reign of Emperor Paul I began. Though brief in nature, Paul was the first Russian emperor since Peter the Great to turn the empires attention to the Caucasus and Transcaucasia. This region, which surrounds the vast Caucasian Mountain range set between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, is the dividing point between Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. The Caucasus is home to present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and portions of Iran, Turkey, and Russia, but was at one time home to various ethnic groups like the Circassians.17 Though Pauls reign lasted only five years until his murder in 1801, he set the stage for Russias eventual annexation of the Caucasus. In negotiations with King George XIII of Georgia, Paul prepared for the eventual peaceful annexation of Georgia to the Russian Empire. Out of fear of conflict with Persia, Georges predecessor, King Hercules, wished to strike a deal with the Russians for protection. Hugh Seton-Watson addressed these negotiations and the complications that arose with the deaths of several leaders.

Grigory Potemkin to Catherine II, c. 1776-1780, in Peter the Great to Nicholas I, vol. 2, A Source Book for Russian History From Early Times to 1917, ed. George Vernadsky et al. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 411. 17 Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801-1917 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 57-62.



Aga Mohammed Shah was murdered in 1797, and Persian pressure was relaxed. In 1798 Hercules died. His successor, George XIII, decided that the best solution would be to incorporate Georgia in the Russian empirePaul had now changed his mind, and decided to take an interest in GeorgiaPaul decided that he would simply annex Georgia. The death of George XIII in December 1800 and the murder of Paul in March 1801 complicated matters.18

Under the reign of Alexander I, which lasted from 1801 until 1825, Russia began its conquest into Caucasia. After annexing Georgia in 1801, Alexander opted to push further into Caucasia, upsetting several regional powers. Historian Firuz Kazemzadeh, in an essay entitled Russian Penetration of the Caucasus, identified that the capture of Ganjeh (Gandzha) in January, 1804, by P.D. Tsitsianov and his penetration of Armenia the following summer compelled the [Persian] shah to make war.19 The subsequent wars with Persia and Turkey were a testament to the growing power of the Russian Empire. In an effort to attain dominance in the Caucasus and surrounding regions, Russia engaged in two wars with Persia, lasting from 1805 until 1813 and again from 1826 to 1828, as well as two wars with the Ottoman Empire, lasting from 1806 to 1812 and again from 1828 to 1829. Russian victories in each of these conflicts ensured its dominance in the region. These wars were particularly detrimental to the Ottoman and Persian Empires, whose individual declines grew more troublesome with such grand losses of territory. Both empires, considered second-tier by the previously identified definition, relied on physical expansion in order to prosper. However, the physical contraction of both the Ottoman and Persian Empires as a result of these was paramount in their eventual collapse. Abbas Amanat noted the effects of the Russo-Persian Wars, claiming that Irans first serious encounter with a powerful Christian


Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 61-62.

Firuz Kazemzadeh, Russian Penetration of the Caucasus, in Russian Imperialism from Ivan the Great to the Revolution, ed. Taras Hunczak (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1974), 251.



neighbor not only resulted in the loss of all prosperous Caucasian provinces but also in economic bankruptcy, precipitated by military spending and war reparations.20 Russias complex and troublesome relationship with the Ottoman Empire in part led to its success. The two empires shared borders and were in many ways structurally similar, both showcasing elements of the second-tier empire. As a result of their geography, numerous conflicts arose between the two empires during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ultimately, the success of one empire would lead to the decline of the other. Both the Russian and Ottoman empires survived off of their ability to expand in terms of their geography and influence. While the Russian Empire continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire began to contract. The need to expand in order to sustain the empire was characteristic of the non-maritime style of empire. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, which had already began to experience decline, Russias geographic dominance in the Caucasus and the surrounding region accelerated the Ottoman Empires deterioration.21 Russias imperial conquest into Caucasia did not only involve subsequent wars with the Persian and Ottoman Empires. A central aspect of what became known as the Caucasian War involved military resistance from the various ethnic groups and tribes of the region. The various tribes of the Caucasus Mountains proved to be a considerable force in their resistance, in a war that lasted for over five decades from 1817 until approximately 1864. The struggle against the

Abbas Amanat, Russian Intrusion Into the Guarded Domain: Reflections of a Qajar Statesman on European Expansion, Journal of the American Oriental Society 113, no. 1 (January-March 1993): 35, http://www.jstor.org/stable/604195 (accessed February 10, 2012). 21 Lieven, Dilemmas of Empire 1850-1918, 167-68.



Russians by the various Islamic tribes of Transcaucasia became, in the eyes of those people, a genuine holy war in which surrender was not an option.22 The Caucasian War was a prime demonstration of the characteristics of imperialism within the Russian Empire. Russias desire to push further into Caucasia represented the idea of the civilizing mission exemplified by numerous other European imperial powers throughout the nineteenth century. In fact, Russia was ahead of much of Europe in pursuing this goal, chronologically speaking. With the exception of Britain, most other European nations had not begun their large-scale imperial conquests until the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. Russias mission to annex the Caucasus showcased most of the classic traits of the civilizing mission. In his analysis of Mikhail Lermontovs Bela, a first-hand account the Caucasian War, historian Peter Scotto writes of Russias mission to civilize the so-called primitive mountain peoples of the Caucasus. His analysis provided the following statement regarding Russian attitudes toward the tribes of the Caucasus:

To the Europeanized Russians who undertook to describe them, the mountain tribes of the Caucasus could only appear primitive. They had no writing system and hence no written literature or history; such forms of government that did exist among them were rudimentary and decentralizedTo the Russians who saw them merely as savages, the mountaineers of the Caucasus appeared unenlightened, indolent, violent, treacherous, physically repellent, and libidinous.23

Much like other cases of European imperialism, some Russians also believed in the idea of the noble savage. Though barbaric in nature, the simplicity of Caucasian mountain societies was appealing to some Russians. Often, many Russians would make reference to both the idea of the noble savage as well as the more negative view of their barbarism, sometimes within the
Peter Scotto, Prisoners of the Caucasus: Ideologies of Imperialism in Lermontovs Bela, PMLA 107, no. 2 (March 1992): 246, http://www.jstor.org/stable/462638 (accessed February 1, 2012). 23 Scotto, 248.


same statement. In his article, Scotto cites the work of historian Agil Gadzhiev, utilizing the following passage as an example of this seemingly contradictory opinion:

On first impression, their seething passions instantaneously reveal both noble impulses and inner deficiencies or weaknesses: an unusual firmness of character combined with a weakness of the same; sound, lucid beliefs together with delusionsVengeful to the point of frenzy, they are true to their word and hold friendship sacred; they are suspicious and hospitable, both chaste and voluptuous; though very fond of children and quite tender in their family life, they consider murder a matter in no way out of the ordinary.24

The Russian civilizing mission was not only limited to its acquired possessions in Asia. Even along its western frontier, the Russians maintained a sense of ethnic superiority and the belief that their rule would be beneficial to those subjects. Much like the maritime empires held by western powers, the Russians maintained the legitimate belief that it was their mission to bring civilization and order to groups of people they considered to be beneath them. Alexander Is annexation of Poland as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was representative of this belief. In an address to the Polish Diet in 1818, Alexander I expressed his own civilizing mission for Poland, stating that after the end of a terrible war, Russia, in accordance with the tenets of Christian morality, repaid evil with good, opened you to her fraternal embrace, and preferredsolely the honor of bringing restoration to a brave and deserving people.25 The civilizing mission not only contained the Russian desire to spread modernity among its colonies, but also the Christian religion, specifically Orthodox Christianity. The Caucasus and the Middle East proved to be a serious obstacle to the spread of Orthodox Christianity, with the
Agil Gadzhiev, XIX [The Caucasus in Russian Literature of the First Half of the Nineteenth Century], translated by Peter Scotto (Baku: Yazychy, 1982) quoted in Peter Scotto, Prisoners of the Caucasus: Ideologies of Imperialism in Lermontovs Bela, PMLA 107, no. 2 (March 1992): 249, http://www.jstor.org/stable/462638 (accessed February 01, 2012). 25 Alexander I, Alexander Is Address to the Polish Diet, March 15, 1818, Peter the Great to Nicholas I, vol. 2, A Source Book for Russian History from Early Times to 1917 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 503.


presence of Islam. Austin Jersild discussed the long struggle between Orthodox Christianity and Islam in this region, claiming that Russia as the heir to Byzantine Christianity also seemed to inherit the historic struggle with Islamcontinuing hostility to the remnants of the former Tatar power had disturbing temporary implications.26 It was without doubt that one of Russias strongest motivations for pursuing imperialism in the Caucasus was motivated by a duty to spread Orthodox Christianity. This concept draws strong comparisons to other European imperial nations, from Frances spread of Catholicism in Africa to Britains attempts to spread Christianity in India. However, Russias imperial mission also drew influence from the crusades in their quest to conquer Islam, the enemy religion. In Orientalism and Empire, Jersild comments on the somewhat extreme nature of Russias missionary belief. Russias version of Latin Europes crusading impulse was wrapped up with its memory of ByzantiumIslam, according to the crusading mentality, was historically illegitimate, an intruder into Christian holy lands and regions formerly held by the city of the first Christian emperor, Constantine. Russias rulers were eager to claim for themselves the role of protector of Orthodoxy during their many subsequent conflicts with the declining Ottoman Empire.27

Like other imperial conquests, Russia encountered opposition in its expansionist efforts. The Crimean War was perhaps the Russian Empires greatest military and diplomatic failure. Under the leadership of the confident and perhaps arrogant Nicholas I, Russia broke previously mended ties with the British and French concerning European influence over the Ottoman Empire, which had been in decline for several years. Fearing the growing power of the Russian

Austin Jersild, Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845-1917 (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002), 39, eBrary, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/mcla/docDetail.action?docID=10132813 (accessed February 12, 2012). 27 Jersild, 40.



Empire, the French and British allied with the remaining Ottoman Empire to push the Russians back from the region. 28 The fear of further Russian expansion into Constantinople and then into Europe was very real to the major powers of Western Europe. Britain and France saw this war as the only chance to curb Russias growing influence and strategic military power. The British Parliament discussed these fears in 1854, concluding the need to act on Russias expansion before it became too late. During this session of Parliament, the Earl of Clarendon expressed his fears of Nicholas plans, claiming that:

Were it to succeed, and were Russia to be in possession of Constantinople, commanding, as she would do then, the Black Sea and its shores, being enabled, as she would, to occupy Circassia and Georgia, and convert the population of those frontier countrieswith all these advantages, were Russia in possession of Constantinople, it would not be too much to anticipate that more than one Western Power would have to undergo the fate of Poland.29 The exact nature and goals of the war was not exactly clear at the wars beginning. While the British had originally aimed to push Russia out of Turkey and the Black Sea region, France had larger ambitions, wishing to purge Russian influence from all of the Middle East and the Baltic region. In time, certain members of the British cabinet became more favorable toward the French ambitions for the Crimean War. In an extensive work examining the Crimean War, British historian Orlando Figes described this changing mentality, claiming that As Britain moved onto a military footing in the early months of 1854, the idea of a limited campaign for the defence of Turkey became lost in the war fever that swept the country.30

Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2010), 155-58. United Kingdom, House of Lords, The British Parliament Views Russias Involvement in the Crimean War (London: March 19, 1854) in Peter the Great to Nicholas I, vol. 2, A Source Book for Russian History from Early Times to 1917 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 539. 30 Figes, 159.



Russias military goals stemmed from two distinct ideas. As with the Russian conquests in Caucasia, religion provided yet another motivation for imperialism. The desire to rid the holy lands of Islam and to restore Orthodoxy became a priority in the Crimean campaign. In a manifesto given by the Tsars cabinet in 1854, Russias leadership claimed that a feeling of justice had alone induced us to reestablish the violated rights of the Orthodox Christian subjects of the Ottoman Porte.31 Russias second motivation for war came in response to the hostility and threats from France and Great Britain toward Russia. In the view of Russia, the powers of the West wished nothing more than to curb the power of Russia for their own benefit. In that same manifesto pronouncing the mission to restore Orthodox Christianity, Russia announced its suspicions of the powers of Western Europe:

At the outset we met with mistrust, and soon after with secret hostility on the part of the governments of France and England, which strove to mislead the Porte by misinterpreting our intentions. At last, England and France, now discarding every mask, have announced that our disagreement with Turkey is only a secondary affair in their common aim to weaken Russia, to snatch from her a part of her possessions, and to make our country fall from the powerful position to which the hand of the Almighty has elevated her.32 Despite Russias ambitions to crush those showing hostility toward it, the alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia proved to be overwhelming, and the Western naval domination of the Black Sea put an end to the Russian campaign in Crimea by 1856. Seton-Watson commented on Russias shortcomings during the Crimean War, noting that The

Russia, The Manifesto on War Against Great Britain, France, and Turkey, April 11, 1854, Peter the Great to Nicholas I, vol. 2, A Source Book for Russian History from Early Times to 1917 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 539. 32 Russia, 539.



war showed the Russians some of the weaknesses of their political and economic organization, and also increased their appreciation of the importance of the Straits.33 With the failure of the Russian campaign in Turkey and Crimea, the new, Tsar Alexander II, set his sights on Asia for Russias continued expansion. While some of his motives aligned with those of his predecessors, Alexander II also sought to use Russias newly acquired lands to his political benefit. In the years just prior to his assumption of the throne, as well as throughout his reign, Alexander, as historian Richard Wortman explained, went to the countryside to be seen more than to see.34 The settlement of areas in Central and East Asia during the second half of the nineteenth century marked the Russian Empires final expansions. In the east, Russia concentrated its efforts on reaching the Pacific coast and the establishment of relations with China and Japan. Meanwhile in Central Asia, Russia exerted its influence in the region that makes up modern-day Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and parts of Kazakhstan. 35 During the 1860s and 1870s, Russia established a unique colony in the region of Tashkent, located in present-day Turkestan. In an era of reform in Muscovite Russian society, Alexander saw his imperial pursuits in Central Asia as a place to test new ideas and concepts. Using this experimental society, Alexander was able to assess new styles of administration and urban design. No other imperial power to date had attempted such a feat. Jeff Sahadeo wrote of Russias experimental society in the region, explaining that:

Russian intellectuals, many of whom served in prominent posts in the tsarist administration, envisioned Tashkent as a city of the future. As Daniel Browner
Hugh Seton-Watson, The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914 (London: Methuen & Co., 1952), 4-5. Richard Wortman, Rule by Sentiment: Alexander IIs Journeys through the Russian Empire, The American Historical Review 95, no. 3 (June 1990), 745, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2164280 (accessed April 01, 2012). 35 Seton-Watson, The Decline of Imperial Russia, 82.
34 33


has argued, notable tsarist administrators, whom he labels cultural engineers, saw Turkestan as a laboratory to test new, modern ideas of administration in the wake of the Great Reforms.36 Alexander IIs desire to create a free, intellectual society in Tashkent was a revolutionary concept in the age of European imperialism that restrained progress in colonies like British India, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. Alexander pushed for the proper education of Tashkenters, envisioning the development of a sophisticated society that, while free from direct Russian dominance, would still maintain strong ties with the motherland. The tsar also imported a variety of Russian professionals into the region, including highly educated teachers, doctors, economists, and engineers.37 Sahadeo identified the contrast between this vision of a new Russian colonial society and the traditional construct of imperialism. While it still constitutes an imperial possession, the Russian colony at Tashkent represented real progress, a quality not typically associated with Russia or Eastern Europe. In Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent, he claimed that Russians interactions with Central Asian society challenged the view of a modern, privileged, European colonizer neatly imposing his will and values on the local population and environment.38 Russias pursuits in East Asia, while perhaps not as revolutionary in nature compared with those of Tashkent and Central Asia, were nonetheless significant. Russias desire to establish settlements along the Pacific coast were influenced primarily by the need to increase trade capabilities. After establishing diplomatic agreements with Japan and China in the late 1850s and early 1860s, in which Russian diplomats used conflicts between the Asian powers and

Jeff Sahadeo, Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent, 1865-1923 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), 57, eBrary, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/mcla/docDetail.action?docID=10194057 (accessed March 20, 2012). 37 Sahadeo, 58. 38 Sahadeo, 57-58.



the powers of Western Europe to their advantage, Russia established ports along the Pacific frontier at Vladivostok and Sakhalin. Regardless of this manipulation, Russia managed to establish good relations with China and Japan, which would greatly aid its expansion in East Asia.39 The establishment of the Trans-Siberian Railway in the early 1890s would also prove to be an incredible aid in the Russian settlement of the eastern frontier. In fact, the settlement of this region proved to be a primary motivator in the extensive railways completion. Considered to be a wild and untamed land, Russias eastern frontier had been largely left out of the empires main scope of imperial development. Willard Sunderland wrote of the railways impact on the colonization of the Asiatic frontier, noting that: The governments newly resurrected resettlement enthusiasm focused overwhelmingly on the east. By the late 1880s, the Great Siberian Migration had begun. By the early 1890s it was intensifying as a result of the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway. And by 1900, it had become massive enough to turn Russia beyond the Urals into the empires leading zone for new agricultural settlement.40

Though the Russian Empire as a regime collapsed in the early 1900s with the onset of the Russian Revolution and the overthrowing of the Tsar, nonetheless it represents an important period not only in Russian history, in modern history. It nearly spanned across the entirety of Eurasia, encompassing countless ethnic groups and regions. Various motives, including the civilizing mission and spread of Christianity, the desire for trade, and the desire to remain on par with the imperial gains of Western Europe drove the Russian Empire to greatness.

Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 438-440. Willard Sunderland, Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 180.



Regardless of the Russian Empires significance, its conquests in the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and Asia place it upon the same level as other European imperial empires. Though Russia never pursued overseas possessions, it utilized many of the same imperial motivators as nations like France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. Russias desire to civilize lands it considered to be barbaric, such as those in the Caucasus, is comparable to many of the imperial efforts in Africa. Much like Europes conquest to spread Catholicism and Protestantism in Asia and Africa, Russias strong belief in its need to spread Orthodoxy in Caucasia and the Middle East was yet another strong motivation in its imperial conquests. And although perhaps not as strong as that of Western Europe, Russias economic desire to increase its trade potential was an important factor in its expansion into areas like Crimea and the Far East. Much like other parts of its history, the Russian Empire is an underappreciated movement in the study of imperialism in the nineteenth century, in which it often surpassed the more frequently studied empires of nations like Britain and France.



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