Mr. Schuyler to Mr. Fish.
St. Petersburg , Dec. 21, 1872. (Rec’d Jan. 16, 1873.)
Sir: After the almost complete inaction here in political affairs, several subjects have suddenly come up which produce considerable commotion in government circles.[Page 766]
There is a difficulty between England and Russia with regard to Central Asia.
The conquests of Russia in Central Asia have been made, so far, from unavoidable necessity, and often in spite of the strict orders of the government. It has always been necessary in dealing with the half-civilized countries and tribes who inhabit what was formerly called Independent Tartary to preserve the prestige of the Russian arms and the Russian authority. There have been constant difficulties and constant attacks on Russia by these countries. Russian merchants and officers have been taken prisoners, have been tortured and held in strict captivity by the Central Asiatic Khanates, and each successive general has felt that he must punish these outrages and cause the Russian name to be respected.
But, to put a limit to these incursions and difficulties, it was resolved to join the frontiers of Orenburg and Siberia by a line that could be easily defended, and in following out this design, Turkistan and Tchemkent were taken in 1864. General Tchunagef, who was in command, advanced still further and took Tashkent in 1865, which led to further difficulties, for it imposed on Russia a conquest she did not desire, and rendered subsequent operations almost a necessity. Tchernagef was removed and succeeded by General Romanofsky, who, contrary to strict orders, was forced by the holy war to become active, and took Khodzheht. He was recalled in disgrace, and General Kryzhanofsky, the governor-general of Orenburg, took command and captured Ara Tubé and Dzhizak in 1866, to strengthen himself on the line of the Syr Darya, (Jaxartes.) Turkistan was then (1867) made a separate province under the command of General Kaufmann, who gave a solemn promise not to advance, and Kryzhanofsky remained at Orenburg. In spite of this General was compelled to take the field in the spring of 1869, and captured Samarcand, reducing Bukhara almost to the condition of a vassal province. The conquests of General Kaufmann were held at first temporarily, but were finally accepted and incorporated into the empire. The Khan Kokan, who had always been hostile to Russia, now became quite friendly and allowed Russian merchants and Russian trade free access to his dominions. With the capture of Tashkent, Russian trade in Central Asia very greatly increased, and the importance was at once seen of securing the country as a market for Russian manufacturers, and of keeping out English trade. The trade of Kashgar and Yarkand, and of Eastern Turkistan, was especially coveted, but it was the policy of Jakul-Beg, the Atalik Ghazee, the chief who had just wrested the country from Chinese rule, to keep out the Russians.
After many difficulties the Russian measures have been at last so successful that very advantageous commercial treaties have, within the last few months, been concluded both with Kokan and Kashgar.
The point where the Russian policy has least prospered is Khiva. This khanate has remained continually hostile; the release of Russian prisoners has been refused, Russian caravans have been attacked and plundered, and the Turkomans and Khirgheez have been incited to insurrection and hostility. Every overture of Russia has been rejected. In order better to be able to take active measures the Russians, about two years ago, occupied and fortified Krasnovodsk, on the east side of the Caspian. Expeditions were sent out from time to time, nominally to keep the Kirgheez in order, but really to feel and explore the country. Finally, this last summer, an expedition was sent against Khiva. Colonel Markesoff traversed the steppes without difficulty and got near to the city, where he was attacked by the Khivan troops, and owing to his negligence [Page 767] and contempt for the enemy he was cut off, lost his camels and horses, and was obliged to retreat with his command.
The news of this disaster has just arrived, and has caused considerable agitation. At a council held on Tuesday, at which the Emperor presided, it was resolved to send out a strong expeditionary force against Khiva, and the question now under discussion is about the plan and route. Three separate expeditions are proposed: one from Tashkent, one from Orenburg, and one from Krasnovodsk. It is said that the Grand Duke Michael, with part of the army from the Caucasus, will join the expedition from Krasnovodsk. It is said that the vote in the council stood 35 for the capture of Khiva to 9 against it. Prince Gortchacow was in the minority, believing that it would be better to punish Khiva than to capture it.
In the mean time the English have been taking alarm. There has been for some time an agitation in the press, and in especial from those interested in India, that it would be necessary to put a stop to the Russian advance in Central Asia, before the Russian and English territories become conterminous and India was endangered. It was proposed at one time that Russia and England should agree on lines beyond which they would make no conquests; but this was found impossible. An idea to form a belt of neutral states and turn Afghanistan into a sort of Switzerland was equally chimerical. Others proposed the stronger and more dangerous measure of conquering Afghanistan. The English government long resisted these clamors, allowing things to take their course, even repulsing the advances of the Emir of Khiva.
At last, however, England has decided on action, and about three weeks ago sent a note to the government of the Emperor, in substance that she would recognize as the northern boundary of Afghanistan the river Amu-Darya (Oxus) from Kerki to the source, and that on any infringement of this boundary she would allow the ruler of Afghanistan to make war on Russia, and eventually assist him.
The country in question includes the provinces of Vakhan and Badakshan, which are claimed by and belong to Bukhara, but pay a small tribute to the Emir of Cabul. Through them goes a high road to Kashgar and Yarkand, which is of great importance to Russia for commercial purposes, and there is also a pass through the mountains into Cashmere. Here is, in fact, a key to India.
The Russian answer was discussed at the council of Tuesday, and was sent off yesterday by special messenger, and an extra English courier went at the same time with important dispatches. I understand that the answer of the Russian government is soft but evasive. They say that they wish to be on friendly terms with England, and not to have any difficulties on this subject; that it is greatly to the advantage of the two countries to act together in Asia, and to have a good understanding. They disclaim any intention of conquest in this region, but at the same time deny any right of Afghanistan to these provinces, though admitting that a small tribute is paid, but assert that they belong to their ally, the Emir of Bukhara. Nothing was said in the English note about Khiva, and it is not the intention of the English government to contest that.
It is hardly believed here that England will maintain her demands to the end, or will run the risk of an Asiatic war to enforce them.
I have, &c.,