to Mr. Fish.
St. Petersburg, March 2, 1877. (Received March 22.)
Sir: In continuation of my dispatch No. 124, treating of the present relations of Russia to the Eastern question, I have the honor to say that some fresh light has recently been thrown on this bewildering topic. It is notorious that in Russia there is a strong party eager for an immediate attack on Turkey, the pressure of whose opinions has forced the reluctant government into that measure of warlike action which has been exhibited by a mobilization of the army, and by such utterances of dissatisfaction with the actual state of things as from time to time have emanated from the pen of Prince Gortchakoff, and from the less temperate expressions of the Russian press.
The war party of Russia, the focus of which is at Moscow, may be presumed to be sincere and well-meaning in the advocacy of a war whose object is to win religious and political emancipation for their suffering brothers of the Slavic race, and for their co-religionists throughout the Turkish Empire. It was at Moscow that the Emperor delivered the notable speech which was so enthusiastically received by the warlike spirits of Russia, but which cooler heads in other places regarded as a red cloak thrown over the eyes of an angry bull, as an effort, and a successful one, on the part of the Emperor to assume the leadership and direction of a movement which, at that time, he might not else have been able to control. At St. Petersburg there is no such violent desire to rush to arms as exists at the ancient capital; for the threatening condition of the national finances, the dullness of commerce and of trade, and the numerous bankruptcies among brokers and merchants, have depressed the popular spirit to a degree that can find little enthusiasm to bestow on any political subject. Notwithstanding the apathy at the capital, which extends, because of the known policy of the Emperor, to the officials of the government and to the officers of the army, it cannot be denied that, taking the empire as a whole, the feeling in favor of a war with Turkey is a popular one.
I have spoken of the war party of Moscow as honest zealots) but, in any popular commotion which may hereafter occur in Europe, we must not lose sight of a compact and well-organized body of extreme liberals known under the title of “Internationals.” This society exists in every country in Europe. In Germany, to the disquietude of the strong government of that country, at a late election, the Internationals are said to have cast over seven hundred thousand votes. The society has its branches even in absolute Russia, where it spreads among the lately enfranchised peasants tracts and circulars teaching the doctrines of the communards of Paris, as many police seizures during recent years have shown. The members of this society have learned wisdom from the experience of the men who, in former days, were called conspirators. The Internationals no longer offer themselves as almost willing political martyrs. Their movement is a safer one for themselves, and, in the end, a more dangerous one for the constituted authorities. Their rule of action seems to be to go just as far as they prudently can in opposition to regal government, but no farther. In Russia they content themselves with circulating inflammatory documents. * * * In free governments they vote with the extreme liberals, inspire the press with their ideas, and seize every occasion to foment popular demonstrations. I have [Page 467]learned that throughout Europe the Internationals are now straining every nerve to bring about a general war, sure in their own minds that popular freedom will profit by the commotion, which, indeed, seems to be the necessary historical deduction to be drawn from all the great wars of the past. Of course the Internationals belong to the extreme war-party in Russia, and their influence is the more potent because of their organization and singleness of purpose. With them, as with their opponents, the governments, popular suffering seems to form no element of their consideration in evoking the spirit of war. The success of the idea, of which they are logically persuaded, is worth, more than all the blood and the property that can be staked on the uncertanties of battle. Go as the wars may, whether for or against the particular countries of which they are severally subjects, human rights and political liberty are sure to be gainers in the end. It remains to be seen if the Internationals are right in what they call in Germany their “political philosophy,” but, as I have before said, in any European convulsions which may hereafter arise, it will be wise to take into account the part which this powerful society may play.
Another condition of things tending toward a warlike solution of Russia’s interest in the eastern question is in the discontent and eagerness for action which are said to exist in the large army massed on the Roumanian frontier, and expecting to be let loose on Turkey at the breaking up of winter. So fierce is the spirit for war among these soldiers that it is thought they will refuse to be demobilized unless they are first given a breathing against their ancient enemy, the Turk. In fact, the vast military system of Europe, which is supposed to be the effect of former wars, now threatens to become the actual cause of future wars. Statesmen begin to talk of giving armies employment as a matter of necessity, and one can hardly look for the certainty of permanent peace while these gigantic armies exist, or predicate anything of the future, save that Europe is at every moment on the verge of a general war.
The mobilization of the Russian army on its present moderate scale is costing the country not less than a million of roubles a day, and millions of roubles are not plenty in Russia just now. The Emperor promised, on his honor—and it was also announced officially at the conference of Constantinople—that Russia, by her intervention in the Eastern question, sought no aggrandizement; nothing, in short, but ah amelioration of the condition of the Christians in Turkey. I believe that pledge to have been loyally given, and that had Turkey yielded to the demands of the powers, it would have been as loyally kept. One cannot, however, say what may be the state of things should Russia be obliged to draw the sword, in view of the great expenses already incurred and that will have to be incurred in the prosecution of a war.
As a further encouragement of the war party in this country, it is believed that an easy victory over the Turks will be an assured result of war. In spite of all that has been said by the friends of Turkey to the contrary, it is now known that the reported numbers of the Turkish soldiers are vastly exaggerated; that their discipline is wretched and rather deteriorating than improving by service in the field; that such losses as they have already sustained in Servia and Montenegro have been hardly and incompletely repaired, and that they would be helplessly swept away before the advance of any well-organized European army. The latter opinion is the substance of the views of a [Page 468]warm Turkophile, a distinguished ex-officer of the British army, who came to his conclusions after a careful inspection of the Turkish forces.
The foregoing are the more prominent reasons that may be urged in favor of the probabilities of a war between Russia and Turkey. On the other hand, both the Emperor and Prince Gortchakoff love peace for peace’s sake, and because they believe that the best interests of the empire demand a long season of calm for the development of the power and the wealth of the people. Russia, too, is unprepared for war financially, and from a military view. For years past, permanent and temporary loans have been periodically necessary to make a balance of the two sides of the budget, while every new fiscal year has found a deficiency to be supplied in the underestimates of the expenses of the predecessor. Out of this condition of things the skillful minister of finance is just beginning to see a clear way, provided there be a continuance of peace.
The new military system of Russia, which was copied from that of Germany, needs five years of further development to bring the army up to the number and into that state of efficiency which military men think necessary for the needs of the empire.
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I have, &c.,