Mr. Atkinson to Mr. Evarts.
St Petersburg, April 16, 1877. (Received May 3.)
Sir: The efforts for a peaceful solution of the Eastern question having failed so signally, there is no longer left in Russia any hope of avoiding war, and preparations are being made in a calm, matter-of-fact manner, very unlike the enthusiasm which, during the past year, has several times seemed to promise instant conflict.
A small but intelligent party has, until within a few days past, steadily believed that war could be averted, but even the most stubborn of this party has yielded to the logic of the position, and no one now believes peace possible, except by some diplomatic miracle or by a recession on the part of Turkey, which nothing in her present attitude warrants. On the contrary, the Porte’s defiant rejection of the London protocol may be called the actual point of collapse of the negotiations toward peace.
Whether wisely or not, Russia had already taken so advanced a position as to reduce the question to the mere submission of Turkey to her views, either before or after an appeal to arms.
Russia approaches the issue with determination but with evident regret, and there appears no thought of seeking to avoid war by accepting less than has been asked of Turkey.
The more intelligent Russians realize that war means a halt in the national progress, a paralysis of the growing industries of the country, and perhaps even renewed attempts toward conspiracy and riot on the part of disaffected subjects. Of this latter, however, the danger is too remote to carry much weight.
The opinion here is, that while the result of the war must be crushing to Turkey, in the alteration of her boundaries, and in the liberation, [Page 469]more or less complete, of her Christian subjects, the struggle will be short and sharp, but that outside complications are almost certain to arise, and that these may lead to a long and involved series of conflicts; that the peace of Europe being once broken, grave danger exists of its map never again being restored to its present lines, and that, although the question of the moment lies between Russia and Turkey, its ultimate bounds are not discernible.
* * * * * * *
In point of equipment, the Russian and Turkish forces are probably about equal, and the superior discipline of the Russian troops is opposed by the reckless, fanatical courage of the Turk. Without extraordinary organization and expense, the work of supplying an advancing Russian column will be impossible, and the country to be fought over is practically barren of forage and provisions and deficient in communications.
However, war with any result other than Russia’s defeat will be more welcome to the country than further endurance of the strain upon its purse-strings and the anxious suspense caused by the large army mobilized on the frontier, and for some weeks the feeling has been pronounced that the choice lay between war or speedy demobilization.
* * * * * * *
Regrettable as war is, especially in the present case—for whatever other issues it may have, war must hasten the crumbling of the Turkish Empire, and at least temporarily cripple Russia—it would be impossible to trust to the paper reforms of Turkish experimentalists to regulate the affairs of the Christians in Turkey as humanity and civilization demand that they should be regulated, and Russia, in reluctantly fulfilling her pledge to extend the protection of her sword over these oppressed peoples, I believe to be entirely free from ambition to extend her own territory, nor will this belief be weakened even should the results of the struggle seem to contradict it.
The chances for peace are, as already stated, very remote; but for the sake of a country which has always been so friendly toward and so appreciative of our nation, I earnestly hope that the developments of the next few days may give a different direction to the march of events.
I have, &c.,