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AXIOMS OF GEOPOLITICAL EXPERIENCE. Part I.
Russia, Turkey and the geopolitical retrospection

AXIOMS OF GEOPOLITICAL EXPERIENCE. Part I. Russia, Turkey and the geopolitical retrospection

On the 2nd of August, 1914 Enver Pasha, military officer and actual ruler of Turkey offered Russia to align a military bloc against Germany and Austria-Hungary, once Russia guaranteed eternal Turkish possession of the Straits. Yet, it was exactly the thing that St. Petersburg politicians were unwilling to do, giving Turkey a final push towards the embrace of the Central states. Not multiplying the number of its allies was of vital importance for Russia at the moment and cutting off the Straits Turkey, thus, interrupted the most important channel of Russian communications with its Western allies.

In our articles dedicated to India and Iran we used them as the examples of geopolitical patterns influencing these regional civilizations throughout millennia. Apparently, history gives us an opportunity to reveal similar patterns for the other regions of the Earth — for Russia particularly. We’re free to dub them the axioms of geopolitical experience. We’re going discuss yet another one here.

History has convincingly proved that Black Sea exits to the Mediterranean — Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits (hereinafter "the Straits") — may be successfully controlled (by opening and locking them up) only from the Mediterranean side, but never from the Black Sea one. At that, possession of both continental coasts of the Straits — European and Asian ones — makes the necessary premise of it. And it’s not just the coasts, but the substantial parts of the Balkan Peninsula or Asia Minor we’re talking about.

In the 7th century B. C. ancient Hellenes infiltrated the Black Sea from the Mediterranean through the Straits and settled the numerous colonies at the Black Sea coast (Pontos Euxeionos1). In the 7th 4th centuries B. C. Byzantium, situated at the coast of Thracian Bosporus, held the primary strategic position in the Greek world. Union of Pericles’ Athens and Byzantium was the foundation of Athenian maritime hegemony. In 437 B. C. Athenian fleet under Pericles’ command passed the Straits and placed the majority of Pontus colonies under the command of Athenian power. Athens controlled the straits from the Mediterranean side, while the colonies, burdened by dependence from the Athens were unable to lock the Straits out from the Black Sea side.

Lacking the broad rural outskirts, Byzantium itself was unable to reach hegemony. In the end of the 4th century B. C. it became a part of a land Macedonian power. Subsequently the Straits were taken by Romans. During each of external and civil wars that burst out in the Black Sea basin during the Roman age the Straits were controlled by the power, dominating either over the Mediterranean coasts or substantial parts of adjoining continents.

More than once the very existence of the Roman Empire used to hang by a thread. In the end of the 6th century Persians and then Arabs used to conquer an entire Asia Minor and approach Constantinople. In the 9th century Seljuk Turks have done pretty much the same. Yet, each time Byzantine retained an extensive continental base — either in Europe, or in Asia — allowing it to restore the status-quo. Short-lived (1204-1261) crusaders’ control over the Straits (Latin Empire age) after the 4th crusade and the first fall of Tsargrad have just reaffirmed the old axiom. Having kept the land base in Asia Minor (the Nicene Empire) Greek have started the counter-offensive and restored Constantinople. The second Rome has finally fallen only being surrounded on the land — both from Europe and Asia.

Here’s a curious fact: when Rus entered the global stage in the end of the 9th century, it had repeatedly sent its naval expeditions against Byzantine, while the latter one jus locked up the Straits and Russians have never breached through to the Mediterranean. At the same time, Byzantine maintained regular ties with its domains in Taurida (Crimea) until they Polovtsians conquered them from the land (the 12th century). This has proved once again that one could have mastered the Black Sea from the Straits’ side, but no one could master the Straits from the Black Sea side. History of the Ottoman Empire has entirely and completely proved this rule.

Prior to describing the Ottoman Empire, the estimate of its role in the global civilization history should be clarified. The very thought that the Ottoman Empire became the geopolitical heir of the Byzantine Empire will seem ridiculous for anyone, who used to thinks in templates (failure of which we’d also indicate). Still, this is obvious, the moment we look at the map. This succession is even spread onto the First Rome. During the age of its greatest expansion the Ottoman Empire included the territories, once belonging to the ancient Roman Empire apart from Italy, Spain, Morocco, France and Britain (albeit still including Arabia and Mesopotamia).

Then we have to mark out the positive role of the Ottomans in preserving the Orthodoxy at the Balkan Peninsula from the Catholic expansion. Once again, a single glance at the respective map shows that the European border of the Ottoman Empire defined the confessional demarcation line between Orthodoxy and Catholicism rather than between Christianity and Islam! Description of Vukovar, found in a certain popular Western guide of Croatia is quite indicative in that regard: "an outpost of the Christian Catholic world standing against the Orthodoxy and Islam". In the West the Ottoman Empire is still considered to be an Orthodox-Islamic power, rather than purely Islamic one!

Let me finally remind you of the estimate, given to the role of the Ottoman Empire by our great compatriot Konstantin Leontyev (1830-1891). In 1875 he used to write: "Existence of Turkey... benefits us and the majority of our Balkan brothers-in-faith (until we’re not ready to trade it for Bosporus)".

Today, after the lapse of centuries we may glimpse back and evaluate the Russian historical path without falling for the false goals, which have repeatedly stood as obstacles on our way. The claim for the territorial legacy of the Second Rome is one of such seductions.

Let’s not forget either, that the idea of such expansion emerged in the second half of the 17th century during the rule of Alexey Mikhailovich and not without a dexterous instigation of Jesuits. Vatican, though, has been obsessed with the idea of a new Crusade against Turks — in order to submit the Eastern Christian churches to the Holy See — since the 14th century. It looked for a suitable power that was able to see to this agenda. Hungary, Austria, Spain and Poland were tried for candidacy and finally Russia stepped forward as the strongest Turkish neighbor.

Russia certainly had the geopolitical needs of its own, which demanded conquering the Black Sea shores and securing the protection from the south. Neither can we put a blind eye to the actual religious solidarity of Russians with their Orthodox brothers.

At the same time, our brothers-in-faith haven’t been very willing to break free from the infidel yoke, even when the Russian troops have actually been able to help them. This was demonstrated most vividly in the beginning of the Eastern (Crimean) War, during campaign of 1853-1854 when neither Bulgarians, not Serbs assisted the Russian invasion beyond Danube.

The same war has once again provided a distinctive proof of the theory that the Straits may be controlled from the Mediterranean Sea, but never from the Black Sea side. Having opened the Straits for the English and French fleets and troopers, Turkey managed to defeat Russia for the first time in 150 years. It was all the more vexing, given the initially sound Turkish policy of Nicholas I. In 1833 the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi (signed when the landing infantry under the command of M. P. Lazarev rescued Istanbul from the Egyptian threat) guaranteed Russia complete safety in the Black Sea: Turkey pledged not to open for the Straits for any vessels but Russian ones. In 1841 the international convention, featuring the presence of all European powers (apart from France) established the closure of the Straits for all the ships. This article is not a place for questioning why has the bellicose approach once again dominated over this pragmatic Turkish policy.

War for liberation of Bulgaria from Turkey (1877-1878), quite successful for the Russian weapons, nevertheless turned out an utter political fiasco of Russia. Neither Bulgaria, nor Serbia has ever become completely pro-Russian. Moreover, soon enough (in 1885) they started a war against each other, fighting for the "imperial legacy". Russia also failed to meet unequivocal sympathies among the other Balkan brothers-in-faith either. Surely, we may justify it with the different views of the pro-Western elites and the masses of the Balkan nations here, but we’d rather confine ourselves with the stated political facts.

Despite all this, by the beginning of the First World War Russian imperial elite still stuck to the backward, already proved useless, attitude. Another pragmatic politician said afterwards that in August of 1914, in the fire of the flaring war it "committed more than a crime, it committed a mistake" in front of its own country. On the 2nd of August, 1914 Enver Pasha, military officer and actual ruler of Turkey offered Russia to align a military bloc against Germany and Austria-Hungary, once Russia guaranteed eternal Turkish possession of the Straits. Yet, it was exactly the thing that St. Petersburg politicians were unwilling to do, giving Turkey a final push towards the embrace of the Central states.

Not multiplying the number of its allies was of vital importance for Russia at the moment and cutting off the Straits Turkey, thus, interrupted the most important channel of Russian communications with its Western allies. Russia, then, was unable to fight successfully without the Entente help: half of machine-guns and two-thirds of ammunition were supplied from England and the USA. We may hardly doubt that once Turkey was kept at least neutral, this help would be more substantial and Russia would have lasted until the total victory of England. Of course, plenty of factors had its effect here and the very same England and France — willing to get their share of the Turkish imperial legacy — have provoked it to join the war. Still, it doesn’t take the responsibility off the imperial government: in the 20th century, being guided by pseudo-Messianic chimeras, it did nothing to hinder this unfavorable course of events.

Let’s imagine for a moment that Russia won the First World War and got what it wanted from Turkey — the Straits. For how long would it able to hold them, once the most part of Asia Minor and the Balkan Peninsula belonged to other states? Even if Russia managed to keep the hold of the Straits throughout all the foreign-policy crises, rattling the world in the 20th century, Tsargrad would have been inevitably lost during yet another systematic crisis of the Empire itself and that would have happened even before the end of the century. Russian enclave at the Bosporus and Dardanelles coasts would have shared the lot of the short-spanned Latin Empire of the 13th century — that is the geopolitical pattern.

Geopolitical experience surely tells us that even having a half of the Black Sea coast Russia is unable to secure a steady grip of the Straits. At the same time, Turkey that controls them can always deliver Russia a considerable damage (independently or having allied with the third states) from the Black Sea side. This hints Russia to behave in a certain way: Turkey should better be an ally and once that’s impossible — at least a neutral state — but never an enemy. This is a reasonable pragmatism, foisted off by the millennium-long experience and objective laws of geopolitics.

At the present moment interests of Russia and Turkey do not clash anywhere so that may cause the state confrontation. In the adjacent areas like Transcaucasia Russia and Turkey might join their efforts for stabilizing the situation on the basis of mutual respect and division of interests. This policy is facilitated by a couple of factors: 1) Secular regime of the modern Turkish state; 2) Absence of Russophobia as distinguishable phenomenon among Turks (thus presenting Turkey in a much more favorable light than the majority of European nation). We cannot let any misinterpreted messianic aspirations to trigger the reactions, which threatens Russian foreign-policy interests.

By Yaroslav Butakov

1 "Hospitable Sea" (Gr.)

 

 

 

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AXIOMS OF GEOPOLITICAL EXPERIENCE. Part I. Russia, Turkey and the geopolitical retrospection
On the 2nd of August, 1914 Enver Pasha, military officer and actual ruler of Turkey offered Russia to align a military bloc against Germany and Austria-Hungary, once Russia guaranteed eternal Turkish possession of the Straits. Yet, it was exactly the thing that St. Petersburg politicians were unwilling to do, giving Turkey a final push towards the embrace of the Central states. Not multiplying the number of its allies was of vital importance for Russia at the moment and cutting off the Straits Turkey, thus, interrupted the most important channel of Russian communications with its Western allies.

 

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