Britain and the Last Tsar: British Policy and Russia, 1894-1917

By Keith Neilson | Go to book overview

5
Problems Old and New: China and Armenia, 1894-1896

As Alexander III lay dying in the autumn of 1894, Anglo-Russian relations were experiencing one of their periodic outbursts of good will. The policy of rapprochement that Lord Rosebery had initiated in 1892 seemed to be paying dividends. The long-standing issue of the Pamirs appeared near solution; no serious quarrel had yet emerged between the two countries over the ramifications of the Sino-Japanese War.1 Indeed, by the beginning of 1895, Rosebery could write to the British ambassador at Madrid that 'our relations with Russia are, I honestly believe, more cordial than at any period since the German war'.2 The following decade did not bear out Rosebery's optimistic assessment of Anglo-Russian relations. Instead, and despite British efforts to make it otherwise, Anglo-Russian relations deteriorated.

In the first two years of Nicholas II's reign, Anglo-Russian relations had two centres. The first was the Sino-Japanese War; the second was the Armenian crisis. The Sino-Japanese War was one of the first manifestations of the effect that the emergence of Germany and Japan as Great Powers had on Anglo-Russian relations. In Europe, the growth of Germany's power, coupled with her aspirations for Weltmacht, threatened the rough equilibrium established at Vienna in 1815. In the Far East, Japan's rise meant that European powers--particularly Britain and Russia--could gain either an ally or a rival. And, in both Europe and the Far East the likelihood of Britain and Russia's clashing over the interests of third parties grew. The second centre of Anglo-Russian relations--Armenia--was a traditional one, and was representative of the fact that British and Russian imperial interests were worldwide and often in competition with each other. The Sino-Japanese War was new wine in a new bottle; the Armenian crisis was old wine in a changing bottle. Both were potent vintages.

Rosebery and Kimberley had anticipated that the clash of Chinese and Japanese

____________________
1
G. J. Alder, British India's Northern Frontier 1865-95 ( London, 1963), 226-86.
2
Cited, G. Martel, Imperial Diplomacy: Rosebery and the Failure of Foreign Policy ( Kingston, Ont., 1986), 240.

-147-

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