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S. N. Iskiul', Vneshniaia politika Rossii i germanskie gosudarstva (1801- 1812).

S. N. Iskiul', Vneshniaia politika Rossii i germanskie gosudarstva (1801-1812) (Russia's Foreign Policy and the German States [1801-12]). 329 pp. Moscow: Indrik, 2007. ISBN-13 978-5857594162.

This book is a study in diplomatic history in its classic and traditional form: we learn in great and chronologically presented detail about the place of the German states in Russian foreign policy between 1801 and 1812. (1) So far, this field has not attracted the attention of researchers, and Iskiul"s work closes a considerable gap in the literature on the prehistory of 1812. (2) Older research is either very old indeed or deals only with certain aspects, regions, or sub periods of the time in question. (3) Five chapters tell the story from the slow and complicated process of dissolving the Holy Roman Empire in 1801-3, the Bartenstein Convention of 1807, the Peace of Tilsit (1807-8), and the Congress of Erfurt in 1809 to the eve of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812. The perspective, naturally, is a Russian one, and the various responses and strategic designs of Russian diplomacy are discussed without neglecting proposals that were not, in the end, carried out.

Drawing on a variety of published and archival sources (some of which are helpfully reproduced in the annex), Iskiul" presents foreign policy mainly as politics made by states: although individual rulers, politicians, and diplomats feature in large numbers in his narrative, their personalities, outlook, or motives remain opaque. Instead, the documents presented and analyzed are in their majority official diplomatic ones, originating mainly from the chancery files of the Foreign Ministry. Readers interested in the cultural-history dimension of foreign policy will be disappointed. (4)

The tantalizing snippets that do surface make this omission all the more regrettable. For example, Iskiul' points out that Count P. A. Tolstoi, the Russian ambassador to Paris after the Peace of Tilsit, did not agree with the Franco Russian alliance and that his reservation affected diplomatic practice (148). The potential of this piece of information to promote a more penetrating discussion of Russian foreign policymaking at the beginning of the 19th century, however, remains unused. (5) The same applies to the role of domestic politics and the strong opposition that the alliance with France encountered in influential quarters of Russian society--for example, the mother of Tsar Alexander I, Maria Fedorovna. The author quotes an angry exchange of letters between mother and son and offers the opinion that Alexander's reply aimed at the empress dowager's social circle and was therefore meant to pacify the opposition to his policies (183-85). Again, this interesting thread is not explored further. (6)

This is all the more surprising as the central focus of Iskiul''s book is on the role and importance of dynastic links between the Romanovs and various German ruling families (see, e.g., 159-65). (7) What emerges from Iskiul"s work is the realization that these family ties were at the same time both a major liability and a major asset for Russian foreign policy. In the course of French eastward expansion from the last years of the 18th century onward, the dynastic links to German states like Baden or Wurttemberg drew Russia into the conflict almost automatically. Alexander's parents-in-law ruled the small southwestern German principality of Baden, and it is no surprise that his wife used all her influence to support her family at home. It is no coincidence either, therefore, that Empress Maria Fedorovna, herself born a princess of Wurttemberg, expressed herself in the strongest possible terms about Napoleon, describing him to Alexander I as a "bloodthirsty tyrant" (184). In this context it is particularly interesting to note that the general direction of Romanov marriages did not change at all: in 1804, Alexander's sister, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, was married to the heir to the duchy of Saxe-Weimar, a miniscule territory in the heart of Germany and the site of the famous battles of Jena and Auerstadt only two years later. Maria Pavlovna's letters to her Russian family and her published early diary remain unused by Iskiul', although she was an intelligent observer of her times. (8) Exploring her writings and the literature on her would have added depth to the theme of dynastic relations and their bearing on the workings of diplomacy at the time. It should not be forgotten, for example, that the ministerial bureaucracy was tiny until World War I. Under such circumstances, a dynastic correspondence was much more important politically than in the 20th century. (9)

However, Iskiul's narrative does provide valuable insights. When circumstances changed, the problematic position of relatives in Germany could turn into an advantage for Russian diplomacy, something that is aptly demonstrated in the course of the Oldenburg Crisis of 1810-11. Due to the marriage of the tsar's sister, Ekaterina Pavlovna, to a prince of Oldenburg, the duchy in northwestern Germany was considered to be of great interest to Russia. (10) This turned into a serious problem when the French government insisted on including the Oldenburg territory on the North Sea in the Continental System and sought to enforce its will by sending in troops, confiscating the state coffers, and planning to add the entire country to the Kingdom of Westphalia under Napoleon's brother Jerome (217-18). The Russian side regarded this as a breach of the Peace of Tilsit and decided to inform the European public about its position by means of a circular diplomatic note (229-30). This put the French government in considerable difficulty, as it now had to convince Russia of its peaceful intentions. Iskiul' demonstrates elegantly and convincingly how cleverly Russian diplomacy operated after years of retreat when suddenly given the opportunity. In particular, Count K. V. Nesselrode, the future foreign minister, was quick to point out to Alexander that the Oldenburg Crisis could serve as a moment of truth for the future of Franco-Russian relations: would Napoleon be prepared to let Prussia regain some strength in compensation by handing back confiscated fortresses? If not, Nesselrode argued, French intentions toward Russia could hardly be peaceful. In the end, neither Petersburg nor Paris were willing to search for a lasting solution to the problem; and seen from this perspective, the Oldenburg Crisis was the last in a long chain of events which did, eventually, lead to 1812 (210). (11)

Prussia, of course, features extensively in this study: not only was it--at least before 1806--arguably the strongest military power in Central Europe, but the arch-romantic myth of the undying friendship between the Russian and Prussian monarchs has done much to cloud the more prosaic hard facts and decisions. (12) What can be learned from Iskiul''s book--and this is probably his greatest achievement--is that in the years leading up to 1812, nothing was written in stone. For Russian foreign policymakers, even the existence of Prussia was, in principle, subject to negotiation and in the last resort, to Russian interests (248-49). To be sure, Russia did have an interest in preserving Prussia as an ally against France, and to achieve this, the Russian and various German governments engaged in a tremendous and dangerous game of diplomatic deceit--pretending to be allies of France while coming to tacit understandings among themselves to do the opposite, circumstances permitting. This could easily have gone wrong, especially as mistrust among the German states was rife: the Austro-Prussian rivalry continued almost as if there were no Napoleon.

What also becomes quite clear is that it is impossible to speak of a Russian policy toward Germany independent of the Russian policy in relation to France. This constitutes a major change if we contrast it with Russia as an active player in the empire during the days of Catherine II. Russo-German relations during the period in question, however, were characterized by a general German gravitation toward France, on the one hand, and a German tendency to seek Russian help, on the other, whenever the German princes needed support against a French government unresponsive to their wishes. Therefore, the title of the book is slightly misleading, as Germany actually was the major diplomatic and military arena for the playing out of Russo French relations, the continent's two major powers at the time. This point is convincingly made when Iskiul' discusses the emergence of a Prussian plan in 1808 to include the Polish and the Eastern Questions in negotiations for a general settlement (135-39). Indeed, the French government seized upon this initiative and made withdrawal from Prussia conditional on a Russian retreat from the Danube principalities. Alexander I regretted this French move and remarked to Napoleon's ambassador Armand de Caulain court, that greater French flexibility might have made the alliance popular in Russia--an interesting hint at the importance of the relationship between public opinion and the Eastern Question in Russia (151-53). (13) Although there were official negotiations about the fate of the Ottoman Empire in March 1808, in the end Russia opted to support Prussia and withdrew its claim on the Danube principalities in exchange for Silesia being handed back to the Prussian government (158).

Although Iskiul''s book sheds light on an understudied subject, the overall impression it leaves remains ambivalent. There is a wealth of information concerning memoranda, sketches, and plans that were under discussion in Petersburg but very little about the politics, the economics, the military options, or the individuals behind those documents. Valuable as a first reference to the period, this volume touches upon many more interesting questions, perhaps without even noticing. It will not be the last word.

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(1) The key publication of diplomatic documents is A. L. Narochnitskii, ed., Vneshniaia politika Rossii)(IX i nachala) 04 veka: Dokumenty Rossiiskogo Ministerstva inostrannykh del, 1st series, 7 vols. (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1963).

(2) For the military background, see Frederick W. Kagan, "Russia's Wars with Napoleon, 18051815," in The Military History of Tsarist Russia, ed. Kagan and Robin Higham (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave, 2002), 106-122. More generally, see William Fuller, Strategy and Power in Russia, 1600-1914 (New York: Free Press, 1992).

(3) See, for example, Heinrich Ulmann, Russisch-Preussische Politik unter Alexander L und Friedrich Wilhelm IIL bis 1806: Urkundlich dargestellt (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1899); Martha Lindemann, Die Heiraten der Romanovs und der deutschen Fiirstenhduser im 18. und l9. Jahrhundert und ihre Bedeutung in der Bundnispolitik der Ostmdchte (Berlin: Dummler, 1935); Fritz Straube, "Zur Deutschlandpolitik des zaristischen Russland 1789-1815," Jahrbuch fur Geschichte der sozialistischen Lander Europas 19, 1 (1975): 103-23; and Uta Kruger-Lowenstein, Russland, Frankreich und das Reich 1801-1803: Zur Vorgeschichte der 3. Koalition (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1972).

(4) Still the best study of the cultural dimension of Russian politics in general in this period is Alexander M. Martin, Romantics, Reformers, Reactionaries: Russian Conservative Thought and Politics in the Reign of Alexander I (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1997).

(5) On this, see Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, The Foreign Ministers of Alexander L" Political Attitudes and the Conduct of Russian Diplomacy, 1801-1825 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969); and W H. Zawadzki, A Man of Honour: Adam Czartoryski as a Statesman of Russia and Poland, 1795-1831 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993).

(6) There is no study on Maria Fedorovna, although she was an avid correspondent and letters to and from her children are preserved in the archives of former German ruling dynasties and are, therefore, easily accessible. The major problem, however, is the empress's tiny, disorderly, and generally awful handwriting. Reliable if very limited information is provided in Hans-Martin Maurer, "Sophie Dorothee (Maria Feodorowna)," in Das Haus Wurttemberg: Ein biographisches Lexikon, ed. Sonke Lorenz, Dieter Mertens, and Volker Press (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1997), 295-96. Some light on her welfare policies is shed by Wendy Rosslyn, Deeds, not Words: The Origins of Women's Philanthropy in the Russian Empire (Birmingham: Centre for Russian and East European Studies, 2007).

(7) Franziska Schedewie in Heidelberg is preparing a major study of the role of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (1786-1859) in Russo-German relations. See her "'A chaque pas, je fais des comparaisons avec chez nous...': Die ersten Eindrucke der russischen Prinzessin Maria Pawlowna in Weimar (1804-1806)," in Von Petersburg nach Weimar: Kulturelle Transfers yon 1800 bis 1860, ed. Joachim Berger and Joachim yon Puttkamer (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2005), 81-125; and her "Altesse Imperialissime! Die privaten politischen Briefe Carl Augusts an Maria Pavlovna, 1805-1815," in Ereignis Weimar-Jena: Gesellschafi und Kultur um 1800 im internationalen Kontext, ed. Lothar Ehrlich and Georg Schmidt (Cologne: B6hlau, 2008), 247 62.

(8) The original French text of Maria Pavlovna's early diaries is published in Katja Dmitrieva and Viola Klein, eds., Maria Pavlovna: Die fruhen Tagebucher der Erbgrossherzogin von SachsenWeimar-Eisenach (Cologne: B6hlau, 2000). See also the innovative collection of essays in Berger and yon Puttkamer, Von Petersburg nach Weimar. There is a biography of Maria Pavlovna in German, which, however, does not make use of her papers: Detlef Jena, Maria Pawlowna: Grosssherzogin an Weimars Musenhof (Regensburg: Pustet, 1999).

(9) A very useful work providing a wealth of information on the Foreign Ministry is I. S. Ivanov et al., eds., Ocherki istorii ministerstva inostrannykh del Rossii, 3 vols. (Moscow: Olma-Press, 2002). The potential benefits of revisiting dynastic correspondences is aptly demonstrated by Sydney Wayne Jackman, Romanov Relations: The Private Correspondence of Tsars Alexander L Nicholas L and the Grand Dukes Constantine and Michael with Their Sister Queen Anna Pavlovna, 1817-1855 (London: Macmillan, 1969).

(10) Apart from Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, ed., Correspondance de l'Empereur Alexandre Ier avec sa Soeur la Grande Duchesse Catherine, Princesse d' Oldenbourg, puis Reine de Wurtemberg 1805-1818 (St. Petersburg: Manufacture des papiers de l'etat, 1910), there is a biography of her in German, which, again does not make use of archival material: Detlef Jena, Katharina Pawlowna: Grossfurstin von Russland und Konigin von Wurttemberg (Regensburg: Pustet, 2003).

(11) On Nesselrode, see Anatole de Nesselrode, ed., Lettres etpapiers du chancelier Comte de Nesselrode 1760-1856." Extraits des archives, 11 vols. (Paris: Lahure, 1904- 1912), esp. vols. 2-4, covering the 1801-12 period; and his autobiography in German translation: Karl Robert yon Nesselrode, Des russischen Reichskanzlers Grafen Nesselrode Selbstbiographie (Berlin: Mittler, 1866).

(12) A brilliant description of the mythmaking powers of Russian monarchy in this period is Richard S. Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995). An equally brilliant deconstruction of this particular Prusso-Russian myth can be found in Ilja Mieck, "Die Rettung Preussens? Napoleon und Alexander I. in Tilsit 1807/' in Deutschland--Frankreich--Russland: Begegnungen und Konfrontationen. La France et l'Allemagne face a la Russie, ed. Mieck and Pierre Guillen (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2000), 15-35.

(13) I explore the leitmotif of Constantinople in Russian nationalism and foreign policy in Raphael Utz, Russlands unbrauchbare Vergangenheit: Nationalismus und Aussenpolitik im Zarenreich (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008).
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Author:Utz, Raphael
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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