Russo-Turkish Wars

Russo-Turkish Wars. The great eastward expansion of Russia in the 16th and 17th cent., during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, nevertheless left the shores of the Black Sea in the hands of the Ottoman sultans and their vassals, the khans of Crimea. The Russo-Turkish Wars were the result of Russian attempts to find an outlet on the Black Sea and—in later stages—to conquer the Caucasus, dominate the Balkan Peninsula, gain control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits, and retain access to world trade routes.

Warfare between the Russians and the Crimean Tatars was chronic during the 16th and 17th cent. In 1696, Peter I won the first major Russian victory over the Turko-Tatars by capturing the fortress of Azov. In the Northern War (1700–1721) Sultan Ahmed III openly entered the conflict against Russia in 1710 and regained Azov by the Peace of the Pruth (1711). France, the traditional ally of the Ottomans, had a share in instigating this and later Ottoman attempts at stemming the Russian advance.

In 1736 war again broke out between the Ottomans and Russia, allied with Austria. The Russians recaptured Azov and won a spectacular success in Moldavia, where General Münnich entered Jassy (1739). However, Austria became alarmed by Russian ambitions in the Balkans and concluded the separate Treaty of Belgrade (1739), in which Russia was forced to join. Russia agreed to demilitarize Azov and not to build a Black Sea fleet.

The first major Russo-Turkish War, that of 1768–74, was an indirect result of Russian interference in Poland. Sultan Mustafa III, alarmed by Russia's action and encouraged by France, declared war on Catherine II of Russia. The Russians conquered (1771) the Crimea, where a pro-Russian khan was installed, and overran Moldavia and Walachia. The Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji (1774) declared the Crimean khanate independent of the sultan, gave Russia considerable territorial gains, conceded to Russia the role of protector of the sultan's Greek Orthodox subjects, and allowed Russian shipping to navigate the Black Sea and pass through the Straits.

A general partition of the Ottoman Empire was contemplated in the treaty of alliance (1781) between Catherine II and Emperor Joseph II; the fate of the Ottoman Empire thus became a major concern of the Western powers and created the explosive Eastern Question. In 1783, Catherine annexed the Crimea outright. A new Russo-Turkish War broke out in 1787, and in 1788 Joseph II entered the war as Catherine's ally. Although Austria was forced, chiefly by Prussian exertions, to withdraw from the alliance in 1791, Russian successes under Suvorov enabled Catherine to reach a favorable settlement in the Treaty of Jassy (1792).

In 1806 the energetic Sultan Selim III deposed the Russophile governors of Moldavia and Walachia, an act that led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1806–12. This was brought to a close by Kutuzov's lightning campaign of 1811–12 and resulted in the gain of Bessarabia by Russia in the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). The Greek War of Independence (see Greece) precipitated the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29, which ended with the Treaty of Adrianople (see Adrianople, Treaty of).

When, in 1853, Russia sought to obtain further concessions from the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans, backed by England and France, declared war. Their allies entered the conflict in 1854, and the Crimean War resulted. The peace of 1856 (see Paris, Congress of) brought no major territorial changes but marked a severe setback to Russian influence.

The last Russo-Turkish War came as a result of the anti-Ottoman uprising (1875) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On Russian instigation, Serbia and Montenegro joined the rebels in their war on the Ottoman Empire; after securing Austrian neutrality, Russia openly entered the war (1877). The Treaty of San Stefano in 1878 so thoroughly revised the map in favor of Russia and of Russian-influenced Bulgaria that the European powers called a conference to revise its terms (see Berlin, Congress of). In 1878 a thorough realignment of alliances took place.

In World War I, Russia and the Ottoman Empire faced each other once more; Russia sided with the traditional allies of the Ottomans—England and France—while the Ottomans fought with the former partners of Russia—Austria and Bulgaria. By the separate Russo-Turkish treaty of 1921, the USSR returned the districts of Kars and Ardahan, acquired in 1878, to Atatürk's Turkish government.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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