PP/GC/PO/271 Draft memorandum by an unknown correspondent about the possible Russian seizure of the Dardanelles, 18 May 1836
Draft memorandum, in French, about the Dardanelles: as long as there is tension between England and Russia, and until affairs are settled definitely, the Dardanelles remain the crucial position. If Russia gains control of the Dardanelles, it would completely change the way in which England could act against her in a situation of unavoidable war. The Russian Black Sea fleet, as well as the maritime establishments there, would be protected from English attack. Cut off from the east, the possibility of influencing the warring peoples of the Caucasus and Don regions, who would make such good auxiliaries, would be lost and Persia would have to be abandoned to Russian domination. The English, coming via India, could not hope to persuade the Persians that the Russians were not the strongest power. Russian possession of the Dardanelles and the total power of Russia at Constantinople, which would ensue, would speak much more strongly in their conviction otherwise. Without specifying the effect which the occupation of the Dardanelles would have on Turkey, for which a profound knowledge of the characters of the government ministers, as well as of the plots hatched by Russia in that country would be needed, one could say that weakness and disorganisation have reached the point where one could no longer base a war in the east against the Russians. At the best it could still serve as a secondary theatre of war, and the principal action could only be carried out with the help of Austria. It remains to be seen up to what point one could count on Austria preferring to burden herself with supporting the entire weight of the Russian armies, rather than sharing out the booty with them. It is difficult to imagine that the advantages of sole occupation of the Dardanelles are unappreciated and overlooked by the Russians. If Turkish morale were raised by the presence of several English ships at Constantinople, it is possible that they would not dare to get engage war there, so much the more since that would not be feasible without opening hostilities with the English. In practice, however, once assured that Austria does not want to take a major role against them, they [the Russians] will surely seize the Dardanelles in anticipation of war. Then they will know that no one will attack them, for the very simple reason that no one will be able to get anywhere near them. If, despite this, it is decided to endeavour to remove them from the Dardanelles, they will have every chance of triumph. One could not count much on the assistance of the Turks during these attempts. The country is not inhabited by an homogeneous nation; the same races which, in another situation, could not only be contained but even led to common ground with the Turks, will give them enough to do, when those races are incited and supported by the Russians. Exploiting the different races in this way would be very easy for the Russians when they find themselves in the middle of the Ottoman empire and certainly they are not going to neglect using such means. In every case, the Russians will find that it is to their advantage to seize the Dardanelles and to gather the fruits of war before one breaks out. On one hand, it is easier for them to stand their ground there than to seize it during, or after, a war; on the other, it is easier for them to maintain and support this unique position than not occupy it and keep watch on several vulnerable and unprotected fronts. 18 Feb 1836 Enclosed is a minute from Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, to his Under Secretary: [Transcript] [f.7r] "Has L[or]d Ponsonby made any application lately for permission for a British ship to pass the straights and do we know anything about the France savant. Is not a firman or passport necessary [f.7v] for every merchantman to pass up and down the straights ? P." John Backhouse, Permanent Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has written his reply below: "We have no information of any such application by L[or]d Ponsonby; nor have heard thing of the French savant except through the newspapers. [f.8r] Merchantmen enter the Dardanelles without a firman: they merely lie-to, to be visited by a Turkish officer from the castles. But, once at Constantinople, they must have firmans either to go through the Bosphorus, or to return out of the Dardanelles. But ships of war [f.8v] cannot enter the Dardanelles without waiting for firmans. J.B." n.d. c.Feb 1836
Three papers
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John Backhouse, Permanent Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs
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