PP/GC/PO/319 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning Russian ambitions as to Turkey, 15 January 1838
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby, [ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople], to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: the messenger has not yet arrived, but the Vienna post has. No newspapers came in the post, so Ponsonby presumes despatches have been sent from London but that the severe weather has stopped the bearer. The Sultan has considered making some changes in the ministry, but has not done so. Halil Pasha continues to be the "soul of the ministry" and Husrev, the former Seraskier, is waiting for an opportunity to overturn his ungrateful protege Halil. "The old man is very often with the Sultan and he may yet be able to strike a blow." Akif Pasha continues to be in favour, and to show a desire to get on well with Ponsonby. He dislikes the Russians, but is "not invulnerable by presents, nor unmoved by a delicate sense of danger". Reschid Bey is as apprehensive of the power of Russia as the other Ottoman ministers, but believes more in the ability of England to resist Russia than some of his colleagues. Ponsonby is in communication with two or three men who know Reschid Bey, including the Frenchman Monsieur Cor who was with Reschid Bey in England, and a Greek, Musurus, whom Palmerston recommended to Ponsonby. "There are two other Frenchmen as well as another rayah who frequent him, and who are known to me more or less, and whose services I can have to set things before Reschid in their true and proper light, but I am sorry to say I fear Reschid has little or no power and that his influence will be wholly due, so far as it goes, to the indolence of Akiff Pasha who is glad to shift off from himself all the work of the Foreign Affairs. Reschid is aware of his position and acts prudently, I think, in avoiding to take upon himself the least semblance of power: he feels that he risks being accused of favouring foreign interests even when he is engaged in pursuing those of his own country, and he knows he is suspected by Russia whose bribes he has not yet accepted, so far as I know." From one point of view, British influence in Turkey is very great: the Sultan and his ministers believe what Ponsonby says to them, but probably nothing of what is said by any other minister. They think Ponsonby acts in their interests and they want to do what he asks of them. This is a solid foundation for when the time comes for acting strongly on the Porte. The British minister in Turkey must be very careful not to make any promises. "I think you may, whenever you please, take Turkey absolutely into your hands if you shall judge it to be fit to come to decisive measures against the power and influence of Russia, that is to say, if you shall be ready to face the menaces of Russia to make war." Ponsonby believes that Russia is not strong enough to make war, and will not dare to risk it, but could easily be beaten if she did. There is no need at present for strong measures from Palmerston, and circumstances are acting in favour of Britain. The indiscreet conduct of the Russian Emperor and his cabinet, and of his friends in England and elsewhere, has done Britain a favour, since it has forced the Russian government into measures which have demonstrated to the world the falsehood of Russian declarations of moderation and have "set forth in glaring colors the facts that prove the fixed purpose of subjugating Turkey to the Muscovite septer. It is an untoward state that which obliges Russia to profess one thing, and to do what is in direct contradiction to such profession, and Russia is forced to shew her fear by her professions, and forced to pursue her ambitious objects, which are now actually identified with her safety and power, by deeds that cannot be concealed from even common eyes. Her conduct in Wallachia and Servia and many other places proves her feeling that she must now exert herself to maintain her power in those parts, or permit it to fall daily down toward insignificance, and each exertion has been, and will be in future, productive of an effect more mischevous than beneficial to the conservation of the hold gained by so much blood and corruption. If I might say what I think necessary to be done now, it is to shew that England is prepared to fight. Turkey will gain courage and Russia sink in moral power, and you will, I am sure, agree in the proposition that it has been mainly a game of bragg that has been played in this country and therefore, that it is to destroy the moral power of Russia, that we may advantageously exert ourselves. The next thing I conceive as feasible to be begun soon, is an attack upon the position of Russia held by her, in virtue of her treaties with the Porte. Several years ago in my private letters to you and to Grey, I proposed modes of attack upon that stronghold. I would not, of course, revert now to those methods without making many modifications in them, but I will recal the principle to your recollection. Russia owes her demoralizing and destructive influence over the Sultan's people and subjects to the nature of her treaties. That influence is dangerous to all Europe because it may be, and it has been, exerted by Russia to place in her hands the power to change the ballance of European power by the destruction of the Ottoman Empire whenever certain, easily foreseen and not improbable circumstances may, or shall, occur. Therefore it is the right as well as the interest of European powers to guard against danger and confusion and wars, by placing the relations of Turkey with Russia on a footing of equality with those of other nations with Turkey, and, by a general amical measure, provide for the safety and the honest interest of all parties. This principle would lead to a revision of the treaties of all nations with the S[ublime] Porte, and it seems to me not impossible that it is the sort of measure in which P[rince] Metternich might concur: it would perhaps serve to gratify some of his tastes and it might enable him to check the power of Russia without shewing, in a way capable of the fact being proved, that he acted against his high ally and faithful friend Nicolas. I must clearly state that I have nothing like an expectation that Russia would give in to any proposition tending to produce such a revision of treaties, and I will add that I should regret her consenting to it. My object is to place Russia notoriously and publickly in the wrong, and to place the government of France and Austria and even Prussia in amicable opposition to the Emperor of Russia, and thereby to increase the moral power we have on our side and to diminish that enjoyed by Russia. I have examined many of the treaties between Russia and Turkey and I think I can shew in those of an earlier date enough to justify the prudent and reasonable fears of other governments for the consequences that such treaties may produce but when later treaties shall be considered, there will be formed more than a justification for fear, there will, I think, be manifest a necessity for prudential interference and precaution." 15 Jan 1838 The letter is marked: "Private", and it is noted that it was received on 8 February 1838.
Four papers, punched for disinfection, tied with a blue ribbon
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Mahmud II, Ottoman Sultan
Halil Rifat Pasha, Seraskier of Turkish Minister of War
Husrev Mehmed Pasha, alias Chossrew Muhammad Pasha, former Seraskier or Turkish Minister of War
Akif Muhammad Effendi or Akiff Mehmed Pasha, Kiahaya Bey or Turkish Minister of the Interior
Reschid Mustapha Bey, alias Reshid Mustafa Bey, later Reschid Mustapha Pasha, Reis Effendi or Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs
Monsieur Cor
?Constantine Musurus, Turkish diplomat
Servia, or Serbia
Tsar Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia
Charles Grey, second Earl Grey, former British Prime Minister
Clemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lother, Prince of Metternich-Winneburg
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