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The Anglo-Russian Entente

In 1907, writes A.W. Palmer, two empires that had three times been on the verge of war in the preceding thirty years reached a hopeful accommodation.

On August 31st, 1907, in the Foreign Office at St. Petersburg, the Russian Foreign Minister and the British Ambassador concluded three conventions by which outstanding differences between their two countries in Asia were settled. At the time, this seemed a major triumph for British diplomacy.

Two empires that had been on the verge of war three times in the preceding thirty years had reached an accommodation. Today, the document that Isvolski and Sir Arthur Nicolson signed that afternoon is little more than a historic curiosity; fifty years ago, however, it afforded a chance of ending deep and bitter estrangement.

There had been little rivalry or conflict between the two nations until the nineteenth century. Trade agreements in Tudor times were succeeded by regular diplomatic contacts under the early Stuarts. An abortive treaty of 1755 sought to secure the help of Russian infantry for an attack upon eastern Prussia, while, in 1770, the British assisted the Russians to send a fleet from the Baltic to the Aegean in the first of their wars with Turkey. Pitt had denounced Russian expansion along the Black Sea coast in 1791, but worked hard to bring Russia into the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

In one sense, “the Russian bogey,” as a familiar concept of Western European liberals, dates from the Tsar’s ceremonial entry into Paris in 1814 and from his promulgation, in the following year, of that singularly inept statement of muddled obscurantism known as the Holy Alliance.

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