and Austria-Hungary objected adamantly to the Treaty of San
Stefano ending the Russo-Turkish War because of the
strong position in which it left the victorious Russians.
Therefore, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Britain, and Russia
began meeting on June 13, 1878, at the Congress of Berlin to
resolve the conflict, and on July 13 signed the Treaty of Berlin,
which modified the original war settlement.
Under the terms of the new accord, Russia’s naval
strength was checked, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) remained a
player in European politics, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were
occupied by Austria-Hungary.
The revised treaty was a substantial and humiliating
reversal of fortune for Russia.
It provoked more discontent in the Balkans, which continued
to fester with bitter ethnic and national power struggles.
a diplomatic-military crisis between Russia and Britain developed
in Afghanistan. Throughout
the nineteenth century, the country had provided an uneasy buffer
zone between the expansionist empires of Russia to the north and
Britain to the south from its base in India.
In the 1860s, the Russians began advancing slowly into
Turkestan, on the northern border of Afghanistan, which put
British officials in India on alert.
When Benjamin Disraeli became prime minister of Britain in
1874, he advocated a more aggressive policy in the region in order
to protect British interests in India.
Britain upset about Russian gains in the Treaty of San Stefano,
the June 8 issue of Harper’s Weekly reported that the
United States had sold two ironclad steamships
Russia. The article
insisted, “In making these purchases in time of peace neither
any treaties nor the laws of the country were violated.”
Rumors of Russians buying war materiel in the United States
“has naturally caused considerable excitement in England.”
The story quoted a British government official stating his
confidence that the United States would not violate the Washington
Treaty of 1871.
the American Civil War, the Union had been angered over British
shipyard construction of vessels that were later armed by the
Confederacy and used against the Union Navy.
The dispute (called the “Alabama claims” after
the most successful of the ships) was finally resolved by the
Washington Treaty and subsequent arbitration, after which Britain
paid the United States a large indemnity.
George William Curtis voiced more concern about the sale of
American ships to Russia than the Harper’s Weekly
reporter had. In his
commentary in the same issue, Curtis argued that
the duties of neutrality exist in peacetime as well as wartime.
To bolster his case, the editor cited Caleb Cushing, U.S.
counsel at the Alabama claims arbitration, and excerpts
from the Washington Treaty of 1871 and the U.S. Neutrality Law of
1818. Although Curtis
affirmed that selling the ships did not violate neutrality, the
laws and treaties could be easily circumvented if the vessels were
armed elsewhere. While
believing that the United States would abide by strict neutrality
if Britain and Russia went to war, he warned that Russia might
have an advantage in being able to buy American ships.
signing of the Treaty of Berlin in July 1878 further escalated
tensions between Russia and Britain, as did continued Russian
movement southward toward Afghanistan.
After the Afghan ruler refused to let a British envoy enter
the country, while welcoming the presence of a leading Russian
general in the nation’s capital, Britain attacked Afghanistan on
November 21, 1878. Like
Russia a century later, the British found Afghanistan easy to
invade, but difficult to hold.
After two years of fighting, they did not occupy the
country, but installed a sympathetic ruler who acceded to their
foreign policy demands. Another
diplomatic crisis flared in 1885, after which more definite
borders for Afghanistan were established, but the standoff between
Britain and Russia continued for years afterward.