Monday, March 3, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Two Long-Ago Treaties Remain ‘Instructive’ for Russia

Paul Goble

Baku, March 3 – The treaties of San Stefano and Brest-Litovsk, the 130th and 90th anniversaries of which occur today, not only continue to cast a shadow on Russia and the international community but also contain some important lessons for Moscow’s diplomatic activity now and in the future, according to two Russian analysts.
Their arguments in this regard are important less because they point to what the current government of the Russian Federation will actually do than because they show that Moscow’s calculations even now remain far more embedded in and informed by history than foreign policy decision making is in some Western countries.
In articles posted on the Strategic Culture Foundation website, Petr Iskenderov and Yury Rubtsov argue respectively that the 1878 Treaty of Stefano which concluded the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War and the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by which Lenin took Soviet Russia out of World War I remain important for Russia.
In an article entitled “The Hard Lessons of San Stefano,” Iskenderov, a scholar at the Institute of Slavic Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, recounts that that accord, which gave Russia so much of what it had earned on the battlefield was then vitiated by pressure from the other powers (
The 1878 agreement between the Russian and Ottoman empires created a Greater Bulgaria, secured Ottoman recognition of Romania, expanded Serbia, opened the straits, and gained Russia new territories in Bessarabia and the southern Caucasus, all Russian goals and all a product of its military success.
Indeed, Iskenderov argues, San Stefano represented a remarkable – and for the 19th century, unique -- attempt by Russian diplomatists to enshrine in a treaty what the country had achieved on the battlefield rather than defer in advance to “the will of ‘the concert of great powers’” which did not want to see any expansion of Russian power.
But not surprisingly, he continues, San Stefano frightened the European powers and led to the Anglo-Russian memorandum of May 30, 1878, which not only changed the provisions of San Stefano concerning the Balkans but also “deprived Russia of a number of important conquests in the Caucasus.”
All this continues to be relevant because of recent developments in the same two regions, Iskenderov insists. And he asks whether “once again Russian diplomacy will limit itself to thundering declarations and demarches at the start of the geopolitical came and then, citing ‘objective difficulties,’ quietly capitulate in the second round?”
Rubtsov, a Moscow commentator who writes frequently about foreign and defense policy, discusses the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, again explicitly talking about the lessons that still controversial agreement has for Russian foreign policy makers today
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That accord, in which Lenin gained a breathing space for the new Bolshevik regime at the price of turning over to Germany an enormous swatch of Russian territory with much of the country’s population and economic resources, continues to be controversial, with many arguing that it was a fundamentally anti-patriotic act.
Such conclusions may be justified at one level, Rubtsov acknowledges, but they miss two larger and more important points. On the one hand, the treaty allowed Lenin’s regime and hence the state centered on Moscow he headed to survive and ultimately recover what he gave up to the Germans under its terms.
And on the other, many very patriotic Russians at that time, including a large number of senior Russian military commanders, Rubtsov insists, also had become convinced by 1917 that Russia needed a separate peace with Germany in order to survive and thus be in a position to recover.
To this day, he writes, many do not know that in the Russian civil war that followed the Brest Treaty, “more than 600” graduates of the general staff academy – “not less than a third” of this group serving at the end of 1917 – chose to fight on the Bolshevik side.
For these tsarist officers and for Russians now, Rubtsov continues, “the historical reality is that not the autocracy and not the bourgeois [provisional] government but precisely the Bolshevik regime created the conditions for and then realized the rebirth of Great Russia.”
“As for the price which the Russian people had to pay for this [national] rebirth,” observes the Moscow analyst whose argument reflects the views of the Eurasianists in the Russian emigration of the 1920s and of the neo-Eurasianists inside Russia now, “that is already another conversation entirely.”

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