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By: Kirsten Smith

OCTOBER 28, 2013


The Great Game, a phrase coined to describe the race between two competing empires with a desire to secure and maintain their frequently, expanding borders. Russia in the North and British-occupied India in the South set the scene for a contest to explore and uncover new routes through Central Asia that would lead to new territory, trade markets, and war. But is there another body of territory that can influence the outcome surrounding the tournament of shadows? What of the rapidly declining Ottoman Empire? Once a prosperous imperial power, the Ottomans were on the verge of complete upheaval, making them vulnerable to their domination and conquer. Russia and Great Britain were rival powers with parallel goals. These goals were to protect their current status and economic power in the world and to prevent any other nation from threatening their national interests. From Napoleons conquests in Europe to the Crimean War in the Black Sea, the answer for the Eastern Question in the Great Game was relentlessly fought for in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Russians, before the Napoleonic Wars, despite few confrontations, were considered by most Britains to be natural allies. How did the Anglo-Russian relations in the early1800s deteriorate so much that negotiations and compromises could not be reached to prevent further hostilities? Many leaders, before Napoleon Bonaparte, had set their covetous gaze upon Indias vast economic wealth, but now that the East India Company controlled the majority of Indias ports and water ways, so they were responsible for its protection. When Napoleon amassed his army on Egypts shore and his intentions for India were made public, chaos in London and Calcutta ensued. Potential invasion routes that he might take by land or sea were questioned as the English deliberated the results of Forward Policy and Masterly Inactivity. Constantly throughout the history of the Great Game these two opposing policies are debated amongst the two predominant parties in Great Britain, the Whigs and the Tories. Lord Wellesley, Governor

General and strong advocator of forward policy, took this growing fear in both London and India as an opportunity for expanding English influence throughout the rest of the modern India we know today.1 Napoleon was not alone in planning his conquer of Great Britains crown and jewel, he enlisted the help of Paul I, a misguided and emotionally driven leader, and later after Pauls death, Alexander II. The joint venture between Russia and France can be traced to the distrust developed by Tsar Paul I towards London. He was so paranoid he formed a coalition of European states against the English and all of English prospects. As relations between London and Russia deteriorated the stronger the Russian and French alliance became, due to their similar animosity for the British. But Napoleons power grew, as he was to crown himself Emperor of France, becoming a threat to Russia as well. An alliance was formed against Napoleon, between Russia and Britain, which would mark the beginning of a downward progression to empirical adversaries. The Napoleonic Wars are important in revealing the dissimilarities between the Russian and British Empire that result in many miscommunications and misinterpretations by each government. Critical distinctions between these two vast empires are how they acquire new territory, reign over foreign regions, and govern their nation. English expansion throughout the world was driven by trade and resources. Great Britain would enter an area with the purpose of establishing ports and factories, colonizing or occupying the nation was secondary. Russias expansion was mostly naturalistic, the cause of an unstable frontier and peasants searching for more land. Hence, the Russian empire was continuous and Britains Empire was scattered. It is

Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, (New York, NY: Kodansha America, LLC, 1992), chap. 1-22.

believed by some historians that the Russian Empire was destined to expand southward towards Central Asia and India eventually, despite British interests. More importantly, a common theme in the Great Game are the disadvantages the English government experience with a constitutional monarchy, which is more susceptible to foreign policy changes, while Russias autocracy prevented policy disruptions. These foreign policies in Great Britain are incessantly debated between the East India Company, who supported forward policy, and London, who dithered between Forward and Masterly Inactivity depending on who was in office. These technicalities occasionally create sour relations between London and Calcutta that result in unintentional blunders by both factions. 2 In reaction to Napoleon, the British in India realized they were vulnerable to an outside attack, due to what was little known about Indias neighboring states through which an aggressor would need to confront to reach their borders. It became necessary to discover invasion routes and establish positive relationships with the, usually considered tyrannical and despotic, rulers of the Orient. In the summer of 1800, Captain John Malcolm, a fluent Persian speaker, was sent to Teheran with luxurious gifts to win the friendship of the Shah in Persia. Malcolm was able to form a defensive treaty with the Shah that assured no French attack on India via Persia, or an Afghan attack on India, as long as Britain supplied Persia with weapons if either the French or Afghans attacked the Shahs domains. This arrangement did not last long, for shortly after this mission Persia was threatened by the Russians in the Caucasus and looked to the English for aid. The English did not agree to protect Persia from Russia and were not willing to risk their alliance with Tsar Alexander. Taking advantage of the poor relations now existing between the

John W. Strong, "Russia's Plans for an Invasion of India in 1801," Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol. 9 (1964): pp. (114-126),

Shah and London, on May 4, 1807, Napoleon established a treaty that would allow the French easy access to Indias frontier and the management of Persias military. Persia was important for the protection of British India because it was thought by many Forward Policy supporters as an essential buffer state. The goal of many negotiations between Britain and the khanates of Central Asia was to acquire alliances that would shield British interests in India. The British also needed geographical and military information that lay behind the borders of these unwelcoming countries. After news of a secret meeting held between the Tsar and Napoleon, deciding to divide their conquests between the two nations, for many fortunate and unfortunate British officers, the Great Game began. London wasnt the only to react to this unwanted alliance, Persia as well had trusted the French to protect them against Russian invasion but now it was clear the French were in no position to do so. Luckily, this gave Britain the opportunity to rekindle their good relations with the Shah and institute a new treaty that would help protect India and Persia. Thus, secret agents were deployed, among the first being Captain Charles Christie and Lieutenant Henry Pottinger of the 5th Bombay Native Infantry. These two men were on a reconnaissance mission in Persia, sent by General Malcolm. Their findings would be used in later assessments of possible enemy routes through Persia. Napoleons infamous invasion of Russia in 1812 was unexpected as it was relieving for British India who felt considerable pressure from the French forces. The news of Napoleons defeat was unbelievable to the British government and all suspicions and hard-feelings that ever existed between them and Russia were temporarily forgotten as Europe celebrated the bravery and heroism of the Russian Cossacks. Russophilia dominated British sentiment and media.

Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, (New York, NY: Kodansha America, LLC, 1992), chap. 1-22.

In Russia, they had agents of their own, they wanted to expand their trade to the markets of Central Asia and intended to increase Russian influence throughout the region. To begin, Khiva was of great significance to both the Russian and English governments. This khanate was important because of its advantageous location to India and its ability to sustain an army of considerable size. The Khan of Khiva was known as a ruthless tyrant that was responsible for the notorious 1717 Expedition that led to the death and enslavement of an entire Russian force. Almost a century later, in 1819, this was the very place that Nicholai Muraviev was being sent. His objective was to secure an alliance and open Russian trade to the Khanate, but more importantly he was to secretly observe and note everything about Khivas defenses and economy. Thankfully Muraviev was able to seek the Khans presence and successfully relay the information that would establish the desirable Russian-Khivan agreement that would result in further trade. One other factor that would play a role in the Great Game pertaining to Muravievs mission was his confirmation that there was a strong presence of Russian people that had been sold into slavery by the Khirgiz tribes. This was to be used later as a justification for further Russian expansion and interference in parts of Central Asia. 4 Popular sentiment in Great Britain, after the Napoleonic Wars, was in support of the brave Russian Cossack, but there were some that were ardently against Russian policy and believed that Russia had intentions for India detrimental to British interests. Sir Robert Wilson, William Moorcroft, and Sir John MacDonald Kinneir were among the first public Russophobes that were in support of Forward Policy in India. Although Russia was the reason for Napoleons demise they were still fighting wars in the Caucasus that later would incite cause for alarm in London. In his missions to Bokhara, William Moorcroft uncovered that the Russians were

A. Lobanov-Rostovsky, "Russia Imperialism in Asia. Its Origin, Evolution, and Character," The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 8, no. No. 22 (1929): pp. (28-47),

already opening trade to the tribes and Khanates in the area. He was convinced that soon Russian soldiers would be accompanying these caravans, preparing for the inevitable annexation that would ensue. Russia and London both new that the Great Game was as much about commercial development as it was military and political expansion (Hopkirk, The Great Game, 102) After Russias victory in Vienna, they were still in battle elsewhere. In 1828, they had finally defeated the Persians in obtaining Armenia and established trade envoys that could move freely within Persia, all awarded to them in the Treaty of Turkmenchay. This exacerbated the already tense attitudes felt by the English who were called upon by their Persian allies once again for aid. Sadly, the English were not willing to tangle with their Russian ally despite the warnings of the Russophobes, who still held the minority. The English found an escape clause in their treaty with the Shah that stated they would only help if Persia was attacked not if Persia was the aggressor. The Shah understood this betrayal as a sign of fear of the Russians and so he replaced the protection of the English with the protection of Russians, the seemingly more powerful or menacing of the two. 5 Since the beginning of Greek Revolution, Russia had been very interested in events concerning the Ottoman Empire. The Russians claimed they were coming to the aid of their fellow Christian Orthodox Greeks that were being oppressed by Muslim rule, but it was perceived by some people in London and Calcutta as ambitions for the Black Sea. The RussoTurkish War that ended in Russias annexation of the Crimea added suspicions to Russian intents, but after the Russo-Persian War, which resulted in the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, it confirmed Londons fears: If Constantinople fell to Nicholas I and the Turkish Straits became David Fromkin, "The Great Game in Asia," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 58, no. No. 4 (1980): pp. (936-951),

Russian Straits the naval routes to India would be free for a certain attack. Fortunately, Nicholas stopped short of the Turkish capital, too concerned with the geopolitical consequences that would follow. Instead he traded this guaranteed victory for free access to the straits and free trade within all of the Ottoman Empire. These consecutive successes for Russia in Persia and the Ottoman Empire greatly distressed diplomats in Calcutta for the Turkish Straits were the main routes of trade and communication between London and India. Being that the British Empire was strewn across the world they were the worlds greatest naval power, but since Peter the Grea, the Russian army had grown to be the strongest land force in the world. Russia had the advantage because their continuous empire and its proximity to the areas of major significance in the Great Game gave the Russians the upper hand in supplying and maintaining relations that the English needed for buffer states and trade access.6 As more intelligence about their neighboring states around British India were uncovered, the more the English realized the importance of Afghanistan through which an invasion force from either Russias Western point in the Caucasus or Northern point in Orenburg would need to travel before reaching India. Lieutenant Arthur Connollys mission would acknowledge the issue of Afghanistans division into factions which would be easier for the Russians to bribe and then slowly make their way through the country. This could not be allowed and it was decided that the Afghans should be united under one ruler that had interests parallel to Britains. This would be achieved by supplying the Afghan leaders and chiefs with British goods and merchandise that would hopefully surpass those of the Russians who were dominating the bazaars. It was the task

Philip Pomper, "The History and Theory of Empires,"History and Theory, Vol.44, no. No. 4 (2005): pp. (1-27),

of Alexander Bokhara Burnes to transport these gifts to the king of the Punjab region, Ranjit Singh, up the Indus River. But ultimately, he was to secretly survey the land and the river. Burnes mission provided Britain with the information needed to hopefully secure Afghanistan and its rival kingdom of the Sikh, with rulers that were compliant with English desires. 7 During the 1830s, Anglo-Russian relations continued to worsen. Due to the unwillingness to confront Russia or to provoke hostile affairs with their Eastern ally, the English were slowly losing their stronghold in Constantinople. Thanks to quick action and support when the Sultan called for aid, the Russians obtained a treaty that put them in direct contact with the Straits and increased Russias status to something similar to a protectorate. This was perceived in Britain as blatant intentions for the Straits that would eventually lead to the attack on British India. Tsar Nicholass control of the Caucasus was almost complete except for two territories: Circassia and Daghestan, which would cost him a considerable amount of men and resources, and any support for Russian policy left in London. David Urquhart, passionate Turcophile and committed Russophobe, was responsible for much of Great Britains change of sentiment in the media in the late 1830s. Urquhart will immortalize the Circassian cause and launch a campaign against Lord Palmerston, foreign secretary, who was reluctant to incite conflict between Britain and Russia. Palmerston was still uncertain that Russian motives were threatening to British interests due to the information given to him by Lord Durham, the British ambassador in St. Petersburg. Lord Durham believed that Russias movements were defensive and not a result of greedy expansion because Russia did not have the mean nor the strength for unnecessary expenditures. The English were still unaware of the major efforts going to the Kenesary

Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, (New York, NY: Kodansha America, LLC, 1992), chap. 1-22.

Kasymov rebellion along the Kazakh frontier, but Lord Durhams proclamations were mostly likely ignored, as ambassadors were regarded as biased. The Siege of Herat, in 1838, caused much consternation in London and Calcutta for if Herat were to fall under Persian control and Russian sway, the rest of Afghanistan then India would likely follow. Luckily, the siege was unsuccessful, but it did cause alarm in Kabul. News of a meeting between the Russians and Dost Muhammad of Kabul, a supposed British ally, brought hasty reactions that would lead to the beginning of the first Anglo-Afghan War. The English, in fear of a Russo-Afghan alliance decided to overthrow Dost Muhammad and place a yielding ruler of their choice on the throne. The exiled ruler, Shah Shujah, was chosen and proclaimed the rightful King of Kabul that would unite all of Afghanistan. It was a popular belief that the Afghan people were supportive of Shujah and were tired of Dost Muhammads tyrannical rule. In 1842, this attempt to replace Muhammad resulted in a revolt and the killing of Shah Shujah and Alexander Burnes. The gains made by the Russians in the Ottoman Empire and Caucasus had an immediate effect on English politics and resulted in many costly mistakes. Sentiment in London and Calcutta increasingly began leaning towards Forward Policy. Russophobia was prevalent as the Russian threat seemed obvious by the late 1830s. The British made compulsive reactions regarding the first Anglo-Afghan War, which exposed their ignorance to Central Asian politics and the illusions of their own power and influence. The Straits in Turkey and the routes through Afghanistan were considered the most important places that were needed for the protection of British India. These places were also geographically adjacent to Russia whom naturally held national interests of her own in these regions. Russia was not blind to the English attempts in establishing trade in Central Asia. Russia was beginning to feel the effects of their newest trade

rival in the Orient and Imperialistic contention arose. (Lobanov-Rostovsky 1929) These two empires both felt that their territory was being encroached upon and this insecurity is what led to the expansion of Russia and the expansion of India, especially the British annexation of Sindh, in 1843. A theme in the Great Game that would add to the drama in London and the media was the exaggerations of war heroes or Russian adversaries and despotic rulers. Imam Shamyls war in the Caucasus earned him popularity in England as the noble savage fighting for his freedom. Similar sentiment towards the Circassians is proof of the difference in the social structure of the Russian and British Empires. London was a liberal, enlightened capital that encouraged freedom of speech and press, while the autocracy in Russia struggled with serfdom and government censorship. The pressure of public opinion in Great Britain controlled government decisions. The critical misunderstandings that plagued Anglo-Russian relations was the outcome of failed attempts to understand the political dynamics and philosophies in each empire. These differences were intensified at the onset of the 1848 Revolutions. When Nicholas I took the throne in 1825, his rule was immediately challenged by the Decembrist revolt that would haunt his decisions for the rest of his reign. Many of the 1848 revolutions took place very close to the Russian border, so Nicholas I would assist neighboring countries to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas in Russia. Russia is a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation that can be very susceptible to uprisings if notions of Pan-Slavism and other pan-movements infiltrate Russian borders. A similar fear was produced in Britain towards Russian Expansion. David


Fromkin in The Great Game of Russia explains the the English worry that Russian expansion might induce uprisings amongst Indian colonials for Independence from Great Britain. 8 The consequences of the events characterizing the 1830 and 1840s resulted in the practice of Masterly Inactivity by the British in Central Asia and the Crimean War. The Crimean War was the epic clash between the Great Game and The Eastern Question. In 1853, Russia declared war on the Ottomans with the pretext that they were protecting the rights of Eastern Orthodox Christians residing there. The English did not believe this vindication that had been used on several other occasions before. Thus, the war to keep Russia from gaining more territory was fought between the Ottomans, Russia, Great Britain, and the French, which finally resulted in the protection of Turkey from Russian rule and the neutralization of the Black Sea. Since the Napoleonic era, tensions between Imperial Russia and Great Britain intensified to the point where the several wars fought by both countries did not solve the underlying issue of the Great Game and the Eastern Question. The political, geographical, and social differences between the two empires fostered a hatred and rivalry that saturated every order given in Central Asia, Caucasus, and Turkey. For hope of national security, the British tried to create buffer states between her territory and Russias, but Russias unstable frontier led her to expand closer to the threatened Indian colony. Strangely, the goals of both nations were similar yet the methods by which it was achieved varied due to the diversities of each Empire. History is interpretation, but in relation to the Great Game, it is misinterpretation.

David Fromkin, "The Great Game in Asia," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 58, no. No. 4 (1980): pp. (936-951),


Bibliography Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York, NY: Kodansha America, LLC, 1992. Fromkin, David. "The Great Game in Asia." Foreign Affairs. No. 4 (1980): pp. (936951). Orrliff, Alexis; Pahlen J; Diebitsch Zabalkansk Treaty of Peace between Russia and Turkey; Niles' Weekly Register (1814-1837); Nov 21, 1829; 37, 949; American Periodicals pg. 200 Strong, John W. "Russia's Plans for an Invasion of India in 1801." Canadian Slavonic Papers. (1964): pp. (114-126). Lobanov-Rostovsky, A. "Russia Imperialism in Asia. Its Origin, Evolution, and Character." The Slavonic and East European Review. No. 22 (1929): pp. (28-47). Pomper, Philip. "The History and Theory of Empires."History and Theory. no. No. 4 (2005): pp. (1-27).