Alexander Izvolsky

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Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky
Alexander Izvolsky.jpg
Count Alexander Izvolsky
Born (1856-03-18)March 18, 1856
Moscow, Russia
Died August 16, 1919(1919-08-16) (aged 63)
Biarritz, France
Nationality Russian
Occupation Diplomat, Foreign Minister

Count Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky or Iswolsky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Петро́вич Изво́льский, 18 March [O.S. 6 March] 1856, Moscow – 16 August 1919, Paris) was a Russian diplomat remembered as a major architect of Russia's alliance with the British Empire during the years leading to the outbreak of the First World War.


Early career[edit]

Izvolsky was from an aristocratic family of Polish descent.[1] He graduated from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum in St Petersburg with honours, and shortly thereafter married Countess von Toll, from a family with far-reaching connections at court. Through these connections, he joined the Foreign Office, where he was patronized by Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky and was appointed as Russia's ambassador to the Vatican, followed by Belgrade, Munich, and Tokyo from 1899. While in Tokyo, Izvolsky urged a peaceful accommodation with the rising power of Imperial Japan over Korea and Manchuria. He assisted Japanese former Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi arrange a trip to St. Petersburg in 1902 in an effort to defuse increasing tensions. These efforts incurred the wrath of Tsar Nicholas II, and Izvolsky was transferred to Copenhagen from 1903, and from that post continued to press for a diplomatic settlement with Japan before and during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.[1] He was appointed Imperial Foreign Minister between April 1906 and November 1910.

Anglo-Russian alliance[edit]

Main article: Anglo-Russian Entente

In the wake of the disastrous Russian-Japanese War and the Russian Revolution of 1905, Izvolsky was determined to give Russia a decade of peace. He believed that it was Russia's interest to disengage from the conundrum of European politics and to concentrate on internal reforms. A constitutional monarchist, he undertook the reform and modernization of the Foreign Office.

In the realm of more practical politics, Izvolsky advocated a gradual rapprochement with Russia's traditional foes - Great Britain and Japan. He had to face vigorous opposition from several directions, notably from the public opinion and the hard-liners in the military, who demanded a revanchist war against Japan and military advance into Afghanistan. His allies in the government included Pyotr Stolypin and Vladimir Kokovtsov. He concluded the Russo-Japanese Agreement of 1907 to improve relations with Japan.[1]

Having been approached by King Edward VII during the Russo-Japanese War with a proposal of alliance, he made it a primary aim of his policy when he became Foreign Minister, feeling that Russia, weakened by the war with Japan, needed another ally besides France; this resulted in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

Bosnian crisis[edit]

Main article: Bosnian crisis

Another primary objective was to realize Russia's long-standing goal of opening (i.e., permitting free transit, without prior conditions; and in exclusive right to Russia) the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (known jointly as the "Straits") to Russian warships, giving Russia free passage to the Mediterranean and making it possible to use the Black Sea Fleet not just in the coastal defense of her Black Sea territory; but also in support of her global interests. To this end Izvolsky met with the Austrian Foreign Minister, Baron (later Count) Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, at the Moravian castle of Buchlov on September 15, 1908, and there agreed to support Austria's (purported future) annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for Austria's assent to the opening of the Straits to Russia; and to support such an opening, at any subsequent diplomatic conference.

After their meeting, Izvolsky's understanding was that these alterations of the terms of the Treaty of Berlin would only be the terms and conditions that they each (by their prior agreement) had privately made to support each other at a future conference of the powers that had signed the Berlin treaty. He was shocked and felt personally betrayed when Austria, almost immediately after their meeting, announced its annexation of Bosnia on October 6. Izvolsky, rebuffed by France and Britain in his attempt to gain support for a "Conference", at which he hoped to initiate talks about the opening of the Straits, tried unsuccessfully to have a meeting called to deal with Austria's fait accompli. Forced by German mediation (he was personally under threat to have his private discussions with Von Aehrenthall revealed) to acquiesce in the annexation and reviled by Russian pan-Slavists for "betraying" the Serbs (who felt Bosnia should be theirs), the embittered Izvolsky was eventually dismissed from office.

Later life[edit]

Upon becoming ambassador in Paris in 1910, Izvolsky devoted his energies to strengthening Russia's bonds with France and Britain and encouraging Russian rearmament. When World War I broke out, he is reputed to have remarked, "C'est ma guerre!" ("This is my war!").

After the February Revolution Izvolsky resigned but remained in Paris, where he was succeeded by Vasily Maklakov. He advocated the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and wrote a book of memoirs before his sudden death in Biarritz in August 1919.


Izvolsky married Marguerite Carlovna, née Countess Toll, a Balt of great charm whose influence at court was impeded by her ignorance of the Russian tongue. Their son fought in the Dardanelles. Their daughter Hélène Iswolsky was received into the Russian Catholic Church and became a prominent scholar, first in France and later in the United States.


Screen Portrayal[edit]

Izvolsky was depicted in the 1974 BBC mini-series Fall of Eagles. He was played by actor Peter Vaughan.


External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War, p. 167-168.
Political offices
Preceded by
Vladimir Lambsdorff
Foreign Minister of Russia
Succeeded by
Sergei Sazonov