Russo-Turkish War (1768–74)
|Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774)|
Allegory of Catherine's Victory over the Turks (1772),
by Stefano Torelli.
|Kingdom of Imereti|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Solomon I||Qaplan II Giray|
Less than 200,000At least 40,000 Kalmyk cavalry
The Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774 was a decisive conflict that brought Southern Ukraine, Crimea and the upper northwestern part of the North Caucasus within the orbit of the Russian Empire. Though the victories accrued by the Russian Empire were substantial, they gained far less territory than otherwise would be expected. The reason for this was the complex struggle within the European diplomatic system for a balance of power that was acceptable to other European leading states, rather than Russian hegemony. Russia was able to take advantage of the weakened Ottoman Empire, the end of the Seven Years' War, and the withdrawal of France as the continent's primary military power (due to financial burden and isolationism). This left the Russian Empire in a strengthened position to expand its territory but also lose temporary hegemony over the decentralized Poland. The greater Turkish losses were diplomatic in nature seeing its full decline as a threat to Christian Europe, and the beginning of the Eastern Question that would plague the continent until the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.
The war followed the external tensions within Poland. The true power behind the Polish throne was the Russian ambassador Nicholas Repnin and the Russian army, with King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski being a former favourite of the Russian Empress Catherine II. Nikolay Repnin had forcefully passed the Perpetual Treaty of 1768 between Poland and Russia. This treaty was highly contradictory to the well being of Poland and led to massive revolts by nobility, church, and peasants. In one fortified town called Bar near the Ottoman border an armed confederation was created on the 29 February 1768, led by a landed Polish noble named Casmir Pulaski. The Russian army which heavily outnumbered the confederates defeated them in the Podolia of Ukraine. On the 20th of June 1768 Russia captured the fortress of Bar and the majority of the surviving confederates fled over the Turkish border. It was easy for Repnin to suppress the revolts but he could barely keep up as they spread across the country, and Polish revolts would dog Russia throughout the war and make it impossible for Catherine II to keep control of Poland intact.
In the Ottoman Empire, revolts were widespread. Many noble factions had risen against the sultan’s power and would proceed to break away from the Ottoman Empire. In addition to this decentralization of the Empire the Ottomans were also faced with the revival of a unified Persia which rose to oppose the Turks in Iraq.
Not content to see the enemy flee over the border Russian Cossacks followed into Turkey. At the Porte Mustafa III received reports that the town of Balta had been massacred by Russian paid Cossacks. Russia denied the accusations. However the Cossacks certainly razed Balta and killed whomever they found. With both the confederates of Poland, and the French embassy pushing the sultan along, with many pro-war advisors, the sultan on Oct 6 imprisoned Aleksei Mikhailovich Obreskov, and the entire Russian embassy's staff, marking the Ottoman’s declaration of war on Russia.
At the onset of the war the Turks appeared to have several advantages on their side, among them the Russian Empire's lethargy. The Ottoman Empire had had the longest stretch of peace with Europe in its history (1747-1768). The Turkish Navy held dominance in the Black sea, giving it the advantages of having shorter supply lines. The Crimea gave the Turks military forces with which to fight the Russians. Russia had shown a complete lack of naval ability in the past so Ottomans would assume dominance on the Black Sea. It would turn out for the Ottomans that these perceived advantages were quite shallow. Though the Porte had more than two decades of peace with Europe, and Russia had faced financial ruin in the Seven Years' War the peace had fostered division, rebellion, and internal corruption in the Ottoman Empire compounded by the re-emergence of a unified Persian leadership, under Nader Shah. One clear advantage for the Ottomans was its superior numbers: the Ottoman army was three times the size of its Russian counterpart. The Russians though had been effectively destabilizing the Crimean Tartars for years causing the Ottomans' usual ally to be quite ineffective, while the Russians also used British officers to increase the effectiveness of their own navy. The Ottoman Empire would also find that its new Grand Vizier Mehmed Emin Pasha was incompetent militarily.
After her victories in the Russo-Turkish War 1768-1774, many of Catherine II's portraits had her in the military uniforms of Great Britain which was at first a willing ally to Russia’s war efforts because of the trade between the two countries. Great Britain needed bar iron for its continuing Industrial Revolution as well as many other products, such as sailcloth, hemp, and timber, for the construction and maintenance of its Navy, all of which Russia could provide. When later the fighting was dominated by the Russian Empire, Britain saw fit to limit its support, seeing Russia as a rising competitor in far eastern trade rather than a counterbalance to France’s Navy in the Mediterranean. This withdrawal of support left Russia in a superior position in the Black Sea but unable to do anything more than cut down its own supply lines and disrupt Turkish trade in the area.
In other ways Russia would prove surprising. For a long time the Ottomans had held technological superiority over Europe. In this war, it was the Turks who would be caught playing catch up. Because of the long period of peace, the Ottoman army and navy had fallen behind the military technologies of Europe. Russia’s usual lethargy had also been semi-replaced with the vast majority of their armies being concentrated on the border of the Ottoman Empire and Poland. This concentration made the initial Ottoman invasion difficult and in the end fruitless, when combined with local uprisings, superior European technology, and lack of effective Ottoman leadership.
On Sept 17, 1769 the Russians began their initial campaign over the Dneister into Moldavia. The elite Turkish Janissaries took heavy casualties from the Russians at Khotyn but managed to hold on. The rest of the Ottoman army then panicked and abandoned the field while the Russians claimed the fortress. With the Ottomans in disarray the Russians took the capital of Moldavia (Jassy) on Oct 7. They continued the advance south into Wallachia, occupying its capital Bucharest on Nov 17. From the capital of Bucharest the Russians fanned out through the principality, only later being challenged by Grand Vizier Mehmed Emin Pasha at Kagul on Aug 1, 1770. It was a disaster, with the Turks being routed. Allegedly, one third of the Ottoman forces drowned in the Danube trying to escape.
Just outside of the city of Chesme on June 24, 1770, twelve Russian ships engaged twenty-two Turkish vessels and destroyed them with the use of fire ships. This naval battle of Chesme was a shock to the Ottomans. The battle itself demoralized the Turks while sending the Russians into celebration. Catherine II used this and other victories over the Turks to solidify her reign over Russia by commissioning medals in honour of the battle and generally encouraging Russian jubilation over the outstanding naval victory. Despite their naval successes, the Russians were unable to capture Constantinople due to Ottoman fortifications, but also to British and European discouragement, and the threat of general European war.
The European Powers did not want Russia to completely defeat the Ottomans because it would destroy the balance of power and the fragile peace that war-ravaged Europe was able to maintain. In this case Prussia, Austria and Great Britain offered to mediate the dispute between Russia and the Porte out of fear of Russian expansion. Austria managed to turn the situation to its advantage by gaining physical land concessions from the Ottomans with a treaty on July 6, 1771. The Austrians would maintain the increased military presence on their border to Moldavia and Wallachia, and increase a subsidy to the cash starved Ottomans (who had been dabbling in tax farming), while also promising to support the Ottomans against Russia in some unspecified way. In turn, Catherine II, aware of the Austrian army so near her own embattled army and not wanting a general European war, did two things: first, she accepted the loss of Poland and agreed to Frederick II’s partition of the country, and second, she “secretly” agreed to return the captured principalities back to the Ottomans, thereby removing Austria’s fear of a powerful Russian Balkan neighbour. On April 8, 1772, Kaunitz, the Austrian equivalent of Minister of Foreign affairs, informed the Porte that Austria no longer considered the treaty of 1771 binding.
A ceasefire was begun between Russia and the Ottomans on May 30, 1772, but real negotiations did not begin until Aug 8. The peace talks broke down almost immediately over the Crimea, but the truce was extended until March 20, 1773. Both parties had reasons to expand the negotiations, primarily to do with both sides wanting to keep fighting on a single front. The Ottomans were now quelling rebellions from Egypt and Syria, while also facing incursions from Persia. The Russians were facing a revival of a centralized Sweden, which had undergone a coup from King Gustavus III. On June 20, 1774 The Russian army under the command of Alexander Suvorov managed to rout the Ottoman Army near Kozludzha. Russia used this victory to force Turkey to acquiesce to Russia’s preferences in the treaty.
Minor fighting in the east
By this time Russia had a few troops spread out north of the Caucasus. In 1769 as a diversion they sent Gottlieb Heinrich Totleben south into Georgia. He besieged Poti on the Black Sea coast, the affair was mismanaged and Russian troops were withdrawn in the spring of 1772. This was the first time Russian troops had crossed the Caucasus. On the steppes north of the mountains the later-famous Matvei Platov and 2000 men fought 25000 Turks and Crimeans. The Cossack village of Naur was heroically defended against 8000 Turks and tribesmen.
On July 21, 1774, the Ottoman Empire had to sign perforce the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. The treaty did not overtly take away vast territories from the Ottomans - Poland had already paid the price of alienated territory. According to the treaty:
- the Crimean Khanate formally gained its independence (but in reality became dependent on Russia)
- Russia received war reparations of 4.5 million rubles
- Turkey ceded to Russia two key seaports, Azov and Kerch, allowing the Russian Navy and merchant fleet direct access to the Black Sea
- Russia gained the territory between the rivers Dnieper and Southern Bug
- the Porte renounced Ottoman claims to Kabarda in the North Caucasus
- Russia gained official status as protector of the Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire, which opened the door for future Russian expansion
Russia quickly exploited Küçük Kaynarca for an easy excuse to go to war and take more territory from the Ottoman Empire.
This war comprised but a small part of the continuous process of expansion of the Russian Empire southwards and eastwards during the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Kalmykia in Russia's past and present national policies and administrative ..., Konstantin Nikolaevich Maksimov, page 106, 2008
- Schroeder, Paul W. (1994). The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0198221193.
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- Jan Stanislaw Kopczewski, “Kosckiuszko and Pulaski”, Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, Pg. 85
- Jan Stanislaw Kopczewski, “Kosckiuszko and Pulaski”, Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, Pg. 87
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- Sicker, Martin, “The Islamic World in Decline”, Westport, Connecticut London: Praeger, Pg 69-70
- Sicker, Martin, “The Islamic World in Decline”, Westport, Connecticut London: Praeger, Pg 100.
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- Sicker, Martin, “The Islamic World in Decline”, Westport, Connecticut London: Praeger, Pg 70
- Carolly Erickson, “Great Catherine”, New York: Crown Publishers, Pg 277
- Russian Overseas Commerce with Great Britain Pg 3
- Jay Shaw Stanford, “History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey” Cambridge University Press, Pg 2
- Carolly Erickson, “Great Catherine”, New York: Crown Publishers, Pg 2
- Sicker, Martin, “The Islamic World in Decline”, Westport, Connecticut London: Praeger, Pg
- Russian Overseas Commerce With Great Britain During the Reign of Catherine II
- Herbert H. Kaplan, “The First Partition of Poland”, New York and London: Columbia University Press, Pg. 119-120. The Birth of a Great Power System P
- Jay Shaw Stanford, “History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey” Cambridge University Press, Pg 283. Jay Shaw Stanford, “History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey” Cambridge University Press, Pg 89
- Sicker, Martin, “The Islamic World in Decline”, Westport, Connecticut London: Praeger, Pg 73-
- Baddeley, Russian Conquest of the Caucasus, Chapter II
- The Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774 and the Treaty of Kuciuk-Kainargi at historia.ro (Romanian)
- Schroeder, Paul W. (1994). The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198221193.