Changes in the Diplomatic Measures of the Russian Empire in the Balkans after the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji (1774)

Katalin Schrek
University of Debrecen
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 12 Issue 2  (2023):3–36 DOI 10.38145/2023.2.310

In the last third of the eighteenth century, the foreign policy of the Russian Empire was oriented towards the Ottoman Empire and, as part of it, towards the Balkans and the Black Sea region. The aspirations of Russian foreign policy under Catherine II were shaped not only by the weakening of the government in Constantinople and the acquisition of new territories, but also by the creation of Russian economic, cultural, and political presence in southeastern Europe. The creation of official diplomatic representations was one of the main tools used by Russia to establish its presence in the Balkans.

The establishment of permanent embassies and the creation of the necessary political and infrastructural background became a decisive segment in the development of European diplomacy from the Peace of Westphalia to the Napoleonic Wars. The steps taken by the government in St. Petersburg with the creation of permanent embassies in the leading European courts were in line with the abovementioned trend, but while this kind of “catching up” process gradually moved towards Central and Western Europe, Russia applied a completely different set of conditions to maintain diplomatic relations in the case of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman diplomacy operated as a “one-sided diplomatic relation”: there were permanent Russian envoys at the Constantinople court, but no representatives were delegated by the Porte to St. Petersburg. Russia had to adapt to this special situation in the eighteenth century. This closed system was broken by the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji, which closed the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774 and included a clause according to which Russia had the right to establish consulates in the Ottoman Empire and thus in the Balkans, a key area.
The other key element of the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji was the right of the reigning Russian tsar to be the protector of Christians in the Ottoman Empire, which was also fixed in this agreement. The “authority” acquired at this time was not unprecedented, as the Porte had acceded to such requests in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through capitulations with other states (such as France, Austria, or the Venetian Republic), thus establishing the “protégé” system. At the same time, the Russian government took the protection of Christians under the jurisdiction of the Porte to a new level and made it an integral part of its foreign policy. In my study, I examine how the Russian Empire applied the results of the Peace of Kuchuk Kainardji to diplomatic advocacy in the Balkans.

Keywords: Russian diplomacy, Ottoman Empire, eighteenth century, Balkan relations, Treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji, diplomatic service

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