Quotulatiousness

September 20, 2014

Russian air activity rises significantly

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

It may just be a co-incidence (or it may be that these intrusions happen all the time but are only occasionally reported), but I fired up my Twitter client this morning, these entries were almost consecutive in my Military list:

Update: CNN talks to a White House military representative about the US and Canadian intercepts.

Two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers, a statement from NORAD said. The Russian planes flew in a loop and returned toward Russia.

Two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Beaufort Sea, the statement said.

Though the planes did not enter sovereign territory, the statement said, they did enter the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone west of Alaska and the Canadian ADIZ, according to a statement.

The ADIZ is a zone of airspace which extends approximately 200 miles from the coastline and is mainly within international airspace, according to the statement. The outer limits of the ADIZ go beyond U.S. sovereign air space.

September 16, 2014

Unexpectedly thick ice holding back Arctic shipping

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:30

Girija Shettar reports on the delays to planned transits of the Northern Sea Route through the Russian Arctic:

Northern Sea Route (PA photo via IHS Maritime 360)

Northern Sea Route (PA photo via IHS Maritime 360)

No transits through the Northern Sea Route (NSR) have been completed so far this year, which could bring the route’s long-term viability into question, experts have told IHS Maritime.

NSR Administration has given permission for 577 transits, but vessels navigating the NSR water area total only 99, with no completed voyages. NSR transits usually start in July and run until November.

Last year, 71 vessels transited the NSR, starting at the end of June, with the last transit at the end of November.

[...]

“We are two months late compared to 2012 and many planned cargo and passenger transits are currently being cancelled,” he said. “There’s too much ice and it seems that the Arctic ice extent will reach a decennial record high this year. I expect this will generate scepticism on the future economic viability of the route and the related investments already announced by the Arctic littoral countries.”

September 13, 2014

Ukraine’s PM – “We are still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation”

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:26

In the Guardian, Martin Williams reports on the situation in eastern Ukraine:

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wants to destroy Ukraine as an independent country and resurrect the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk has said.

Yatseniuk told a conference of European politicians his country was “in a stage of war” with Russia, as renewed clashes broke out between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels in the east and Moscow sent a second convoy of trucks into Ukraine without Kiev’s consent.

Continuous rocketfire could be heard overnight in the eastern city of Donetsk. The city council said shells had hit residential buildings near the airport, although no casualties were reported.

Ukraine’s military said it had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the government-held Donetsk airport. But a column of three Russian multiple rocket launchers was seen moving freely through the rebel-held city on Saturday morning.

Speaking at a conference in Kiev attended by European and Ukrainian politicians and business leaders, Yatseniuk praised the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow. He said: “We are still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation … Putin wants another frozen conflict [in eastern Ukraine].

“His aim is not just to take Donetsk and Lugansk. His goal is to take the entire Ukraine … Russia is a threat to the global order and to the security of Europe.”

September 9, 2014

Russian FSB lured Estonian official into a trap

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:26

In the Guardian, Julian Borger updates the situation in Estonia after the kidnapping of Eston Kohver by Russian forces:

The Estonian intelligence official seized by Russia thought he was going to meet an informant in a secluded spot on the border as part of an organised crime investigation but instead walked into an FSB trap, according to Estonian security sources.

Eston Kohver went to the arranged meeting at 9am on Friday in woodland near the village of Miikse, about five miles north of the official Luhamaa border post. He had armed backup in the form of Estonian security officers nearby but they were unable to react in time because of the use of flash grenades and because their communications were jammed.

By the time they realised what has happening, Kohver had been dragged into the woods on the Russian side of the border by a group of gunmen.

Kohver is now in Moscow where he is awaiting formal charges. Russian media have suggested he could be accused of spying; a pistol, a recording device and €5,000 in cash were displayed on Russian television as evidence.

Estonian security sources confirmed that all the items were Kohver’s but said it was entirely routine for him to be carrying them. The recording device and the cash were intended for the informant he thought he would be meeting.

The Russian-Ukrainian War

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:16

Paul Goble summarizes Konstantin Gaaze’s ten questions and answers about the war between Russia and Ukraine:

Gaaze’s first question is “Why did we (they) act as we (they) did with them (us)?” His answer: “President Putin considers that the Ukrainian state exists only because he agrees to its existence.” Consequently, “Moscow has acted from the false hypothesis that ‘Ukraine is not a state,’” something for which several thousand people have already paid with their lives.

But Kiev, the Moscow writer says, has also operated from a false hypothesis.” Ukrainian leaders believed that “Russia will not provide essential assistance to the local uprising in the east of Ukraine because it is intimidated by Western sanctions.” But Moscow isn’t, and it has intervened. Consequently, Ukraine has had to fight, and many have suffered as well.

His second question is “What has been obtained and how did the war end?” In Gaaze’s view, “the east of Ukraine belongs to people whose names we in fact do not know. Kiev has lost part of its territory but forever have been marginalized the future of the non-existence Novorossiya.”

“It will never become part of Russia,” Gaaze says, but “in the near term, it will not be part of Ukraine either. Millions of people thus are condemned to live in an enormous Transdniestria, to live between two armies, one of which (the Russian) is committed to destroy the other (the Ukrainian).” The first is only waiting for the order to do so.

Gaaze’s third question is this: “Was Putin fighting with Ukraine or with the West?” the answer is with both, but the results are different. “Kiev did not lose the war, but it did not win it either. The West,” in contrast, “lost the first round of the new Cold War. Moscow did what it wanted,” while the West did not act decisively because of various fears about the future.

“But the first round of the cold war is not the entire war,” Gaaze says. The West can recover. NATO can rearm. “There will be other rounds,” and Russia “will not be able to win them.”

September 7, 2014

Combat situation in Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

Current situation map released on Twitter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine:

Ukraine situation 20140907

September 6, 2014

Estonian intelligence official kidnapped by Russian FSB

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

Russia appears to be willing to test the patience of all of its European neighbours, as Estonia lodges a formal complaint that one of their intelligence officers has been captured by Russian FSB troops on Estonian territory:

A strange incident near the Russian-Estonian border on Friday ended with an Estonian intelligence officer in Russian custody and the two countries trading sharply contradictory allegations about what happened.

Estonia’s president and prime minister, among other officials, said the officer had been kidnapped at gunpoint from their territory and forced across the border in a blatant violation of sovereignty. The Russian Federal Security Service said the officer was in Russia and engaged in a clandestine operation when he was detained.

The episode threatened to heighten tensions between Russia and the NATO alliance, to which Estonia belongs, at a time when relations are already severely strained over the conflict in Ukraine. It came just two days after President Obama gave a speech in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, pledging that NATO would defend the Baltics against Russian aggression and suggesting that any attack on them would lead to war with the West.

Although the intelligence officer was apparently detained around 9 a.m., the Russian security service, known as the F.S.B., did not acknowledge the incident until Friday evening, when it issued a statement to three Russian news agencies.

Senior Estonian officials, including the director of the country’s Internal Security Service, held a news conference in the late afternoon, saying the officer had been abducted after unknown assailants set off a stun grenade and jammed communication signals. At the time of his capture, the officer was investigating a criminal case in the area of Luhamaa, Estonia, a little more than a mile from the border with Russia, officials said, according to Estonian news reports.

Update, 7 September: The Interpreter‘s Ukraine Liveblog included this information today.

Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer who was, according to Estonia, abducted and taken across the border to Russia yesterday, has appeared in Moscow, where he is being detained. The Estonian authorities reported that smoke grenades were used and that there were signs of a violent struggle. In addition, it was reported that communications signals in the area were jammed at the time of the reported abduction.

Meanwhile the FSB claimed yesterday that Kohver had been arrested on Russian territory, in the Pskov region.

Interfax reports that Russia’s state-owned Channel One announced today that the Lefortovo Court has approved Kohver’s detention on suspicion of espionage.

Here is video from Russia’s Ruptly news agency showing Kohver being taken out of a car and into a pre-trial detention centre (known in Russia as SIZO). The footage also shows a display of the items that the FSB has claimed that were found on Kohver including 5,000 euros in cash and a Taurus pistol.

September 5, 2014

In international affairs, perceptions matter a lot

Filed under: Europe, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:07

In today’s Goldberg File email (update: now available online here), Jonah Goldberg talks about the problem President Obama faces on the international stage:

… the Obama administration has wittingly or unwittingly sent the signal that our reign as the enforcer of the Pax Americana is over. Or, less starkly, we have sent the signal that it might be over. This is an important distinction. When it comes to power politics, perception matters as much as reality. Vladimir Putin, the Chinese Politburo, the Islamic State, Assad, the Iranians, Solomon Grundy, the stinking Diaz Brothers, Simon Bar Sinister, and that sweet-smelling cloud that steals your hemoglobin are all going to test America and the system around it to see how much they can get away with. It’s like Gandhi’s famous advice about going to prison. “On the first day, find the biggest, meanest-looking MoFo you can and beat the crap out of him. That will send the signal no one should mess with you.” (“Um, are you sure that was Gandhi? Remember Aristotle’s warning: ‘Some quotations on the Internet are unreliable.'” — The Couch).

The reason this is such a dangerous moment is that the mere act of testing the system encourages others to test it as well. In prison, when you’re a pushover for one guy, everyone gets the idea that they can take the apple brown betty off your lunch tray. It’s also how riots and lootings start. One person smashes a window on the hunch he can get away with it. Others watch. When nothing happens to the smasher, the idea becomes contagious.

This gets us to the heart of the damage Barack Obama has done. A superpower can cruise on perception for a very long time. Perception is relatively inexpensive. Sure, you gotta float some ships around. Yeah, you might have to run some military exercises. But as long as people think you’re sustaining a Pax Americana you are, in fact, sustaining a Pax Americana. But once you let that perception waver, you’re suddenly faced with a terrible set of choices. You can’t tell the world you’re still in charge, you have to show them. If you just talk about red lines and then do nothing to enforce them, further talk becomes worse than useless, it becomes provocative. If you opt to demonstrate your power, you risk failing and confirming weakness. You also risk a horrible escalation as the bad actors respond not with surrender but with even more testing. Does anyone think Putin would be the first to blink at this point if Obama sent troops to Ukraine?

Obama could do everything right starting today (Stop laughing!) and in a sense it would still be too late. It’s always more expensive to put down a riot than to prevent it. And it’s not entirely clear to me that the American people are willing to pay that price right now. It’s much clearer that this president has no interest in asking them to.

NATO – “they spent all their money on buying Ferraris and now they have no gas money”

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

Philip Ewing reports on the chances of improved military “readiness” among the NATO allies:

With President Barack Obama in Europe this week for a major NATO summit, the White House hopes the growl of the Russian bear on Europe’s eastern flank means the moment is right for some long-sought reforms to the alliance. But the outlook appears dim for anything beyond incremental steps at best.

The major reason is one that has frustrated policymakers over the past several administrations: Most European nations would love a stouter defense structure — so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization requires that member nations devote at least 2 percent of their economies to defense spending, yet today only four do: the U.S., Britain, Greece and Estonia. Although this week’s summit in Wales appears likely to yield a “pledge” in support of increased spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, no one expects a serious effort from members other than those most directly threatened, including Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

[...]

Obama and U.S. officials also are focused on bolstering European military “readiness,” particularly as U.S. spending declines. NATO relies on the U.S. for critical military capabilities such as surveillance, in-flight refueling and transportation. European militaries field top-rate troops, ships and aircraft but keep only weeks’ or even days’ worth of munitions on hand. In NATO’s 2011 campaign against Libya, many nations ran out of munitions and the French began dropping concrete bombs.

“It’s sort of like they spent all their money on buying Ferraris and now they have no gas money,” Benitez said. “There are many allies that literally aren’t flying their planes because they can’t afford to. They have very advanced fleets, but their fleets aren’t leaving port because they can’t afford to.”

September 4, 2014

“David Cameron mouths foolish nothings” while “Obama … resembles a spineless invertebrate”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

Historian Max Hastings pours out the scorn toward British PM David Cameron and American President Barack Obama for their dithering and unwillingness to grapple with real world problems like the invasion of Ukraine and the rise of ISIS:

Suddenly, the world seems a frightening place. The beheading of a second American hostage by jihadist fanatics and the threat that a British aid worker will suffer the same fate has shocked the peoples of the West, as have few events since the Cold War.

We are uncertain how the Western Powers should respond.

At such moments, we turn to our national leaders for wisdom, reassurance and decision. Instead, we get posturing, dithering and waffle.

David Cameron mouths foolish nothings, proclaiming that Britain would commit ‘all the assets we have’, including our ‘military prowess’ against the Muslim extremists.

More serious, the President of the United States seems supine in the face of the gravest threats to international order in a generation.

Barack Obama boldly strides golf course fairways, while apparently washing his hands of the job the American people — and, by association, the civilised world — pay him for: to strive to lead us into the paths of righteousness.

To borrow P. G. Wodehouse’s phrase, however intelligent Obama may be, he resembles a spineless invertebrate.

Update: Speaking of scorn, here’s Jonah Goldberg yesterday (H/T to Jim Geraghty for the link).

This was always nonsense, but then again so much of the hype about Obama in the early days of his presidency was nonsensical. Still it does contribute to the poignancy of the moment. I’m referring specifically to the Islamic State and their celebration of slavery. MEMRI has excerpts of Facebook chats between British and French supporters of the group as they discuss the great news that you can buy Yazidi women as sex slaves.

[...]

It’s also worth noting that the president has done everything he can to claim that his domestic political opponents are engaged in a “war on women.” He won an election largely because he convinced enough women — and pliant journalists — to take this bilge seriously. Just this week the head of his party went on at great length to claim that the Republican governor of Wisconsin has been “giving women the back of his hand.”

Oh, and let us not forget, the president and his supporters work very hard to paint their domestic political opponents as religious extremists because some private businesses and religious groups don’t want to pay for procedures that violate their conscience.

Now compare this to the people who are celebrating the fact their faith allows them to enslave women.

Just think about it for a moment. The president surely knows about this. His administration surely knows about this. And yet, the president — this modern incarnation of Lincoln, protector of women and opponent of domestic religious extremism — defines his goal for the Islamic State as reducing it to a “manageable problem.” Does this mean that if the group renounces any designs on attacking the U.S. homeland (an impossibility given the tenets of their faith and ambition for a global caliphate) he will stand by as they continue to barter women as sex slaves and breeders? This is the same man who campaigned in Berlin as a “citizen of the world” and champion of global community.

Forgive me, but the term, “Lincolnesque” doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

September 3, 2014

A full agenda at this weekend’s NATO summit

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour says that the upcoming NATO summit is a sign that with all the tension around the world, this is the most relevant the organization has been in decades:

The last time the UK hosted a Nato summit was in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the cold war was coming to an end, and the alliance was questioning its relevance in a multipolar world where soft power might count more than hard power. The old chestnut about Nato’s purpose voiced by the first Nato secretary general, Lord Ismay — “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in” — looked hopelessly anachronistic. Russia famously had become a country with which the west felt it could do business.

A quarter of a century later, Putin’s actions, and the ever more grisly new threats posed by Islamic militants, has given Nato a new lease of life. Indeed, Nato is now so relevant that David Cameron’s chief task as host to this week’s summit in Wales has been to ensure that the agenda does not burst at the seams. Discussions will range across the Russian advance in Ukraine and expansionist threat to the Baltics, the Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, the possibility of wider alliance air strikes in northern Iraq against Islamic State (Isis), the need for Nato to produce a viable rapid reaction force in Europe as well as respond to the threats of hybrid warfare and terrorism.

Cameron has ensured that the crisis posed by Isis — made even more pertinent by the latest beheading and the threat to a British citizen — will be discussed both at a working dinner on Thursday evening, and then again on Friday as the 28 members discuss asymmetric warfare, and how to respond to threat of terrorism.

Diplomatic efforts in advance of the summit may help the Canadian government save a bit of face, too:

A face-saving compromise may be on the way for reluctant allies, including Canada, who are unwilling to boost defence spending to meet the NATO standard.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the final statement at the Wales Summit later this week will describe the long-standing expectation that members nations spend at least two per cent of their gross domestic product on defence as an “aspirational target.”

That seems enough to satisfy the Harper government, which has balked at pressure from both the United States and Britain to substantially boost the military’s budget slashed in the drive towards next year’s balanced budget and anticipated election.

Jason MacDonald, the prime minister’s director of communications, said late Tuesday that the government is willing to spend more “on measures that meet actual operational needs, in response to global issues.”

He says Canada is not prepared to meet “an arbitrary target.”

The language not only puts out an embarrassing political fire, given the prime minister’s harsh condemnation of Russia, but it may also be enough to placate the Americans.

Canada has taken a tough rhetorical line toward the Soviets Russians lately, but Stephen Harper’s government has reduced military spending to such a degree that he risks being seen as “All hat and no cattle” as the Texan saying has it.

September 2, 2014

Tsar Vladimir I

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:44

One of the problems that Western politicians have in dealing with Vladimir Putin is that they can’t decide what he wants or even why he wants them. They’re struggling because they keep misreading individual actions as being either nationalistic or ethnic, when they should really be described as “imperialistic”. Putin is trying to recreate the old USSR, but without the Communist Party running things — he’s trying to recreate Imperial Russia:

Americans have been grasping to find explanations for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s serial aggressions in Europe. We keep searching for bumper stickers we can understand, so we gravitate to simple explanations like “geopolitics” or “nationalism,” not least because such notions promise solutions. (If it’s about geopolitics, cutting a deal with Putin will stop this; if it’s about nationalism, it’ll burn itself out when Putin has recaptured enough ethnic Russians around his borders.)

And, of course, there’s always “realism.” In this month’s Foreign Affairs, John Mearsheimer argues the Russo-Ukraine war is basically the West’s fault. (We expanded NATO, we supported the Maidan protesters, we were generally just mean to Russia, etc.) It’s a classic Mearsheimer piece: a beautifully-written, attention-seeking exercise that insists on the brilliance of realists while bucking the innate moral sense of most normal human beings. (Consider, for example, his 1993 Deep Thoughts about how maybe it would be good for Ukraine and Germany to develop active nuclear weapons programs.)

That doesn’t mean I disagree with the overall evaluation that America’s Russia policy since 1992 — insofar as we’ve had one — has been remarkably obtuse. (That pretty much describes most of our foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, but I will not digress here.) I, too, objected to expanding NATO, deplored the arrogance of people like Madeleine Albright, and lamented the repeated lost opportunities to bring Moscow closer to the Western family to which it belongs by both heritage and history.

Very little of what’s happened in the past 20 years, however, has much to do with what’s going on in Ukraine right now. And nothing excuses Russia’s war against a peaceful neighbor, especially not arid theories of realism or flawed historical analogies.

Putin is not a realist: very few national leaders are. Realism is much loved by political scientists, but actual nations almost never practice it. Nor is Putin a nationalist: indeed, he hardly seems to understand the concept, or he would not have embarked on his current path.

August 31, 2014

Combat situation in Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:41

Current situation map released on Twitter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine:

Ukraine situation 20140831

August 28, 2014

None dare call it an invasion

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:49

The battles between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed rebels were one thing: you could make a case for it being a “local” issue if you didn’t want to draw attention to it (for fear the Russians might cut off your natural gas supply). It’s quite a different thing when the Ukrainians are fighting Russian soldiers rather than irregulars and paramilitaries:

Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.

The two Russian columns, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, entered the town of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov after a battle in which Ukrainian army positions came under fire from Grad rockets launched from Russian territory, according to the spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko.

“Our border servicemen and guardsmen retreated as they did not have heavy equipment,” Lysenko said in a statement.

Ukrainian authorities have denounced the latest fighting as a Russian invasion of their territory, intended to prop up pro-Moscow separatists who have been losing ground to Ukrainian forces and to open a new front in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said earlier that Ukrainian troops were battling combined Russian and separatist forces on the new southern front around Novoazovsk, about eight miles west of the Russian border. The Ukrainian military also said Russian troops were increasing surveillance from northern Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.

Among western countries, Canada (of all places) has become snarky about the situation:

August 27, 2014

The Congress System, the Holy Alliance and the re-ordering of Europe in the nineteenth century

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:37

In my ongoing origins of World War 1 series, I took a bit of time to discuss the Congress of Vienna and the diplomatic and political system it created for nearly one hundred years of (by European standards) peaceful co-existence. Not that it completely prevented wars (see the rest of the series for a partial accounting of them), but that it provided a framework within which the great powers could attempt to order affairs without needing to go to war quite as often. In the current issue of History Today, Stella Ghervas goes into more detail about the congress itself and the system it gave birth to:

Emperor Napoleon was defeated in May 1814 and Cossacks marched along the Champs-Elysées into Paris. The victorious Great Powers (Russia, Great Britain, Austria and Prussia) invited the other states of Europe to send plenipotentiaries to Vienna for a peace conference. At the end of the summer, emperors, kings, princes, ministers and representatives converged on the Austrian capital, crowding the walled city. The first priority of the Congress of Vienna was to deal with territorial issues: a new configuration of German states, the reorganisation of central Europe, the borders of central Italy and territorial transfers in Scandinavia. Though the allies came close to blows over the partition of Poland, by February 1815 they had averted a new war thanks to a series of adroit compromises. There had been other pressing matters to settle: the rights of German Jews, the abolition of the slave trade and navigation on European rivers, not to mention the restoration of the Bourbon royal family in France, Spain and Naples, the constitution of Switzerland, issues of diplomatic precedence and, last but not least, the foundation of a new German confederation to replace the defunct Holy Roman Empire.

[...]

Surprisingly, the Russian view on peace in Europe proved by far the most elaborate. Three months after the final act of the Congress, Tsar Alexander proposed a treaty to his partners, the Holy Alliance. This short and unusual document, with Christian overtones, was signed in Paris on September 1815 by the monarchs of Austria, Prussia and Russia. There is a polarised interpretation, especially in France, that the ‘Holy Alliance’ (in a broad sense) had only been a regression, both social and political. Castlereagh joked that it was a ‘piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’, even though he recommended Britain to undersign it. Correctly interpreting this document is key to understanding the European order after 1815.

While there was undoubtedly a mystical air to the zeitgeist, we should not stop at the religious resonances of the treaty of the Holy Alliance, because it also contained some realpolitik. The three signatory monarchs (the tsar of Russia, the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia) were putting their respective Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic faiths on an equal footing. This was nothing short of a backstage revolution, since they relieved de facto the pope from his political role of arbiter of the Continent, which he had held since the Middle Ages. It is thus ironic that the ‘religious’ treaty of the Holy Alliance liberated European politics from ecclesiastical influence, making it a founding act of the secular era of ‘international relations’.

There was, furthermore, a second twist to the idea of ‘Christian’ Europe. Since the sultan of the Ottoman Empire was a Muslim, the tsar could conveniently have it both ways: either he could consider the sultan as a legitimate monarch and be his friend; or else think of him as a non-Christian and become his enemy. As a matter of course, Russia still had territorial ambitions south, in the direction of Constantinople. In this ambiguity lies the prelude to the Eastern Question, the struggle between the Great Powers over the fate of the Ottoman Empire (the ‘sick man of Europe’), as well as the control of the straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Much to his credit, Tsar Alexander did not profit from that ambiguity, but his brother and successor Nicholas soon started a new Russo-Turkish war (1828-29).

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