Greek project: diplomacy and war
At the first stage, the Turks planned to land in the Crimea and clear it of Russian troops. The prerequisite of the campaign was the elimination flotilla in the Dnieper-Bug estuary and the destruction of Kherson as the main shipyard at that time, which belonged to Russia on the Black Sea. Further, it was planned to carry out an invasion deep into the empire, of course, under favorable circumstances, the occurrence of which in Istanbul was not very doubted. Financial assistance was received from Western partners to prevent the “Russian military threat”, the Turkish fleet had enough warships, some of which were built according to the kindly provided French drawings. Fortresses, in particular, Ishmael, were thoroughly fortified over the previous years, again with the close assistance of engineers sent by His Majesty the King of France.
Shortly before the escalation of the Ottoman Empire into the open phase, Admiral Samuel Greig offered to repeat the success of the first Archipelago expedition and again send a large squadron to the Mediterranean Sea and at least ten thousand troops to land assault forces. Taking into account the strong anti-Turkish sentiment in Greece, supported, moreover, in the right degree by the numerous Russian consulates, one could count on the broad support of the local population. And it would be expressed not only in words and cheers - armed militiamen could to some extent strengthen the Russian expeditionary forces.
Greig offered not to limit himself to minor sabotage with the seizure of individual fortresses and settlements, but to strike directly at Istanbul: disembark and capture the enemy capital. With decisive actions, without losing pace, Greig hoped to successfully break through the Dardanelles and attack virtually the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Gregory Alexandrovich Potemkin was persistently against the plans of Greig. Or rather, it was not that he was completely against sending a fleet to the Mediterranean - the prince believed that the Archipelago expedition should be carried out in a lightweight form, that is, without an airborne corps.
It is likely that the prince relied more on the success of the Black Sea Fleet created with his active participation, while the Mediterranean squadron was assigned a supporting role: to delay the forces of the Turks and disrupt enemy communications with Egypt, the main supplier of food to the central regions of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, after lengthy discussions and agreements, it was decided to send a large squadron of 17 battleships, 8 frigates and a large number of transport and auxiliary vessels to the Mediterranean Sea.
They had to transfer not only the landing corps in 10 – 12 thousand people to the Mediterranean, but also a large number weapons. The stockpiled weapons and equipment made it possible to arm the local 6 thousand infantrymen, a thousand dragoons, and thousands of cavalry from the local, primarily Greek, population of 2. In addition, Greigu was supposed to allocate significant financial sums to provide the troops with everything they need.
It can be assumed that Catherine II, for operations against the Turks in the Mediterranean basin, planned to create a small, but fairly well-armed army, whose presence and actions could have widespread consequences. Part of the Russian troops had to be transported by sea directly from the Baltic, and another under the command of Lieutenant-General Zaborovsky was to make a foot march to Italy.
14 March 1788 was followed by an official decree appointing Samuel Karlovich Greig as commander of all Russian forces in the Mediterranean basin. 5 June 1788, the vanguard of the Archipelago squadron left Kronstadt and headed for Copenhagen.
However, the unfavorable circumstances of big politics made their significant amendments to the plans of Catherine II and her entourage. Incited by Western well-wishing partners and an irrepressible passion for the great achievements of their own king, Sweden declared war on Russia. Greig's expedition was canceled at the very beginning of its implementation. The ships prepared for shipment to the Mediterranean, of course, were involved in the outbreak of hostilities in the Baltic.
Who knows what the key would be the progress of the Russian-Turkish war in the case of successful operations of the traditionally initiative and full of ideas of Samuel Karlovich Greig in the case of unimpeded sending his squadron to its original destination. Perhaps under favorable circumstances and a reasonable number of instructions and wishes, Greig would have been able not only to cut the Turkish supply lines with Egypt, but, quite likely, with the broad support of the armed local population, to take control of the vast territories of the Balkans, primarily Greece. However, the practical implementation of the main provisions of the “Greek project” was still very far away.
Austria slowly declared the war of the Ottoman Empire only in January 1788, when its ally Russia had been fighting for half a year already. Joseph II was also not ready for the war for which he was preparing, but he was eager to fulfill the allied duty of Catherine the Great to the best of his own strength. Chancellor Wenzel Kaunitz, despite the most sincere gnashing of teeth, was forced to agree with his emperor. Kaunitz did not only oppose the Greek project, but also disagreed with the ideas about the division of the Ottoman Empire. He, a talented diplomat, was more concerned with issues related to the agonizing Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the curbing of Prussia’s military ambitions.
But Joseph II purposefully looked at the Balkans, pledging with the outbreak of hostilities to put up a contingent of at least 250 thousand people. However, commitments alone seemed to be small. At first, Austria’s entry into the war helped the Russian commanders little - its army was scattered over a vast territory, serving as a cover for borders and maintaining order in troubled regions. In addition, in 1788, an epidemic began in the country, which affected not only the population, but also the armed forces.
What was at hand was consolidated into the Galician corps under the command of Prince Friedrich of Saxe-Coburg with a population of 26 thousand. This contingent was intended to seize the Hotin Turkish fortress and maintain contact with the Allied Russian troops. His main army, Joseph II began to gather for a campaign against the Balkans in the Belgrade region. This city again became Turkish under the 1739 peace treaty, and now the Austrians once again wanted to return it to their control. The formation of the army was slow - contingents were pulled from all over the empire, often over many hundreds of kilometers.
Traditionally, the Habsburg troops were distinguished by a great diversity: there were Germans, Hungarians, Serbs, Croats, people from Transylvania and Lombardy. Joseph II himself with his retinue was also in the camp. The Austrian army in the process of preparing the offensive pursued failures. Due to the marshland and poor sanitary conditions, an epidemic broke out among the troops, killing many thousands of soldiers. In the end, all military preparations in their own way seeking to fulfill the allied duty of Joseph II ended in disaster.
By September 1788, the Austrian command decided to act in the direction of Belgrade. The multinational army frankly toiled from idleness and even more from the diseases caused by the poorly located camp. 17 September 1788 was ordered by a squad of hussars to force the Timis River and carry out reconnaissance. However, instead of the Turks, the scouts found a gypsy camp there. The enterprising Gypsies offered the brave hussars to buy invigorating drinks from them for a reasonable price, which was immediately done. Soon the hussars became even more brave, and when the infantry battalion that crossed over approached them, they remained at the highest degree of militancy.
The infantrymen demanded to share an invigorating liquid with them, but met a categorical refusal. Soon between the two divisions began a squabble, quickly turned into a fight, and then into a shootout. A crowd of injured soldiers rushed back to the camp, apparently to get help. For some reason, in the darkness, the Austrians assumed that the Turks were approaching their camp. In a hastily awakening camp, turmoil began, having all the signs of an emerging panic. In the ensuing chaos, cavalry horses emerged from the pen, which began to rush between the tents. Discipline collapsed - Austrian soldiers were convinced that enemy cavalry had burst into the bivouac.
Some enterprising general ordered several guns to open fire, which made even more confusion. Waking up, Joseph II, in full confidence that the battle had begun, tried to take the uncontrollable situation under control. Nothing came of this - a crowd of distraught soldiers threw the emperor off the horse, while he himself barely survived. His adjutant died in a crush.
The Austrian army ran, throwing weapons, carts and guns. Joseph II managed to escape with difficulty. More recently, a large army turned out to be an unorganized traveling crowd. The camp was abandoned, a huge number of soldiers deserted. Two days later, Turkish troops commanded by Koca Yusuf Pasha really approached the devastated Austrian bivouac. Surprised Turks saw mountains of trophies and thousands of corpses of their opponents. There were also many soldiers wounded in a stampede, confusion and a shootout.
Koca Yusuf Pasha did not have information on why the Austrians did him a kind service, having done so impressive damage, and in any case reported to Istanbul about a brilliant victory. The massacre, which began because of challenging the right to serve Bacchus, was later called the Battle of Caransebeş and cost the Hapsburg army 10 thousand dead. The Turks did not take prisoners, but decapitated them.
The 1788 campaign of the year in the Balkans was devastatingly lost. It took time and effort to turn the completely disorganized and fairly thinning crowd of fugitives back into effective fighting. On top of the achieved "success" the prince of Saxe-Coburg in the same year could not take Khotin. Subsequently, only his army, acting together with the Russian troops, was able to achieve some results in this war. In the Balkans, their achievements were characterized by unhurried modesty, and after the death of Joseph II in February 1790, the new emperor Leopold II began to show a marked desire for dialogue with the Turks.
The war with Turkey began in an unfavorable foreign policy environment for Russia. England in the face of William Pitt the Younger sought to adhere to the strategy of "equilibrium". In its insular understanding, equilibrium implied not only supporting “weak countries”: Sweden, the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth — and protecting them from Russian expansion, but also all-out obstacles to the creation of major military alliances that could threaten the calm of enlightened seafarers. The above-mentioned threats should be neutralized or reduced by forming their own military-political blocs, where a modest unofficial dominant role would have been prepared for England.
At the beginning of 1788, when the “weak” Ottoman Empire, apparently to defend against Russian expansion, was already at war with Russia, and another country, also “weak,” Sweden was preparing to declare war, England formed an alliance with Holland and Prussia. The corresponding documents were signed in April and June 1788 of the year. The formula, which was partially worked out during the years of the Seven Years War, was, according to London, preserving peace in Europe and protecting small and weak states from Russian and, to a lesser extent, from Austrian aggression. The essence of the formula was as follows: the finances of the Netherlands, multiplied by the finances and the fleet of Great Britain, supported by a powerful Prussian army.
Leaked rumors about the conclusion of an alliance between Russia and Austria and the topic of the actual division of the Ottoman Empire discussed by these countries encouraged many heads in the English parliament and in other high offices. The growth of the British economy, the increase in the production of goods inexorably raised the importance of the colonies, primarily India, as a source of high-quality and cheap raw materials. Any attempts to strengthen Russia in the Balkans and the Middle East were viewed by the British as a threat to their colonial possessions.
The increase in tensions also occurred in Persia, where the interests of Russian and English merchants began to clash. Of course, the implementation in any form of the “Greek project”, the strengthening of Russia in the eastern Mediterranean was not at all on the list of desires of enlightened seafarers. With the beginning of the war with Turkey, and afterwards with Sweden, there was an ongoing struggle on the diplomatic front.
Even before the start of the Russian-Turkish war, the envoys of the British and Prussian courts in Istanbul, Messrs. Ensley and Ditz, regularly conducted the relevant vizier to the great vizier about the benefits of escalating with Russia and receiving, if anything, help from these powers. Such maneuvers in the spring of 1787 caused a diplomatic scandal. The British ambassador in St. Petersburg was officially protested and demanded to deal with Ensley’s behavior in Istanbul. The Russian protest was simply ignored, and incitement to war by British diplomats continued.
It is clear that enlightened seafarers did not confine themselves to diligent training of the Turkish bulldog under the carpet. In 1788, the English government, in view of the impending campaign of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, prohibited it from chartering its transport ships, selling provisions, and recruiting sailors and officers for Russian service. At the same time, British ships were widely used for the transportation of military goods in the interests of the Turkish army, which again caused protest from St. Petersburg. As before, he was simply ignored with the most innocent air.
No less hostile, was British diplomacy operating in the north. Sweden, declaring war on Russia, not only disrupted the Archipelago Expedition, but also created a threat directly to St. Petersburg. King Gustav III was not only not dissuaded from the military adventure, but in every way incited him, general assistance. Formally allied Russian Denmark was under great pressure. The British envoy in Copenhagen, Hugh Elliot, directly threatened Denmark with war if its troops entered Swedish territory and demanded the cessation of hostilities. The threats of Prussia to occupy Holstein in the event Denmark did not understand the whole seriousness of the situation did the job. Denmark was forced to sign an armistice with Sweden.
William Pitt and his accomplices got a taste. In the middle of 1790, when Russia was still at war with Turkey and Sweden, and France was already plunging into the abyss of revolutionary chaos, a conference was convened in Reichenbach, in which, on the one hand, allied England, Prussia and Holland participated, and on the other, Austria. Having played correctly, the Allies managed to persuade Leopold II to sign a separate peace with the Ottoman Empire, to which he, by the way, himself, to return to the pre-war status quo and the obligation not to provide Russia with any military assistance.
Having strengthened their foreign policy positions, the British became even bolder. In the second half of 1790, they began to demand that Russia conclude peace with Turkey and Sweden with the return of all occupied territories (by this time a number of Turkish possessions, primarily Ochakov, were under Russian control). Not limited to such dramatically increased demands, in London they began to seriously consider the project of creating by the European states a kind of federation of independent members led by England. This, according to the British ambassador in Berlin and trusted assistant Pitt Joseph Whitworth, would forever close the way for the “Russian giant” to Europe. However, the problems that soon began with France buried this project until better times.
In the meantime, the British were maneuvering with all their might in the Russian-Turkish war, trying, on the one hand, to force Russia to make peace with the status quo, and, on the other, to put pressure on Porto, who, after a series of crushing defeats, wanted to end the fighting as soon as possible. The Ottoman Empire began peace negotiations with St. Petersburg already in 1790, but they were extremely slow and unsuccessful - the Turkish side demanded concessions, without offering anything in return.
At the beginning of 1791, England and Prussia decided to seriously fight with Russia. It was supposed to put forward an ultimatum to Catherine II, and in the event of his dissatisfaction with the start of hostilities. The armament of the English fleet began, William Pitt appealed to Parliament with a request for a loan. However, not all of the British elite craved to fight. The Whig Party, widely represented by the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, came out strongly against Pitt’s belligerent appeals. This category of His Majesty's subjects was extremely interested in preserving trade relations with Russia, since from there they received inexpensive raw materials for their industries.
And the war did not happen. Pitt cooled down, then leveled out the breath and Berlin. The Ottoman Empire, left virtually alone with the bear that had not lost its enthusiasm, who had also had a bite to eat, was forced to conclude a Yassky peace treaty. Of course, in such very difficult political conditions, actually betrayed by Austria and opposing almost half of Europe, Russia could not carry out any “Greek project”. And it didn’t really strive for this - the war with Porto began at a very inconvenient time for St. Petersburg, when the Black Sea Fleet was not fully rebuilt, many fortresses, cities and shipyards in the south of the empire were not built.
In the confrontation with the western "partners", Russian diplomacy demonstrated flexibility on the one hand, and firmness on the other on the other. Yes, the alliance with Austria turned out to be of little use, and with Denmark it was in fact useless. However, all attempts by England to make a coalition against Russia and go to war with it ended in failure. The Black Sea straits remained under the control of the Ottoman Empire, and the question of their availability for Russian ships was opened, despite all the agreements with the Turks. It was well known how quickly mood can change in Istanbul.
The Greek project remained a project - for its implementation a different alignment of forces and a different political situation were required. Calling his grandson the name of the last Byzantine emperor and teaching him the Greek language was not enough to make Grand Duke Constantine Emperor Constantine. In subsequent years, Catherine II did not return to the Greek project.
However, the desire to seize the Black Sea straits did not disappear from the Russian empress. The attention of the whole of Europe was focused on France, the revolving revolution, there were appeals full of righteous anger to save King Louis XVI from reprisals and at the same time improve their material and, possibly, territorial situation. Catherine II, in words and quite a bit in fact, supported such aspirations, while she herself planned a completely different enterprise. To her secretary, Aleksandr Vasilyevich Khrapovitsky, she said that it would be good to draw Prussia and Austria deeper into French affairs in order to have free hands.
It was for these “hands” in Kherson and Nikolaev that the intensive construction of the fleet began, including a large number of gunboats. A large contingent of sailors and officers was transferred from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In 1792, when the Prussian and Austrian battalions marched along the roads of France, Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov was appointed commander in chief of the South of Russia. However, in 1793, a rebellion began in Poland, and all military preparations for the seizure of the straits and Istanbul were curtailed. Then the empress herself died, and her heir Pavel Petrovich had completely different views on a number of foreign policy problems.
- Denis Brig
- Greek project: the secret policy of Catherine II
Greek project as an attempt by Russia to crush the Ottoman Empire
Subscribe and stay up to date with the latest news and the most important events of the day.