In turn, the Ethiopian authorities viewed Russia as a possible patron, fearing the development of the scenario along the lines of other African states of that time. It is known that the UK had its plans for Ethiopia, which approved its priority in the neighboring regions of East Africa. At the end of 1880's Italy began to think seriously about joining Ethiopia to its East African possessions. The young Italian state was rapidly entering the club of the colonial powers, subordinating to itself a number of territories in northeastern Africa - Eritrea and Somalia.
Russia could help Ethiopia defend its independence. The Ethiopian neguses (emperors) counted on this, a part of the Russian public adhered to a similar point of view, first of all the Orthodox clergy. According to the hierarchs of the church, the Russian Empire was supposed to take care of the fate of the unique Eastern Christian kingdom in Africa. At the end of 1880's Russian expeditions were undertaken to East Africa — the Terek Cossack Nikolai Ashinov, who, together with Archimandrite Paisiy, dreamed of creating a Russian colony in East Africa, and Lieutenant Viktor Mashkov. The latter succeeded in obtaining an audience with the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II, from whom he delivered gifts to the court of the Russian emperor Alexander III. It was Mashkov’s mission that played a key role in the development of Russian-Ethiopian relations, since Alexander III, who needed to respond to a letter from Negus Menelik, gave the go-ahead to Mashkov’s equipment for the new expedition.
When the first Italo-Ethiopian war began in 1895, many Russian officers volunteered for a distant African country. Among them was Alexander Ksaverievich Bulatovich (1870-1919). A lot has been written about him in the domestic historical literature. The hereditary Oryol nobleman, the son of Major General of the Russian Army Xavier Bulatovich, Alexander graduated from the Lyceum and in 1891 signed up for military service. He was accepted as a volunteer in the Life Guards Hussar Regiment, and the following year he was awarded the first officer rank of cornet. In 1896, Bulatovich obtained an appointment to the Russian Red Cross mission to Ethiopia and went to East Africa. Here he quickly became one of the confidants of the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II and became one of his main military advisers.
Alexander Bulatovich is credited with the modernization of the Ethiopian army at the end of the XIX century. Despite the fact that in 1896 the emperor Menelik managed to win a resounding victory over the Italians and to prevent the colonization of the country, the Ethiopian monarch was well aware that other attempts could follow the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Ethiopia. In addition, a serious threat was represented by Great Britain, which had turned Egypt into its semi-colony, and together with the Egyptian troops occupied Sudan. The third danger that required the strengthening of the Ethiopian army was the constant uprisings of the Cushite tribes living in Ethiopia, akin to the Somalis. In order for the Ethiopian army to effectively cope with the tasks of the country's defense, it was necessary to create at least a core of armed forces trained and organized in accordance with modern military science. Russian military advisers, including Alexander Bulatovich, were called in to help Menelik with this.
After the first expedition to Ethiopia Bulatovich returned to Russia, where he was promoted to lieutenant of the Life Guards Hussar Regiment and received a silver medal from the Russian Geographical Society. However, he soon found himself again in East Africa. All this time, Bulatovich was in touch with the real State Counselor Peter Mikhailovich Vlasov, who led the Russian mission in Addis Ababa. One of the main tasks of the mission, in addition to further strengthening bilateral ties, was, at the same time, tracking British foreign policy in East Africa, analyzing its prospects and likely aggressive plans. Peter Vlasov was convinced of the high probability of an armed conflict between England and Abyssinia, which Bulatovich confirmed to him in his reports.
In January, 1900, Mr. Bulatovich, who analyzed the state of the Ethiopian army, presented to Emperor Menelik II his thoughts on its reformation and improvement, expressed in three letters. In them, he, firstly, spoke of the high probability of England attacking Abyssinia, and secondly, he convinced the emperor of the unreliability of some military leaders — feudal lords and advised Menelik to reduce the number of personal troops of feudal lords, and also to take away from military leaders the right to confer senior and senior military posts . The abuse of this right has led to the fact that in some formations of the Ethiopian armed forces there are more officers than soldiers. Finally, the third important point in Bulatovich’s letters to Menelik were practical recommendations for improving the army, which were of great military importance.
Bulatovich advised to increase Abyssinia’s defense capacity, firstly, by extending military service to conquered Negus peoples - the Negroid tribes of the southern regions and the Gaul people, akin to Somalis. According to Bulatovich, this decision would allow the emperor Menelik to increase the number of mobilization resources of the Ethiopian army. Bulatovich emphasized that the same Gauls are distinguished by enviable fecundity, there are many children in their families, and this allows them to recruit a large number of soldiers. As for the creation of a regular army, Bulatovich expressed his very interesting proposals to Menelik. First of all, Bulatovich stressed that its creation must be carried out in stages - to recruit a limited number of people who will be trained in military affairs, and only then will become teachers for subsequent appeals. At first, Bulatovich advised to get 700 gall, 600 blacks, 300 sidamo, kafa and others, and 250 Abyssinians, i.e. Amharians (state-forming people of Abyssinia). Of the recruits, the 1 infantry battalion, the 1 cavalry squadron, the 1 mountain artillery gun battery and the 1 engineering company were to be formed. These parts were supposed to be made educational. The number of infantry battalions was determined in the 1100 man, in the cavalry squadron in the 150 man, in the artillery battery in the 225 man, in the engineering company in the 275 man. Amharians from among the most experienced warriors were to be present in all units, and they would become the core to which representatives of other nations could equal themselves. The following year, Bulatovich assumed the possibility of doubling the number of infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineering units and subunits.
Bulatovich developed recommendations on the organization of the composition and structure of military units and subunits, as well as the modernization of military ranks and positions. Thus, in the new army, the old feudal title “Fitaurari” (“attacking at the head”) would be similar to a colonel and would correspond to the post of regiment commander. The ancient title "Kanyazmach" ("commander of the right wing of the imperial army") in the new structure would be similar to the rank of lieutenant colonel or major. and would correspond to the post of battalion commander. The title “Gerazmach” (“commander of the left wing of the imperial army”) would correspond to the post of company commander and the rank of captain. Finally, the lowest feudal rank "Balambaras" would correspond to the rank of lieutenant of the Russian army and the position of platoon commander or regimental adjutant. In addition, non-commissioned officers were introduced: “Iambel-tuki” corresponded to the sergeant-major of the tsarist army and assumed the duties of a company sergeant — that is, an assistant commander for managing soldiers; “Jaamsa-tuki” corresponded to the senior noncommissioned officer and assumed the duties of an assistant platoon commander; The “tuki” corresponded to the junior non-commissioned officer and assumed command of 16 units in each.
Infantry Bulatovich proposed to divide as follows. The regiment became the largest unit - “arat shea ambel”. The regiment was commanded by the fitauriri, and the regiment consisted of 86 officers, 352 non-commissioned officers, 4096 privates, 34 musicians. The regiment was supposed to include the 4 battalion. The battalion - "Shea Ambel" - included in its membership 4 company and consisted of 22 officer, 88 non-commissioned officers, 1024 privates, 17 horn. The battalion was to be commanded by a kanyazmach. The company - “the oil of Ambel” - consisted of 5 officers, 22 non-commissioned officer, 256 privates, 4 mountain. It was entrusted to command the company a gerazmach, and the 4 platoon was part of the company. The platoon - “amsa” - became the lowest unit of the army and consisted of 1 officer in the rank of “Balambaras”, 5 non-commissioned officers and 64 privates.
For Bulatovich's cavalry, a slightly different organizational structure was proposed. The hussar lieutenant came to the conclusion that in the mountains it is preferable to operate not with a six-squadron cavalry regiment, but with a more mobile four-squadron cavalry regiment. As part of such a regiment - "Shea Ambel" (note - in the cavalry the regiment name is identical to the name of the infantry battalion) - would serve the 22 officer, 52 non-commissioned officer, 512 privates and 14 trumpeters. Such a regiment would command a kanyazmach, while in the infantry, kanyazmachi would command battalions. But with the cavalry kanyazmache should have been an officer for errands in the rank of balambarasa. The cavalry regiment consisted of the 4 squadron - "Farasanya Ambel". In the squadron under the command of Gerazmach, 5 officers, 13 non-commissioned officers, 123 privates and 3 trumpeters served. The squadron consisted of 4 platoons - "Ams", each of which served as 1 officer, 3 non-commissioned officer and 32 privates. The difference in the organizational structure of cavalry lay in the fact that it was supposed to act with units of two regiments in each. Such a connection would be commanded by the Fitaurari, who commanded a regiment in the infantry.
The main battery of artillery was to be a mountain battery with 8 guns. Bulatovich emphasized that Italian troops in East Africa use six-gun batteries. The artillery battery — Yasmynd Meedf Ambel — had to include 6 officers, 16 fireworks, 56 gun numbers, 188 horse guides and 3 trumpeter. The battery was commanded by an officer with the rank of gerazmach. The artillery battery consisted of an 4 platoon - “hula madf” and a 1 box train with a wagon train - “yayir guaz”. The officers with the rank of "Balambaras" commanded the platoon commanders and the train (with a wagon train) - therefore there were more officers in the battery than in an infantry company or a cavalry squadron. The artillery platoon bore 1 officer, 2 fireworks, 14 gun numbers and 16 cavalrymen. The echelon and wagon train was commanded by an 1 officer, under his command were the echelon - 1 fireworks and 14 horse bridges, and the transport line - 1 fireworks and 16 horse breeders, as well as a squad of winding mules, who carried the 1 fireworks and 10 horse breeders. Depending on the situation, the batteries could be combined into connections. Two batteries commanded kanyazmach, eight batteries - an officer with the rank of "fitauri".
Alexander Bulatovich developed detailed recommendations on the organization of infantry weapons, cavalry and artillery, clothing, food and fodder supplies for army units and subunits. These councils are of great historical value, as they allow you to familiarize yourself with the Russian officer’s view of the features of the organization of the armed forces intended for operations in the mountains of North-East Africa. So, Bulatovich emphasized that in the mountains it is better to act with mobile units of a thousand people, and it is advisable for cavalrymen to allocate a greater number of cartridges, as they shoot them faster.
To stop the very likely desertion of recruits, Bulatovich advised to deploy training units not in Addis Ababa, but in hard-to-reach areas, from which it is difficult to escape, since several roads can be blocked by outposts. At the same time, the Russian officer advised not to offend the soldiers with contentment, so that the recruits could see the advantages of military service in comparison with the difficult life of the peasant. Non-commissioned officers were asked to pay a double allowance, and platoon non-commissioned officers - also tripled salary. Company sergeant-officers and watchmen of squadrons could receive a quadruple allowance and a separate salary in 12 thalers per year. According to Bulatovich, such a system would contribute to the motivation of soldiers for exemplary service and career growth.
The main problem of the Ethiopian army Bulatovich called its outdated feudal structure. Of the 300 of thousands of warriors, only 60 of thousands of people were directly subordinate to Menelik, the rest of the warriors served in the detachments of feudal rulers and were personally subordinate to them. In order to ensure reliable protection of Abyssinia from a possible attack by Britain, Bulatovich advised the emperor to acquire a regular army and artillery, and also to think about reducing the independence of the feudal lords - military leaders.