14/3/1915 France wants its share of the Turkish spoils

Britain, France and Russia are discussing how to divide up the still undefeated Ottoman Empire. After Turkey’s defeats in the Caucasus and its failed invasion of Egypt, the assumption is that the pending Franco-British assault on the Straits will most likely knock it out of the war. Russia’s foreign minister has written to the British and French saying that Constantinople and the Straits should be given to Russia. Britain has already acquiesced to this request, in return for concessions in Persia.

Now the French ambassador delivers France’s reply. Maurice Paléologue tells his hosts that France is willing to accept Russia’s demands with regard to Constantinople. In return, the French want to annex Syria and territory bordering it to the north. Syria is not a clearly defined region; it does not immediately become apparent to the Russians that the French are attempting to lay claim to Palestine and the Holy Places.

map (AYDeezy on Deviantart)

1/8/1914 Germany’s declaration of war is served on Russia

And what of Russia? Pourtalès had presented Germany’s ultimatum to Sazonov just after midnight. At that point Sazonov said that Russia’s mobilisation could not be halted, for technical reasons. But he also said that Russia’s mobilisation is not like Germany’s, meaning that it does not have to lead to war.

The ultimatum’s deadline passes with no further reply. Pourtalès receives his instructions from Berlin and at the appointed time he calls again to see Sazonov. He asks again whether Russia can give a favourable reply to the ultimatum. Sazonov says no. Pourtalès asks again, emphasising that there will be serious consequences for non-compliance. Sazonov reaffirms his refusal a second time, and then a third. An emotional Pourtalès hands Sazonov the declaration of war. The two men embrace and then part.

Pourtalès collects his passports and makes preparations to leave St. Petersburg in the morning. Sazonov telegrams his ambassadors the news and then meets Buchanan and Paléologue for dinner.

Dramatis Personae

image sources

Friedrich Pourtalès image source (Oriental Review: Who ignited First World War?)

Sergei Sazonov image source (Wikipedia)

30/7/1914 The Tsar orders general mobilisation again, for real this time

Yesterday the Tsar ordered general mobilisation and then cancelled the order shortly afterwards. Today he is trying to hold firm to not mobilising, refusing even to talk to people he thinks might try and cajole him into changing his mind again. But he agrees to meet Sazonov in the afternoon, for a briefing on the general situation from his foreign minister.

When they meet, Sazonov impresses on his master that Germany is clearly angling for war. Russia’s mobilisation would be a sensible precaution, not something that would provoke further escalation. The Tsar is torn, not wanting to set in train events that will lead to armageddon. Yet finally he gives in and authorises the general mobilisation of Russia’s army against both Austria-Hungary and Germany. It is agreed that mobilisation will be kept secret for as long as possible, to give Russia as much of a head start on its enemies as possible.

The French ambassador is informed. He wires home the news. This is important, because under the terms of the Russo-French alliance, the two countries are to launch joint invasions of Germany on the 15th day after mobilisation begins.

Sazonov himself wires Benckendorff, his ambassador in London. He is to make urgent representations to the British regarding two battleships being built there for Turkey. Their transfer to the Turks must be stopped, as this would drastically alter the naval balance of power in the Black Sea.

Dramatis Personae

28/7/1914 Sensational developments in Paris

The Caillaux trial reaches its conclusion. Henriette Caillaux had shot and killed the editor of Le Figaro, after the paper published a series of attacks on her and her husband, the leader of the Radicals. Now a jury acquits Madame Caillaux. The news convulses Paris and is a far bigger talking point than the international crisis.

For Joseph Caillaux the news is bittersweet. He had hoped to form a government with the French socialists, one that would pursue a rapprochement with Germany and downgrade the unnatural alliance between republican France and imperial Russia. Given the current international situation, this is now impossible.

France’s president and prime minister are still in transit from Russia. The political leadership at home is somewhat paralysed without them. Nevertheless, Adolphe Messimy, the war minister, and Joseph Joffre, chief of staff of the army, meet Russia’s military attaché. They assure him that France will fully support Russia and honour her treaty commitments.

Through the foreign ministry, Messimy and Joffre also send a message to France’s ambassador in St. Petersburg. They tell Paléologue that if hostilities break out, he must enjoin Russia to invade East Prussia as early as possible, notwithstanding the slow pace of Russian mobilisation.

25/7/1914 The Russians spring into action

In Tsarskoe Selo, Tsar Nicholas himself chairs a meeting of the Council of Ministers. A partial mobilisation of the military districts facing Austria-Hungary is agreed. The council also agrees a range of other measures, including the declaration of a Period Preparatory to War as part the readying of the vast nation’s army for action. None of this is to be publicised and strict censorship will keep it out of the press.

On returning to St. Petersburg, Sazonov meets again with the British and French ambassadors. Buchanan urges no peremptory mobilisation; Sazonov assures him that Russia has no aggressive intentions. Paléologue reaffirms France’s support for Russia, but Buchanan remains circumspect, offering only mediation. He reports home that ultimately Britain will either have to back Russia or forfeit its friendship.

24/7/1914 “Then Russia will make war on Austria”

Sazonov’s busy day continues. The Russian foreign minister lunches with the British and French ambassadors. Sazonov again predicts that the ultimatum will lead to European war. Paléologue of France urges firmness on Russia’s part and gives assurances that France will stand by its ally. Britain’s Buchanan is more equivocal. Britain has no interests in Serbia or the Balkans, he says.

The Council of Ministers meets that afternoon. Sazonov places ultimate blame for the crisis on Germany. The council formally agrees to begin planning for partial mobilisation against Austria-Hungary and the repatriation of funds from Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Baltic and Black Sea fleets are to prepare for combat. The Tsar is to be asked to agree partial mobilisation in principle. The council also decides to call on Austria-Hungary to extend the ultimatum’s deadline.

At 6.00 pm Sazonov meets Spalaikovitch, the Serbian ambassador. Spalaikovitch says that Serbia is in a desperate state and is open to concessions towards Austria-Hungary. Sazonov advises Serbia to accept all of the ultimatum terms bar the contentious articles that would have Austro-Hungarian officials operating on Serbian soil.

Sazonov also meets Pourtalès. The German ambassador proposes that the crisis be localised, leaving Austria-Hungary and Serbia to sort it out among themselves. Sazonov is having none of this. He sees Vienna as intent on devouring Serbia, but if Austria-Hungary moves against Serbia, “then Russia will make war on Austria”.