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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sazonov, Sergius Dmitrievich

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SAZONOV, SERGIUS DMITRIEVICH (1866-), Russian statesman, came of a family of great Russian landowners. He was educated at the Alexandrovsky Lycee. In politics he was connected with a group which formed the Right Centre in the Council of the Empire and supported the general policy of Stolypin. Enlightened and convinced of the necessity of reforms, he remained, however, a staunch supporter of the monarchical and orthodox tradition of Imperial Russia. He entered the diplomatic service, and his first important post was that of Councillor of Embassy in London, where he assisted Count Benckendorff in the task of improving the relations between Great Britain and Russia. He subsequently acquitted himself successfully as Russian Minister at the Vatican. He was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in St. Petersburg at a critical juncture when Isvolsky left that office for the Paris Embassy. Russian policy had just disengaged itself from the coils of the traditional friendship with Germany, and the Kaiser, though still corresponding with " Dear Nicky " and keeping a personal representative in attendance on the Tsar, had given up the scheme of cementing an alliance with Russia against England and forcing France into the combination. Germany was demonstrating " in shining armour " by the side of Austria-Hungary, and was drawing Turkey away from her former protectors, the Western Powers. The idea of the penetration of the Near East was developing the more effectually as the scheme of directing Russia towards the Far East had proved unsuccessful. The backing of Austria and Turkey by Germany meant necessarily the crushing of the Slavonic Balkan States and a conflict with Russia. Sazonov was the most appropriate person to oppose this aggressive tendency with firmness and dexterity, but without chauvinism. He managed to strengthen the ties of mutual confidence between Russia and Great Britain by avoiding all kind of provocation in Central Asia or in Persia; as to France, the solidity of the alliance was beyond question. The treatment of the Balkan nationalities was a much more complicated problem. And when, after the disastrous squabble between the Balkan allies in 1913, the peace of Bucharest left Bulgaria bleeding, humiliated and weakened, the result was not only the destruction of the Balkan League, but a lasting alienation of Bulgaria from Russia and from the Western Entente. Russian diplomacy did not shine in those days: ineffectual attempts at arbitration between Serbia and Bulgaria, ineffectual discontent with the progress of the negotiations at Bucharest, and eventual recognition of defeat in the end, did not enhance the prestige of Russian foreign policy.

When the great crisis broke out in 1914, after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Tsar and Sazonov found themselves heavily handicapped by events. Both had tried to avoid the outbreak of war: but it was impossible for Russia to look on while Serbia was being delivered to the tender mercies of an Austrian inquisition, or to allow Germany to mobilize under the protection of specious formulas without herself taking any steps as regards the slow mobilization of the Russian army. Sazonov saw clearly that war had been decided upon in Berlin, and he helped to make it clear to the Tsar that the German talk about the ancient tie between the two Empires and the services rendered to Russia during the Japanese war was mere manoeuvring for position. The precise sequence of events is narrated elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the early course of the war itself showed how the Balkan situation had been irremediably jeopardized by preceding diplomatic mistakes and mishaps. Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece fell away one after the other. Possibly none of these events could have been averted, but it is sufficiently clear that neither the Entente Powers nor Russia in particular were prepared for them, and that they did not take in time measures which would have made them less injurious: the Straits could have been forced when the " Goeben " and " Breslau " passed them; Bulgaria might possibly have been won over by concessions, or attacked with advantage before she was ready to strike. In any case the actual results were disastrous; they determined the isolation of Russia at a time when she stood greatly in need of technical help from her allies. As an indirect consequence of the Balkan events there was a gradual change in the Russian demands as regard Constantinople. It is interesting to compare the reports of two conversations between the Tsar and the French Ambassador, M. Paleologue. In Nov. 1914, Nicholas II. restricted his claims to the opening and neutralization of the Straits, the expulsion of the Turks from Europe and international administration for Constantinople. In March 1915 he declared that the Russian people were more and more intent on the annexation of Constantinople as the ancient site of orthodox Christianity. Sazonov succeeded in getting from the Western Powers a promise to grant these demands in the hour of victory.

It is superfluous to say that Sazonov was staunch in his fidelity to the Entente and in his opposition to the projects for a separate peace or armistice, which at times cropped up in court circles; he had however, like all other moderate Liberals, the greatest difficulty in resisting the discreditable influences which swayed the Government in its reactionary policy. He opposed as far as he could the assumption of the Army command by the Tsar, as this measure could not effect any improvement in military matters, weakened the home Government and made it more accessible to intrigues. He strongly urged the necessity of winning over the Poles by a real measure of Home Rule, and he seemed to have convinced the Tsar of the necessity of such a measure, but this apparent success was really the occasion of his fall. The Empress Alexandra brought pressure on the Tsar; the measure was countermanded, and Sazonov was dismissed.

He was preparing to start for London as ambassador to succeed Count Benckendorff, when the revolution of March 1917 broke out. He deplored its advent, which brought an end to Russia's participation in the war and plunged the country into an abyss of uncertainty and misfortune. He consented, however, to proceed to London as an envoy of the Provisional Government when the fall of Milyukov and the subsequent degradation of the Government made it necessary for him to step aside. He was again put in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Adml. Kolchak, and proceeded to London and Paris in the hope of contributing by his personal authority to win a recognition of the claims of historical Russia from her former allies. Such hopes proved to be in vain. The Peace Treaty of Versailles made only general allusions to the possibility of her reappearance in the future. Nor was Sazonov the man to curry favour with Esthonia, Latvia and Georgia, in order to obtain help, at the cost of a renunciation of the imperial interests of his country. (P. Vi.)