Thursday, 27 March 2014

Britain Declares War on Russia (160 years ago)

On this day, 160 years ago Britain declared war on Russia and the (first) Crimean War began. The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia.

The immediate issue involved the rights of Christians in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. Russia lost and the Ottomans gained a twenty-year respite from Russian pressure. The Christians were granted a degree of official equality and the Orthodox gained control of the Christian churches in dispute. Russia survived, gained a new appreciation for its religious diversity, and launched a reform program with far-reaching consequences.

Russia and the Ottoman Empire went to war in October 1853 over Russia's rights to protect Orthodox Christians. Russia gained the upper hand after destroying the Ottoman fleet at the Black Sea port of Sinope; to stop Russia's conquest, France and Britain entered in March 1854. Most of the fighting took place for control of the Black Sea, with land battles on the Crimean peninsula in southern Russia. The Russians held their great fortress at Sevastopol for over a year. After it fell, a peace was arranged at Paris in March 1856. The religion issue had already been resolved. The main results were that the Black Sea was neutralised—Russia would not have any warships there—and the two vassals Wallachia and Moldavia became largely independent under nominal Ottoman rule.

Because of battles, population exchanges, and nationalist movements incited by the war, the present-day states of Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and regions such as Crimea and the Caucasus all changed due to this conflict.

The Crimean War is notorious for logistical, medical and tactical failure on both sides. The naval side saw both a successful Allied campaign which eliminated most of the ships of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, and a successful blockade by the Royal Navy in the Baltic. It was one of the first "modern" wars because it saw the first use of major technologies, such as railways and telegraphs.It is also famous for the work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, who pioneered contrasting modern medical practices while treating the wounded. The war was one of the first to be documented extensively in written reports and photographs.