Russian Empire declares war against Ottoman Empire (April 24, 1877) - History Key

Russian Empire declares war against Ottoman Empire (April 24, 1877)

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 began from spreading the nationalization idea of Russia in the Balkans and Caucasus. It was a conflict between Ottoman Empire and the Orthodox coalition led by Russia and its members: Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. Russia’s main desire was to recover the territories lost in the Crimean War. As a result of the war, the principalities of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro officially proclaimed their independence from the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria was re-established with the name of the Principality of Bulgaria. Russia succeeded in claiming several territories from the Caucasus.

The Ottoman capitulation at Nicopolis in 1877
The Ottoman capitulation at Nicopolis in 1877 © Painting by Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky / Image Source: Wikipedia

Factors that triggered the war

Crimean War has ended thanks to the Paris Peace Treaty from 1856. The treaty contained treatments of Christians in the Ottoman Empire and article 9 obliged the Ottoman Empire to give equal rights between Christians and Muslims. Although at local level Christians and Muslims relations were often good, Muslims had some “law benefits”. For example the testimony of Christians against Muslims was not accepted in court, which gave Muslims immunity.

Another factor that led the beginning of the war Russo-Turkish war was the humiliation of Russia in the military conflict from 1856. The Russians had just one victory in three years of war and the Congress from Paris marked the rise of the end of the Russian Empire. The peace conditions imposed on Russia had a humiliating character for them: territorial losses, forbidden to maintain a military fleet in the Black Sea and the fortifications from the southern coast would be destroyed.

Even it can take only one reason to start a war, the Russo-Turkish war was triggered by many factors. After almost 20 years from the Crimean war, the Ottoman Empire started to be the “sick man of Europe”. It had a long period of drought and famine in important areas from the empire and they increased taxation. This led to several revolts, starting with Serbia and later on the Bulgarians revolted in 1876. On April 24, 1877, Russia declared war against the Ottomans.

The intervention by the great powers

Russian crossing of the Danube 1877
Russian crossing of the Danube 1877 © Painting by Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky / Image Source: Wikipedia

Before the official declaration of war, Romanians allowed the Russian troops to pass through Romania on its way to Turkey. As a response from Turks, Romania was bombed by Turks on several cities on the Danube River. This was the final drop for Romanians. On 9 May 1877 the Principality of Romania, under the Ottoman suzerainty, declares its independence.

At the beginning of the war, the Russians and Romanians destroyed the entire Turkish fleet across the Danube River, clearing their way from every point from the river, without facing opposition from Turks. After they crossed the river, Russians sieged the city of Plevna succeeding in December 1878.

On January 31, 1878, Russia accepted the truce offered by the Ottoman Empire, but they continued to advance to Constantinople. The British sent a maritime fleet to intimidate Russia and stop the army from occupying the city. The Russians stopped at San Stefano, where they imposed a new treaty on March 3. The Ottomans had to recognize the independence of Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and the autonomy of Bulgaria. The Great Powers from Europe alarmed because of the Russia’s growth in the Balkans, so they forced the treaty to be amended at the Berlin congress. The main modification was the Bulgaria would be divided into two autonomous provinces: the Principality of Bulgaria and Rumelia. However, Russia implemented its own governing system in Bulgaria which led to crimes against the Muslims.

The territorial gains were minimal for Russia and brought only a moral satisfaction. The losses were enormous and the “image” of Russia was definitively compromised. However, Russia returns to the European elite as a great power, but not as a first-tier as it was until 1856.

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