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Reviewed by:
  • Vneshniaia politika Rossii i germanskie gosudarstva (1801–1812)
  • Raphael Utz
S. N. Iskiul´, Vneshniaia politika Rossii i germanskie gosudarstva (1801–1812) (Russia's Foreign Policy and the German States [1801–12]). 329 pp. Moscow: Indrik, 2007. ISBN-13 978-5857594162.

This book is a study in diplomatic history in its classic and traditional form: we learn in great and chronologically presented detail about the place of the German states in Russian foreign policy between 1801 and 1812.1 So far, this field has not attracted the attention of researchers, and Iskiul´'s work closes a considerable gap in the literature on the prehistory of 1812.2 Older research is either very old indeed or deals only with certain aspects, regions, or subperiods of the time in question.3 Five chapters tell the story from the slow and complicated process of dissolving the Holy Roman Empire in 1801–3, the Bartenstein Convention of 1807, the Peace of Tilsit (1807–8), and the Congress of Erfurt in 1809 to the eve of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812. The perspective, naturally, is a Russian one, and the various responses and strategic designs of Russian diplomacy are discussed without neglecting proposals that were not, in the end, carried out.

Drawing on a variety of published and archival sources (some of which are helpfully reproduced in the annex), Iskiul´ presents foreign policy mainly as politics made by states: although individual rulers, politicians, and diplomats feature in large numbers in his narrative, their personalities, outlook, or [End Page 423] motives remain opaque. Instead, the documents presented and analyzed are in their majority official diplomatic ones, originating mainly from the chancery files of the Foreign Ministry. Readers interested in the cultural-history dimension of foreign policy will be disappointed.4

The tantalizing snippets that do surface make this omission all the more regrettable. For example, Iskiul´ points out that Count P. A. Tolstoi, the Russian ambassador to Paris after the Peace of Tilsit, did not agree with the Franco-Russian alliance and that his reservation affected diplomatic practice (148). The potential of this piece of information to promote a more penetrating discussion of Russian foreign policymaking at the beginning of the 19th century, however, remains unused.5 The same applies to the role of domestic politics and the strong opposition that the alliance with France encountered in influential quarters of Russian society—for example, the mother of Tsar Alexander I, Maria Fedorovna. The author quotes an angry exchange of letters between mother and son and offers the opinion that Alexander's reply aimed at the empress dowager's social circle and was therefore meant to pacify the opposition to his policies (183–85). Again, this interesting thread is not explored further.6

This is all the more surprising as the central focus of Iskiul´'s book is on the role and importance of dynastic links between the Romanovs and various German ruling families (see, e.g., 159–65).7 What emerges from Iskiul´'s work is the realization that these family ties were at the same time both a [End Page 424] major liability and a major asset for Russian foreign policy. In the course of French eastward expansion from the last years of the 18th century onward, the dynastic links to German states like Baden or Württemberg drew Russia into the conflict almost automatically. Alexander's parents-in-law ruled the small southwestern German principality of Baden, and it is no surprise that his wife used all her influence to support her family at home. It is no coincidence either, therefore, that Empress Maria Fedorovna, herself born a princess of Württemberg, expressed herself in the strongest possible terms about Napoleon, describing him to Alexander I as a "bloodthirsty tyrant" (184). In this context it is particularly interesting to note that the general direction of Romanov marriages did not change at all: in 1804, Alexander's sister, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, was married to the heir to the duchy of Saxe-Weimar, a miniscule territory in the heart of Germany and the site of the famous battles of Jena and Auerstädt only two years later. Maria Pavlovna's letters to...


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