Berlin, Convention of

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Concluded June 18, 1881, this Convention of Berlin recreated the Three Emperors' League between the Great Powers: Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Each power pledged to remain neutral if one of the signatories were to become involved in a war with another Great Power. The closing of the Straits to all warships was reconfirmed. A separate protocol recognized Austria's right to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina (an option exercised in 1908) and reiterated the Bulgarian territorial settlement imposed by the 1878 Congress of Berlin.

The treaty reflected Otto von Bismarck's strategy of keeping France isolated following the Franco-Prussian war, in part by binding Russia to Germany. The Russian government viewed the convention as a necessary evil to give Russia a period of peace on its western frontiers, to counter the Austro-German alliance, and to avoid a repetition of 1878, when a coalition of other Great Powers had prevented Russia from fully exploiting its victory over Turkey. A December 1879 Foreign Ministry conference chaired by Minister Nikolai Karlovich Giers concluded that a nonaggression pact with Vienna and Berlin was absolutely essential to obtain "the repose of which [Russia] has the most imperious need." Faced with growing internal social unrest and the need to slash military spending, Russia could not afford renewed military competition.

Alexander III renewed the alliance in 1884, but it expired in 1887. The convention failed to provide any mechanism for regulating Austro-Russian rivalries in the Balkans, especially because Germany was unable to function as an honest broker between Vienna and St. Petersburg. Nor was Russia inclined to permanently accept a status quo predicated on its post-1878 weakness. Bismarck concluded a nonaggression pact (the Reinsurance Treaty) when the convention lapsed, but Germany abrogated this agreement in 1890 when Bismarck was retired. This paved the way for the 1894 Franco-Russian alliance.

See also: germany, relations with; three emperors' league


Dmytryshyn, Basil. (1974). Imperial Russia: A Sourcebook, 17001917. Hinsdale, IL: Dryden Press.

Fuller, William C., Jr. (1992). Strategy and Power in Russia, 16001914. New York: Free Press.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (1984). A History of Russia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nikolas Gvosdev