Paris, Congress and Treaty of 1856

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Facing an empty treasury, a new French naval ordnance that might pierce the Kronstadt walls, and possible Swedish and Prussian hostilities, Alexander II and a special Imperial Council accepted an Austrian ultimatum and agreed on January 16, 1856, to make peace on coalition terms and conclude the Crimean War. Even before Sevastopol fell (September 12, 1855), Russia had accepted three of the Anglo-French-Austrian Four Points of August 1854: guarantee of Ottoman sovereignty and territorial integrity; general European (not exclusively Russian) protection of the Ottoman Christians; and freeing of the mouth of the Danube. The details of the third point, as well as reduction of Russian Black Sea preponderance and additional British particular conditions, completed the agreement. The incipient entente with Napoleon III, who all along had hoped to check Russian prestige without fighting for British imperial interests, was a boon to Russia.

Russia was ably represented in the Paris congress (February 25April 14) by the experienced extraordinary ambassador and privy councillor Count Alexei F. Orlov and the career diplomat and envoy to London, Filip Brunov. They were joined at the table by some of the key statesmen in the diplomatic preliminaries of the war from Turkey, England, France, and Austria, as well as Camilio Cavour of Piedmont-Sardinia. Russia's chief concession was to remove its naval presence from the Black Sea, but they worked out the details of its neutralization directly with the Turks, not their British allies. The affirmation of the 1841 Convention, which closed the Turkish Straits to warships in peacetime, was actually more advantageous to Russia, which lacked a fleet on one side, than to Britain, which had one on the other. Russia's sole territorial loss was the retrocession of the southern part of Bessarabia to Ottoman Moldavia, the purpose of which was to secure the Russian withdrawal from the Danubian Delta.

In addition, the Russians agreed to the demilitarization of the land Islands in the Baltic, a provision that held until World War I. The Holy Places dispute, the diplomatic scrape which had led directly to the war preliminaries, was settled on the basis of the compromise effected in Istanbul in April 1853 by the three extraordinary ambassadors, Alexander Menshikov, Edmond de la Cour, and Stratford (Canning) de Redcliffe, before Russia's diplomatic rupture with Turkey. The Peace Treaty was signed on March 20, 1856.

The British at first did not treat the Russians as complying and kept some forces in the Black Sea. However, the 1857 India Mutiny, due in part to Russian-supported Persian pressure on Afghanistan, led to British withdrawal and facilitated the unimpeded success of Russia's long-standing campaign to gain full control of the Caucasus.

As some contemporary observers noted, adherence to the naval and strategic provisions of the treaty depended upon Russian weakness and coalition resolve. During the Franco-German war of 18701871, Alexander Gorchakov announced that Russia would no longer adhere to the "Black Sea Clauses" mandating demilitarization, and a London conference accepted this change. During the Turkish War of 18771878, Russia re-annexed Southern Bessarabia to the chagrin of its Romanian allies.

See also: crimean war; nicholas i; sevastopol


Baumgart, Winfried. (1981). The Peace of Paris, 1856: Studies in War, Diplomacy, and Peacemaking. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Mosse, Werner. (1963). The Rise and Fall of the Crimean System, 1855-71: The Story of a Peace Settlement. London: The English Universities Press.

David M. Goldfrank