Relations with Austria

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As they gained control of the Russian lands during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the princes of Moscow became a factor in international relations. An Austrian nobleman, Sigismund von Herber-stein, twice led embassies from the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor to Basil III (15051533) in Moscow. Herberstein's Rerum moscoviticarum commentarii (Notes on Muscovite Affairs, 1549) helped shape European attitudes to Russia for generations. More sustained relations between Austria and Russia began during the reign of Peter the Great (16891725), who made the Russian Empire a permanent force in the European balance of power.

Austria maintained an alliance with Russia for most of the eighteenth century, because its rival, France, was seeking aid from Russia's neighbors Poland and Turkey. Austria and Russia prevented Stanislaw Leszczynski, a French-supported candidate to the Polish throne, from unseating the Saxon dynasty in the War of the Polish Succession (17331735). Russia supported Maria Theresa's claim to the inheritance of her father, Emperor Charles VI, in the War of the Austrian Succession (17401748) and the Seven Year's War (17561763).

Austria and Russia joined with Prussia in the First Partition of Poland (1772), a cynical but effective attempt to preserve regional equilibrium by compensating the three powers at Poland's expense. Austria then supported Empress Catherine II's ambitions in the Balkans, but, concerned by the threat of the French Revolution, withdrew from the war with Turkey in 1791. While Austria was preoccupied with France, Russia and Prussia cooperated in the Second Partition of Poland (1793), but Austria joined them in the Third Partition following Kosciuszko's revolt (1795).

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Russia and Austria were allies in the War of the Second Coalition (17981801, Russia withdrew in 1799) and the War of the Third Coalition (18051807). French victories forced Austria to make an alliance with Napoleon, sending troops to join his invasion of Russia in 1812. When the invasion failed, however, Austria joined Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain in the final coalition that defeated Napoleon in 1814 and occupied Paris.

Following the Congress of Vienna (1815), Austria signed Alexander I's Holy Alliance, and the two states generally cooperated to support the conservative order and prevent revolution. Nicholas I (18251855) sent a Russian army to help Austria defeat the Hungarian bid for independence in 1849. This was poorly repaid by Austria's malevolent neutrality during the Crimean War (18531856).

After the unification of Italy and Germany, Austria turned its ambitions exclusively to the Balkans, where it clashed with Russia. The Balkan crises in 1875 to 1878 and in 1885 destroyed Otto von Bismarck's Three Emperors' League. Subsequent Austro-Russian success at keeping the Balkans "on ice" ended after Russia's disastrous war with Japan in 1904 to 1905. As Russia turned from the Far East to a more active Balkan policy, Austria in 1908 annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina (occupied since the Congress of Berlin in 1878), leaving Serbia bitter and Russia humiliated. Russia responded by encouraging Balkan cooperation to thwart further Austrian penetration, but instead the Balkan League turned on Turkey in two wars in 1912 and 1913. At the peace conference in London in 1913, Austria blocked Serbian access to the Adriatic, again to Russia's chagrin.

This accumulation of tension set the stage for the assassination of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914, touching off World War I. Austria was determined to punish Serbia for the assassination. Russia's support for Serbia drew in Germany, Austria's ally. The German war plan called for an attack on France, Russia's ally since the 1890s, before Russia could mobilize. The attack, through neutral Belgium, provoked Great Britain's entry. During the war, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires both collapsed.

The empire's diminished successor, the Republic of Austria, and the Soviet Union did not enjoy significant relations between the wars. Absorbed into Hitler's Germany in 1938, Austria regained its independence after World War II because the Allies had decided in 1943 to treat it as liberated, not enemy, territory. Nevertheless, Austria was occupied in four zones, with Vienna, also divided, located in the Soviet zone. On the fault line of the developing Cold War, Austria emerged united, neutral, and free of Soviet domination when the State Treaty was signed in 1955. Vienna was often a site for international meetings, such as the summit between Nikita S. Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy in 1961, prior to the Berlin and Cuban crises. Austria's entry into the European Union ended its neutrality and placed its relations with Russia on a new footing as part of Russia's relationship with the EU.

See also: balkan wars; cold war; crimean war; poland; seven years' war; three emperors' league; vienna, congress of; world war i


Allard, Sven. (1970). Russia and the Austrian State Treaty: A Case Study of Soviet Policy in Europe. University Park: Pennsylvania State University.

Bridge, F. R. (1990). The Habsburg Monarchy Among the Great Powers, 18151918. New York: Berg.

Jelavich, Barbara. (1974). St. Petersburg and Moscow: Tsarist and Soviet Foreign Policy, 18141974. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Jelavich, Barbara. (1991). Russia's Balkan Entanglements, 18061914. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Poe, Marshall. (2000). A People Born to Slavery: Russia in Early Modern European Ethnography, 14761748. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Rossos, Andrew. (1981). Russia and the Balkans: Inter-Balkan Rivalries and Russian Foreign Policy, 19081914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hugh LeCaine Agnew

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Austria, relations with. At the end of the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian empire, which had fought alongside Germany, was dismembered by the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Austria was reduced to a state of just over six millions, one-third of whom lived in Vienna—‘a pathetic relic’ in Harold Nicolson's words. Many Austrians concluded that only union with Germany—Anschluss—could make a viable state, but this was specifically forbidden by the treaty of Versailles. The new state suffered severe economic and financial difficulties. A plan in 1931 for a customs union with Germany was vetoed by France and the subsequent collapse of the Creditanstalt bank helped to precipitate the world economic crisis. In 1934 the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss, who had suppressed the Social Democrat opposition and taken emergency powers, was murdered by Austrian Nazis. Austria was briefly protected by Mussolini's Italy, but Mussolini's stock fell after the inglorious invasion of Abyssinia and he was obliged to come to terms with Hitler, who had made the Anschluss his top priority. In March 1938 when Dollfuss's successor, Schuschnigg, announced a plebiscite on union with Germany, Hitler sent in troops. Anthony Eden, British foreign secretary, resigned over Chamberlain's insistence on trying to conciliate Mussolini and the British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson, could scarcely be persuaded to make even a token protest: ‘I was always convinced that Austria was bound to become part of Germany in some form sooner or later. Austria is now eliminated and without bloodshed,’ he wrote. A plebiscite, conducted under Hitler's auspices, produced a 99 per cent vote for union.

During the Second World War the British government considered the possibility of Austria as part of a post-war confederation to remedy its economic isolation but was frustrated by the Soviet Union. After the war, Austria was reconstituted with its 1937 boundaries and occupied by the four allies for ten years. A peace treaty was postponed until 1955, when Austria was declared a neutral power and joined the United Nations. Its political stability, in contrast to the pre-war position, was remarkable, but the search for economic breadth continued. In 1959 it joined EFTA which, as an economic bloc, did not infringe Austrian neutrality, and in 1973, when Britain joined the EEC, Austria negotiated associated status. In 1995 Austria joined the EEC.

J. A. Cannon

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