Denmark, Relations with

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The earliest evidence of Danish-Russian interaction consists of discoveries in Russia of tenth-century Danish coins and an eleventh-century chronicle reference to trips by Danish merchants to Novgorod. There are further mentions of Russian vessels to Denmark in the twelfth century. However, the available data is extremely fragmentary, and we have no indication of any direct commerce in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries.

Danish-Muscovite political relations were first established under a 1493 treaty between King Hans and Ivan III, designed as an offensive agreement against Sweden and Lithuania. The temporary Danish takeover of Sweden in 1497 made the Finnish border a source of contention, yet closer ties were pursued through discussions about a dynastic marriage. Frequent Danish embassies were sent to Russia in the early years of the sixteenth century, at which time Danish merchants also began to visit the Neva estuary and Ivangorod. A Russian embassy attended the coronation of Christian II in 1514 and negotiated a new treaty, again for the purpose of bringing about a Russian attack on Sweden.

Relations began to deteriorate in the second half of the sixteenth century due to Danish interest in Livonia during the Livonian War and intensifying border disputes between northern Norway and Russia. However, the Moscow treaty of 1562 recognized the Danish acquisition of the island of Ösel/Saaremaa off the Estonian coast in 1559. In 1569 Duke Magnus was made the administrator of Russian Livonia and married with Ivan IV's niece, although the couple subsequently was forced to flee to Poland. Further problems were created by Danish efforts to control and tax Western European shipping with Russia's Arctic Sea coast. Nonetheless, Boris Godunov in 1602 proposed a marriage between his daughter and the Danish Prince Hans who, however, died in Moscow soon after his arrival.

Danish economic interests in northern Russia increased after the establishment of the Romanov regime, and shipping on a fairly modest scale was almost annual. A diplomatic crisis ensued from Christian IV's ultimately unsuccessful efforts to set up a special company for illegal direct trade with the fur-rich areas to the east of Arkhangelsk. The Danish navy even raided Kola in 1623. The Danes further rejected overtures for a dynastic marriage in the early 1620s. Relations soon warmed again during Danish involvement in the Thirty Years' War, and the Muscovite government provided grain as a subsidy from 1627 to 1633.

The most serious effort at linking the Danish and Russian ruling families came between 1643 and 1645 when Prince Valdemar Christian was to be married with Tsarevna Irina Mikhailovna. However, differences over relations with Sweden and the refusal of Valdemar to convert to Orthodox ultimately scuttled the project. Attempts to contain Sweden again led to a rapprochement in the 1650s. The same considerations prompted Denmark to join Peter's anti-Swedish alliance to participatewith limited successin the Great Northern War in 1700. Peter I visited Denmark in 1716 for discussions about a planned reconquest of southern Sweden. Relations deteriorated when the plans remained on paper and the Danes rejected a royal marriage proposal.

The Russian marriage-based alliance in 1721 with the ducal house of Gottorpan independent-minded Danish vassalevolved into a lasting source of tension between the two countries, especially under the long reign of Elizabeth Petrovna, who appointed the Gottorpian future Peter III as her successor. Open warfare between the two countries was only averted by Catherine II's coup d'état. During her reign, Denmark became a key link in Nikita Panin's Northern system. An alliance was established in 1773, and the end of the century saw a sharp increase in Danish-Russian commerce, making Russia one of Denmark's leading trade partners. Tsar Pavel's desire to seek Swedish support against England constituted the main threat to this alliance.

Denmark reacted to the rise of Napoleon by adopting a neutral position and refused to join in offensive action in northern Germany, fearing the safety of its possessions. Russia diplomatically supported Denmark against English aggression, but Swedish willingness to support Russia in return for the annexation of Norway from Denmark led to a cooling of Danish-Russian relations. Denmark was eventually forced to join the anti-French coalition and to accept the loss of Norway in 1814. Russian efforts to compensate Denmark ultimately resulted only in the acquisition of the small northern German city of Lauenburg.

Political relations in the nineteenth century were to a significant degree driven by a Russian desire to ensure free access to the Baltic through the Danish Sound and to balance off Sweden and Denmark against each other. The rise of Scandinavism was often associated with anti-Russian sentiment, which the government sought to control. In 1849, Russia put pressure on Prussia to end an occupation of Jutland in order to prevent a Scandinavian alliance. The Russians considered various ultimately unsuccessful plans to neutralize Denmark toward the end of the century. Relations in the second half of the century benefited from a close relationship between the two royal families. Nicholas I in 1852 gave up the Russian claim on Gottorp and a dynastic marriage between Christian IX's daughter and the future Alexander III in 1866. The tsar and his family visited Denmark at least once a year. Russia also supported Denmark against Germany after 1864, following the loss of Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria.

Economic ties between the two countries acquired a new dimension with growth in Danish investment and entrepreneurship starting in the late nineteenth century. By 1917, Danish direct investment in Russia was comparable to the kingdom's annual budget. The Danes were especially active in the agricultural and food sector. A DaneCarl Andreas Koefoedwas one of the driving forces behind the Stolypin reforms. Russia was Denmark's third or fourth most important trade partners and accounted for one-tenth of total Danish imports. Before World War I, Russia was the leading export market for Danish industry.

Following unsuccessful efforts to gain compensation for economic losses in connection with the Bolshevik Revolution, Denmark recognized the Soviet regime in 1923. However, a Bolshevik propaganda representation had operated in Copenhagen already in 1918 and 1919. Danish observance of political neutrality made relations with the communist regime relatively problem-free, in spite of Soviet sponsorship of the Danish Communist Party (DCP) and other revolutionary organizations. The DCP, however, remained throughout a relatively marginal factor in Danish internal politics. Adhering to its neutrality Denmark in 1939 refused to support the expulsion of the Soviets from the League of Nations and refused to join a Nordic defensive alliance thereafter.

The Red Army occupied the Island of Bornholm in 1945 with a view to ensuring free access to the Baltic. The British promise not to continue with the occupation of Denmark led to a Russian departure in 1946. The postwar government, committed to neutrality, sought to acquire a role as a bridge-builder between the East and the West. However, following Norwegian NATO accession in 1949, Denmark followed suit to face a virulent Soviet reaction. The Soviets sought to foster forces opposed to Danish NATO membership and advocated the neutralization of Scandinavia or, at least, guarantees against the stationing of nuclear weapons there. A gradual rapprochement began under Nikita Khrushchev, but the Brezhnev regime sought to convince Denmark of the new geopolitical realities created by its active armament campaign. The Soviets were particularly enthusiastic about the emergence of a grassroots peace movement in the 1980s, which was viewed as a way of weakening Danish-U.S. ties. The ruling Social Democrats in Denmark became more favorable to a nuclear-free Scandinavia by the mid-1980s, and relations were fairly cordial thereafter, fully normalized after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

See also: great northern war; norway, relations with; sweden, relations with


Kirby, David. (1990). Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period: The Baltic World, 14921772. London: Longman.

Kirby, David. (1995). The Baltic World, 17721993: Europe's Northern Periphery in an Age of Change. London: Longman.

Lauring, Palle. (1995). A History of Denmark, 3rd ed. Copenhagen: Høst.

Jarmo T. Kotilaine

Denmark, relations with

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Denmark, relations with. England became part of a Scandinavian empire under Danish kings (Cnut and his sons) between 1019 and 1042. Although over the next 500 years England's main political and military activities moved elsewhere, trade with the Baltic (especially in naval stores from the 16th cent.) guaranteed interest in Denmark and its Norwegian kingdom at the entrance to the Baltic. In 1801 Danish participation in a league of armed neutrality against the rigorous search for contraband by the Royal Navy unleashed a fierce response with Nelson triumphing at the battle of Copenhagen. Six years later the British carried out a pre-emptive strike, fearful that Danish naval power was about to fall under the control of Napoleon. At the end of the Napoleonic wars Britain was involved in the transfer of Norway from Denmark to Sweden. In 1848–52 Britain helped to find a peaceful solution to a disputed succession to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in favour of continuing Danish rule. But in 1863–4 Palmerston was unable to avert a war in which Prussia (assisted by Austria) defeated the Danes. This episode strengthened those in Britain who favoured a lower profile in European affairs. Despite some disputes over fishing rights, relations between the two countries in modern times have been cordial, and they share a cautious attitude towards the European Community.

C. J. Bartlett

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