Chapter 7
Weakening of the Russian Position


Although the forward policy was developed to counter the Russian dominance of Western Asia, the Russian position was not as strong or as secure as the British believed. Even though the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi apparently made Turkey dependent on Russia, the fact was that Sultan Mahmud was very dissatisfied with it. Throughout his reign Mahmud had struggled to restore imperial authority over the provinces that had become semi-independent. In this task he was largely successful, except for Egypt. 1 Mohammed Ali had grown stronger than the Sultan and although Russia had saved Turkey once and could do so again, the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was purely defensive and the Russians even restrained Mahmud from taking any positive action. To preserve his empire, Mahmud felt he had to destroy Mohammed Ali and he began looking around for other help to do so. 2

The British thought that Russia controlled Persia as well but Persian policy towards Russia was governed by fear and the lack of any alternative. Britain had abandoned Persia in 1828 but as the forward policy developed, an effort was made to regain a foothold there. There were various moves to upgrade the embassy to Persia and in 1832, military advisors were sent from India to train the Persian army. 3 When Fath Ali Shah died in 1834, his grandson and heir apparent, Mohammed Mirza, was at Tabriz. Two of the late ruler's sons also claimed the throne, but Mohammed Mirza had the support of both Britain and Russia. Russia's offer to send troops was declined but British financial assistance was accepted and British officers led the army that defeated the other claimants. 4 It might be expected that British influence in Persia was regaining lost ground.

The Russian empire was also suffering from distracting revolts within its frontiers. In 1834 a new leader, Shimil, appeared at the head of the Murid revolt in the Caucasus. Shamil carried the fighting to the Russian controlled lowlands and intensified the struggle. Expeditions were sent into the mountains by the Russians, but although they could capture mountain strongholds, they couldn't hold them and they could never lay hands on Shamil. The increased fighting put a strain on Russian finances and prevented them from coping with other problems. 5 The same situation was incurred by revolts in 1836 and 1837 among the Kazakhs. Kanesary Kasim united most of the Great and Middle Hordes against the Russians and for several years thereafter, made life on the frontier insecure, interrupted Russian trade, and cut off Russian contacts with the Uzbeg Khanates. 6 These Russian setbacks however did not cause the British to abandon their policies.


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