The Crimean War was the third and most important event of the Eastern Question. It broke out in September 1854 and ended in September 1856. It was fought on the Crimean Peninsula near the Black Sea between Russia on one side against Turkey, Britain and France and later on joined by Piedmont (Italy). It was the first major war that involved the Great powers since the days of Napoleon I and the conclusion of the Vienna Settlement of 1815. Following the Russian occupation of the Turkish provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia in July 1853 and destruction of Turkish fleet at Sinope in November 1853, France and Britain declared war on Russia. The war went on up to 1856 when Russia was defeated by the allied powers.

The war has been described as a crime and in some circles as the most useless and wasteful war ever fought in human history. It has also been defined as a quarrel between monks or the most unnecessary war. This was because it was fought largely on unclear objectives. The war thus originated from trivial, insignificant and unjustified causes. There were however some justifiable issues which compelled powers to go to war by 1854.


The quarrel or conflict between France and Russia over the protection or guardianship of the Holy Places led to the outbreak of the Crimean war. The Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine which had Bethlehem and Jerusalem that contained the Holy Places believed to be the place of birth and crucifixion as well as the tomb of Jesus Christ respectively.  These two places were therefore of great religious importance to the Christians of various denominations especially the Catholic and Orthodox Christians. France had been given the right to protect these Holy Places during the 16th century but she neglected this duty in the 18th century. As a result, after the signing of the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji in 1774 between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Russia was allowed take over the guardianship of these Holy Places and to be the official protector of the Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire. In 1850, Napoleon III who wanted to win the support of the Catholics in France revived the French claims and which in 1853 the Sultan accepted and therefore recognized the French monks as the guardians of the holy places. Russia protested the move and sent to Constantinople an aggressive ambassador Prince Menchikoff who demanded Russia to be recognized as the protector of the holy places. Such conflicting claims by France and Russia finally caused the Crimean war of 1854 – 1856.

The Russian claims of protection over the Orthodox Christians of the Turkish Empire led to the outbreak of the Crimean war. In 1853, Tsar Nicholas I demanded that Russia should be given the right to protect all the Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire since Russia was also Orthodox in faith. The danger of this demand was that Russia would use such a privilege to interfere in every part of the Ottoman Empire for her own benefit. As a result, the Sultan rejected this demand which annoyed Russia and this increased conflicts that led to the war by 1854.

The Russian support to the Pan-Slav movement led to the outbreak of the Crimean War. The Ottoman Empire was a home to the Slav race which was being oppressed by the Turks. As a result, a movement known as the Pan-Slav Movement was formed to unite and liberate the Slav states on the Balkan Peninsular from the Ottoman rule. This caused nationalistic rebellions like the Serbian revolt of 1815 and the Greek War of Independence of 1821 – 1832. These Slavic territories in the Balkans called for assistance from Russia which claimed responsibility of their protection given that majority of the Russians also belonged to the Slav race. When the sultan refused to grant Russia the mandate to protect the Slavs in the area, Russia decided to occupy Wallachia and Moldavia. Turkey demanded that Russia withdraws from the two provinces and when she refused, Turkey decided to declare war on Russia in 1854 which sparked off the Crimean War.

The Crimean War also partly arose from Tsar Nicholas I’s refusal to recognize the emperorship of Napoleon III. Napoleon III wanted to punish Tsar Nicholas III for constantly addressing him as “my good friend and not as my dear brother” which was a manner common among the European sovereigns or rulers then. Nicholas I had rudely refused to recognize the equal status of Napoleon III with other rulers of Europe and would not address him as brother. Nicholas III always looked down up on Napoleon III as a ruler merely elected by people and therefore whose sovereignty lay in the will of people. He was thus not equal to the legendary status of the emperors of Europe. This attitude of Nicholas I was so annoying to Napoleon III that he opted to launch war against Russia in order to teach the former a lesson.

The Crimean War was also due to Napoleon III’s desire to avenge the disastrous Moscow campaign of 1812. In 1812, his uncle Napoleon I had been badly humiliated by the Russians. Of the 600,000 men he went with only about 20,000 returned home. This campaign was so disastrous that it completely ruined his career as an emperor. Thus, if Russia was to engage in an international war, Napoleon III was ready to engage in France so as to avenge the 1812 Moscow disaster. Thus, the Crimean War of 1854 provided him with the long awaited opportunity to avenge.

The actions of the British ambassador in Turkey Stratford Redicliffe worsened the relations between Britain, Turkey and Russia at all costs. For example, supported by the British government under Lord Aberdeen, he encouraged the sultan to stand firm against Russia’s demands. Stratford urged the sultan to recognize the French claims of the sole right to protect the holy places and Christians in the empire something he knew would annoy Russia. As a result in July 1853, Russia responded by moving her troops into the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia. This was a step towards war. When Turkey demanded that Russia withdraws her forces from the two provinces and Russia refused, Turkey declared war, hence the outbreak of the Crimean War of 1854 – 1856.

The anti-Russian hysteria (phobia) or feelings in Britain caused the Crimean War. Britain wanted to check and stop Russia’s dictatorship over Europe especially in the Balkan. Britain was a democratic country and consequently regarded Russia’s despotic rule as repressive and outdated. When Russia occupied Wallachia and Moldavia in July 1853, Britain feared it was bound to impose her dictatorship over the Balkan states. This brought Britain into conflict with Russia, the climax of which was the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854.

The activities of the Russian ambassador to Constantinople (Turkey) increased the chances of the war.  Prince Menchikoff was a very aggressive and war-like man. For example in 1853, he demanded the sultan to recognize Russia as the legitimate protector of the Holy Places. Him as the Russian ambassador urged Russia to occupy Wallachia and Moldavia, something that Turkey, Britain and France could not welcome.  This prompted the British ambassador to Constantinople to adamantly advise the sultan to reject Menchikoff’s demands. The end result was the war on the Peninsular of Crimea in 1854.

NOTE: Because of such trivial causes of the Crimean war, it has been referred to as the most useless and wasteful war ever fought by a man.

Russia’s occupation of the Turkish provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, in July 1853 caused the Crimean War of 1854. Following the sultan’s refusal to grant Menchikoff’s government (Russia) the mandate to protect the holy places in the early months of 1853, Russia then sent her troops into the two provinces which indicated a great step towards war. But the Great Powers of Britain, Austria, Prussia and France tried to avert war by calling a conference in Vienna. Proposals were then made demanding Russia to withdraw from Moldavia and Wallachia which she refused. Subsequently, Turkey declared war on Russia in October 1853, Britain and France joined Turkey by 27th March 1854 as the war shifted from Wallachia-Moldavia to the Crimean Peninsula, thus the Crimean war.

The weaknesses of the Turkish Empire became one of the strong reasons that led to the Crimean war. The Turkish Empire was very sick (weak) throughout the 19th century which made her vulnerable to foreign intervention. The Greek War of Independence of 1821 – 1832 and the Syrian Question of 1831 – 1841 exposed the empire’s political and military weaknesses because it had to call in foreign support in order to fight against her enemies. She also had many administrative problems like corruption and inefficiency which continued unchecked. The empire was also extremely large with territories located on three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa) which the Ottoman sultans could not effectively govern. This increased the colonial appetite or ambitions of the Imperial Powers like Russia whose imperialism was opposed by Britain and France which led to the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854.

The commercial or economic interests of the European Powers in the Balkan region also caused the Crimean war. For example, Britain wanted to protect her commercial interests in the Mediterranean and Black Seas as much as the French desired to promote the French trade in the same areas (Eastern Mediterranean). They were alarmed by Russia’s treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi of 1833 with the sultan which had virtually given her monopoly over the entrance to the Black Sea known as Bosphorus. Consequently, Russia would use Constantinople as a base to cross and access the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, to contain a possible Russian dominance over the Mediterranean trade, they joined war with Turkey against Russia, hence causing the Crimean war of 1854 -1856.

Russia’s policy and attitude to the Ottoman Empire also led to war. After 1841, the policy of Tsar Nicholas I became outspokenly opposed to the continued existence of the Turkish Empire. Various statements made by the Tsar seemed to indicate to other powers that he was determined to break the empire apart. For example, he often referred to it as the sick man of Europe and gave it as his opinion that no amount of doctoring would save her. On a visit to Britain in 1844, Nicholas I suggested to various British statesmen that Britain and Russia should settle the fate of Turkey between themselves – Britain to take Egypt and Crete and Russia to occupy Constantinople temporarily, the independence of the Balkan states be guaranteed by the powers while the immediate protector of these states was to be Russia. In 1853, he again made similar proposals. Britain and France couldn’t stand Russia’s policies and hence they declared war on her in 1854.

The Crimean War also originated from the Russian imperialism in the Balkan region. Her imperialistic designs in the Balkans were a serious threat to the British, French and Turks themselves. Her interest in Turkey had begun long before the Greek War of Independence but had been checked by Britain. Russia took advantage of the weakness of the sultan to gain commercial, strategic as well as economic opportunities within the empire and these were guaranteed through the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi of 1833 which Britain later cancelled through the Straits Convention of 1841. When Russia occupied Wallachia and Moldavia in July 1853, Turkey, Britain and France proved their suspicion that Russia was determined to disintegrate the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, they declared war on her in 1854 so as to protect Turkey from the Russian imperialism.

The British desire to maintain the balance of power in Europe led to the outbreak of the Crimean War. Britain under Prime Minister LORD ABERDEEN was interested in the preservation of the Turkish Empire so as to maintain the balance of power. He stated that Tsar Nicholas I was just exaggerating the weakness of the Turkish Empire for his own selfish imperialistic interests. Britain therefore wanted to preserve the Turkish Empire such that it would be used as a bulwark or buffer state to check on the Russian ambitions and influence in the Eastern Europe.  Because of this therefore, Britain had to fight the Russia which caused the Crimean war of 1854 – 1856.

The violation of the Straits Convention of 1841 by France and Britain led to the outbreak of the Crimean War. This convention or treaty had closed the two entrances to the Black Sea (Dardanelles and Bosphorus) to the warships of all nations in times of peace. However, following the Russian occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia in July 1853, France and Britain formed an allied force and in March 1854 they sent it across the strait of Bosphorus demanding Russia to withdraw from the two provinces back to her naval base at Sebastopol. To the Russians, the two had violated the international Straits Convention which had restricted access to warships of all nations during times of peace. This forced the Russians to reject the demand, hence prompting the allies to declare war on Russia on 27th March 1854, hence leading to the Crimean War.

The collapse of the Congress System and international diplomacy caused the Crimean War. By 1854, there was no single international organization to settle European disputes amicably (peacefully). The Congress System which was established in 1818 to maintain European peace and stability had collapsed by 1830. Besides, some European diplomats who had attempted to keep Europe at peace like Metternich had been overthrown by the 1848 revolutions in Europe. Thus, the kind of statesmen Europe had between 1848 and 1853 were the likes of Stratford de Redicliffe, Menchikoff and Nicholas II among others who had little regard for diplomacy in resolving European problems. This is why even if all circumstances didn’t warrant war, such persons hunted for it in 1854. For example, Stratford de Redicliffe increased the sultan’s adamancy by encouraging him to reject any Russian proposals.

Russia’s act of sinking the Turkish fleet or warships at Sinope on Black Sea was the immediate cause of the Crimean war. In November 1853, the Russian warships sank the Turkish battle ships as they were set ablaze (set on fire) in what is commonly known as the “Sinope Massacre” of 1853.  Turkey regarded this as an unjustifiable massacre as many Turkish soldiers died. This then made Britain and France who were allies of Turkey to declare war on Russia in 1854, hence sparking off the Crimean war. In this case therefore, Russia was to blame for the outbreak of the Crimean war of 1854 – 1856.


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