Giers and the Policy of Moderation

  • Barbara Jelavich


The character of our main subject, Nicholas Karlovich Giers, is in many ways elusive. Until the Russian foreign ministry archives are open and until more of Giers’s instructions and reports are published, it will not be possible to make an accurate estimate of his foreign policy or of his success in achieving his goals. Under the present circumstances, judgements must be based on what are an extremely limited number of sources. Giers’s memoirs, written when he was ambassador in Stockholm, only cover the years to 1846. The great majority of the material in the family papers which were brought to France consist of letters to Giers rather than his own writings. Our estimates must thus be derived from the reports of foreign ambassadors stationed in St Petersburg, some published documents, memoirs, collections of letters, and diaries, in particular that of Giers’s close confidant V. N. Lamzdorf. In general, these sources depict Russian policy under the minister’s direction as consistently moderate and conciliatory. It was, in fact, these aspects that drew the major criticism.1


Foreign Policy Foreign Ministry Russian Government German Policy Military Alliance 
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  1. 1.
    For Giers’s policy see in particular his memoirs, The Education of a Russian Statesman: the Memoirs of Nicholas Karlovich Giers (Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press, 1962)Google Scholar
  2. Vladimir Nikolaevich Lamzdorf, Dnevnik V. N. Lamzdorfa, 1886–1890 (Moscow, 1926) and Dnevnik, 1891–1892 (Moscow, Academiya, 1934).Google Scholar
  3. Giers’s correspondence is included in A. Meyendorff (ed.), Correspondence diplomatique de M. de Staal, 1884–1900 (Paris, Librairie des sciences politiques et sociales, 1929) 2 vols.Google Scholar
  4. George F. Kennan give considerable attention to Giers: The Decline of Bismarck’s European Order: Franco-Russian Relations, 1875–1890 (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1979)Google Scholar
  5. Ada von Erdmann, ‘Nikolai Karlovič Giers, russischer Aussenminister 1882–1895’, Zeitschrift für Osteuropäische Geschichte IX, no.4 (1935) pp. 481–540.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Hans Lothar von Schweinitz, Denkwürdigkeiten des Botschafters General V. Schweinitz (Berlin, Reimer Hobbing, 1927) vol. 2, p. 33.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Giers to Jomini, St Petersburg, 23 June/5 July 1878. C. and B. Jelavich, (eds.), Russia in the East, 1876–1880 (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1959) p. 147.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    N. K. Giers to N. N. Giers, Livadia, May 17/29, 1879, Ibid. The difficulties of Giers’s position were generally recognised. For instance, Miliutin wrote in his diary on 24 November 1879 concerning Gorchakov: ‘Nothing in the world exists for him except his own person’. He did not attend to affairs, and he was not in a condition to do so. Even though he remained officially at the head of the ministry of foreign affairs, it was Giers that did the work. P. A. Zaionchkovskii (ed.), Dnevnik D. A. Miliutina, 1878–1880 (Moscow, Biblioteka SSSR imeni V. I. Lenina, 1950) vol. 3, p. 182.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For the arguments of Jomini, at this time close to Gorchakov, and his support of a new policy see his letters to Giers in B. and C. Jelavich, ‘Jomini and the Revival of the Dreikaiserbund, 1879–1880’, Slavonic and East European Review, vol. 25, no. 85 (June 1958) pp. 523–50.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The negotiations strictly from Saburov’s point of view are discussed in J. Y. Simpson (ed.), The Saburov Memoirs (New York, Macmillan, 1929).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    The difficulties of Giers’s position were observed. Milyutin in May, 1881 commented that ‘the old egoist’ Gorchakov intended to leave St Petersburg, but he would not give up his post: Milyutin, Dnevnik, vol. 4, p. 76.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    For the Bulgarian crisis see Charles Jelavich, Tsarist Russia and the Balkan Nationalism (Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press, 1958).Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Morier to Rosebery, no. 253 most secret, St Petersburg, 21 July 1866. Public Record Office, FO 65/1260, printed in B. Jelavich, ‘Bulgaria and Batum’, Southeastern Europe, vol. 1, no. 1 (1974) p. 76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. E. E. Staal to N. K. Giers’, Südost-Forschungen, vol. 36 (1975) pp. 264–65.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Schweinitz to Caprivi, no. 103 secret, St Petersburg, 3 April 1890. Quoted in J. Lepsius, A. M. Bartholdy, and F. Thimme, Die Grosse Politik der Europäischen Kabinette, 1871–1914 (Berlin, Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte, 1924) VII, pp. 11–15.Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    The exchange of correspondence is printed in Kennan, The Fateful Alliance, pp. 260–62. For the negotiations at this time see also Peter Jakobs, Das Werden des französisch-russischen Zweibundes, 1890–1894 (Wiesbaden, Otto Harrasowitz, 1968).Google Scholar

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© International Committee for Soviet and East European Studies, and Robert B. McKean 1992

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  • Barbara Jelavich

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