Sergei Sazonov

Sergei Sazonov

Sergei Sazonov was born in Russia in 1860. Nicholas II considered Sazonov to be a competent international analyst and in 1910 appointed him as his foreign minister.

In 1913 Sazonov argued: "Serbia has only gone through the first stage of her historic road and for the attainment of her goal must still endure a terrible struggle in which her whole existence may be at stake. Serbia's promised land lies in the territory of present-day Hungary and not in the direction in which she is now tending and where Bulgaria stands in her way. In these circumstances it is a vital interest of Serbia on the one hand to uphold the alliance with Bulgaria and on the other by tenacious and patient effort to attain the necessary degree of preparedness for the future inevitable struggle."

Sazonov was aware that although the Russian Army was large, it was also inefficient, and was careful to avoid conflict with Turkey during the Balkan Wars. However, in 1914, Sazonov was of the opinion that in the event of a war, Russia's membership of the Triple Entente would enable it to make territorial gains from neighbouring countries. Sazonov and Nicholas II were especially interested in taking Posen, Silesia, Galicia and North Bukovina.

On 31st July, Sazonov advised the Tsar to order the mobilization of the Russian Army even though he knew it would lead to war with the Germany and Austria-Hungary. Bernard Pares, British Military Observer to the Russian Army, commented: "At this time the Tsar nor his army had any doubt (that if there was a war) of the ultimate victory of the Triple Entente, and Nicholas played at the then fashionable game of redividing up the world. Russia must receive Posen, part of Silesia, Galicia and North Bukovina which will permit her to reach her natural limit, the Carpathians. The Turks were to be driven from Europe; the Northern Straits might be Bulgarian, but the environs of Constantinople - Sazonov had not yet asked for the city itself - must be in the hands of Russia."

During the early stages of the First World War Sazonov was busy making long-term territorial arrangements with Britain and France. This including the promise that after the war Russia would be given control of the Dardanelles. Alexander Kerensky argued: " Sazonov, who firmly advocated honouring the alliance with Britain and France and carrying on the war to the bitter end, and who recognized the Cabinet's obligation to pursue a policy in tune with the sentiments of the majority in the Duma."

Sazonov came into conflict with Nikolai Maklakov and other conservative figures in the government. His desire to create a unified, independent Poland after the war lost him the support of Nicholas II and he was dismissed from office in July, 1916.

Sent to Britain on diplomatic duties, Sazonov remained in London during the February Revolution and the creation of the Provisional Government. As an opponent of the Bolshevik Government in Russia, Sazonov was invited to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Sergei Sazonov died in 1927.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Alexander Kerensky, Russia and History's Turning Point (1965)

On 25th October, 1912, A. P. Izvolsky, Russian ambassador to Paris, informed Foreign Minister Sazonov of the following statement of policy adopted by the French Cabinet: "France now recognizes that Austria's territorial ambitions involve the over-all balance of power in Europe and consequently France's own interests."

In short, France was encouraging Russia to take a stronger stand in the Balkans. At about the same time France began pressing Russia to strengthen the construction of strategically important railroads without delay.

(2) Bernard Pares knew Nicholas II and Sergei Sazonov during the summer of 1914.

At this time the Tsar nor his army had any doubt (that if there was a war) of the ultimate victory of the Triple Entente, and Nicholas played at the then fashionable game of redividing up the world. Russia must receive Posen, part of Silesia, Galicia and North Bukovina which will permit her to reach her natural limit, the Carpathians. The Turks were to be driven from Europe; the Northern Straits might be Bulgarian, but the environs of Constantinople - Sazonov had not yet asked for the city itself - must be in the hands of Russia.

(3) Sergei Sazonov, letter to the Russian ambassador in Serbia (5th May 1913)

Serbia has only gone through the first stage of her historic road and for the attainment of her goal must still endure a terrible struggle in which her whole existence may be at stake. Serbia's promised land lies in the territory of present-day Hungary and not in the direction in which she is now tending and where Bulgaria stands in her way. In these circumstances it is a vital interest of Serbia on the one hand to uphold the alliance with Bulgaria and on the other by tenacious and patient effort to attain the necessary degree of preparedness for the future inevitable struggle.

(4) Sergei Sazonov, letter to the Russian ambassador In London (19th February 1914)

The peace of the world will only be secure on the day when the Triple Entente, whose real existence is not better authenticated than the existence of the sea serpent, shall transform itself into a defensive alliance without secret clauses and publicly announced in all the world press. On that day the danger of a German hegemony will be finally removed, and each one of us will be able to devote himself quietly to his own affairs.

(5) Sergei Sazonov, Fateful Years 1909-1916 (1929)

I had a vivid recollection of the impression produced everywhere, and especially in Germany, by Mr. Lloyd George's speech in 1911 when, owing to the Agadir incident, Europe was on the brink of war. A decisive statement on the part of the British Government of its solidarity with France had then been sufficient to dispel the gathering storm clouds. I was profoundly convinced at the time and am still convinced now that, had the British Government sided with Russia and France on the Serbian question from the first, Berlin would not have encouraged Austria in its policy of aggression, but would on the contrary have advised caution and moderation, and the hour of reckoning between the two hostile camps into which Europe was divided would have been postponed for years if not for ever.

(6) In his autobiography, Fateful Years 1909-1916, Sergei Sazonov explained that once Nicholas II had signed the general mobilisation order, he knew that war was inevitable.

There was no more hope of preserving peace. All our conciliatory offers, which went far beyond anything that a Great Power, whose resources were still untouched, could be expected to concede, had been rejected. The same thing happened about the offers made, with our consent, by Sir Edward Grey, which proved that the British Government was no less peaceably disposed than ourselves. I told the Tsar that it was dangerous to delay the general mobilisation any longer, since, according to the information they possessed, the German mobilisation, though not as yet proclaimed officially, was fairly advanced. The perfection of the German military organisation made it possible by means of personal notices to the reservists to accomplish a great part of the work quietly and then, after the formal orders have been issued, to complete the mobilisation in a very short time. This circumstance gave a tremendous advantage to Germany, but we could counteract it to a certain extent by taking measures for our own mobilisation in good time. The Tsar knew all this very well and he signified it by inclining his head without speaking.

In the circumstances there was nothing left for the Tsar but to give orders for general mobilisation. The Tsar was silent. Then he said to me, in a voice full of deep feeling: "This would mean sending hundreds of thousands of Russian people to their death. How can one help hesitating to take such a step?" I answered that the responsibility for the precious lives carried away by the war would not fall upon him. Neither he nor his government desired the war thrust upon Russia and Europe by the ill-will of the enemy, determined to increase their power by enslaving our natural Allies in the Balkans, destroying our influence there and reducing Russia to a pitiful dependence upon the arbitrary will of the Central Powers.

(7) Alexander Kerensky, Russia and History's Turning Point (1965)

On January 19, Goremykin was replaced by Sturmer, an extreme reactionary who hated the very idea of any form of popular representation or local self-government. Even more important, he was undoubtedly a believer in the need for an immediate cessation of the war with Germany.

During his first few months in office, Sturmer was also Minister of Interior, but the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs was still held by Sazonov, who firmly advocated honouring the alliance with Britain and France and carrying on the war to the bitter end, and who recognized the Cabinet's obligation to pursue a policy in tune with the sentiments of the majority in the Duma.

On August 9, however, Sazonov was suddenly dismissed. His portfolio was taken over by Sturmer, and on September 16, Protopopov was appointed acting Minister of the Interior. The official government of the Russian Empire was now entirely in the hands of the Tsarina and her advisers.