The Council Of State

: The Coming Conquest Of England

It was a brilliant assemblage of high dignitaries and military officers

that had gathered in the Imperial Winter Palace at St. Petersburg. Of

the influential personages, who, by reason of their official position

or their personal relations to the ruling house, were summoned to advise

and determine the destiny of the Tsar's Empire, scarcely one was absent.

But it was no festal occasion that had called them here; for all faces
br /> wore an expression of deep seriousness, amounting in certain cases to

one of grave anxiety. The conversation, carried on in undertones, was of

matters of the gravest import.

The broad folding-doors facing the lifesize portrait of the reigning

Tsar were thrown wide open, and amid the breathless silence of all

assembled, the grey-headed President of the Imperial Council, Grand Duke

Michael, entered the hall. Two other members of the Imperial house, the

Grand Dukes Vladimir Alexandrovitch and Alexis Alexandrovitch, brothers

of the late Tsar, accompanied him.

The princes graciously acknowledged the deep obeisances of all present.

At a sign from the Grand Duke Michael, the whole company took their

places at the long conference table, covered with green cloth, which

stood in the centre of the pillared hall. Deep, respectful silence still

continued, until, at a sign from the President, State Secretary Witte,

the chief of the ministerial council, turned to the Grand Dukes and

began thus:--

"Your Imperial Highnesses and Gentlemen! Your Imperial Highness has

summoned us to an urgent meeting, and has commissioned me to lay before

you the reasons for, and the purpose of, our deliberations. We are all

aware that His Majesty the Emperor, our gracious Lord and Master, has

declared the preservation of the peace of the world to be the highest

aim of his policy. The Christian idea that mankind should be 'ONE fold

under ONE shepherd' has, in the person of our illustrious ruler, found

its first and principal representative here on earth. The league of

universal peace is solely due to His Majesty, and if we are called upon

to present to our gracious Lord and Master our humble proposals for

combating the danger which immediately menaces our country, all our

deliberations should be inspired by that spirit which animates the

Christian law of brotherly love."

Grand Duke Michael raised his hand in interruption. "Alexander

Nicolaievitch," he said, turning to the Secretary, "do not omit to write

down this last sentence WORD FOR WORD."

The Secretary of State made a short pause, only to continue with a

somewhat louder voice and in a more emphatic tone--

"No especial assurance is required that, in view of this, our noble

liege lord's exalted frame of mind, a breach of the world's peace could

not possibly come from our side. But our national honour is a sacred

possession, which we can never permit others to assail, and the attack

which Japan has made upon us in the Far East forced us to defend it

sword in hand. There is not a single right-minded man in the whole world

who could level a reproach at us for this war, which has been forced

upon us. But in our present danger a law of self-preservation impels

us to inquire whether Japan is, after all, the only and the real enemy

against whom we have to defend ourselves; and there are substantial

reasons for believing that this question should be answered in the

negative. His Majesty's Government is convinced that we are indebted

for this attack on the part of Japan solely to the constant enmity of

England, who never ceases her secret machinations against us. It has

been England's eternal policy to damage us for her own aggrandisement.

All our endeavours to promote the welfare of this Empire and make the

peoples happy have ever met with resistance on the part of England.

From the China Seas, throughout all Asia to the Baltic, England has ever

thrown obstacles in our way, in order to deprive us of the fruits of our

civilising policy. No one of us doubts for a moment that Japan is, in

reality, doing England's work. Moreover, in every part of the globe

where our interests are at stake, we encounter either the open or covert

hostility of England. The complications in the Balkans and in Turkey,

which England has incited and fostered by the most despicable methods,

have simply the one object in view--to bring us into mortal conflict

with Austria and Germany. Yet nowhere are Great Britain's real aims

clearer seen than in Central Asia. With indescribable toil and with

untold sacrifice of treasure and blood our rulers have entered the

barren tracts of country lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian,

once inhabited by semibarbarous tribes, and, further east again, the

lands stretching away to the Chinese frontier and the Himalayas, and

have rendered them accessible to Russian civilisation. But we have

never taken a step, either east or south, without meeting with English

opposition or English intrigues. To-day our frontiers march with the

frontier of British East India, and impinge upon the frontier of Persia

and Afghanistan. We have opened up friendly relations with both these

states, entertain close commercial intercourse with their peoples,

support their industrial undertakings, and shun no sacrifice to make

them amenable to the blessings of civilisation. Yet, step by step,

England endeavours to hamper our activity. British gold and British

intrigues have succeeded in making Afghanistan adopt a hostile attitude

towards us. We must at last ask ourselves this question: How long do we

intend to look on quietly at these undertakings? Russia must push

her way down to the sea. Millions of strong arms till the soil of our

country. We have at our own command inexhaustible treasures of corn,

wood, and all products of agriculture; yet we are unable to reach the

markets of the world with even an insignificant fraction of these fruits

of the earth that Providence has bestowed, because we are hemmed in, and

hampered on every side, so long as our way to the sea is blocked. Our

mid-Asiatic possessions are suffocated from want of sea air. England

knows this but too well, and therefore she devotes all her energies

towards cutting us off from the sea. With an insolence, for which there

is no justification, she declares the Persian Gulf to be her own domain,

and would like to claim the whole of the Indian Ocean, as she already

claims India itself, as her own exclusive property. This aggression must

at last be met with a firm 'Hands off,' unless our dear country is to

run the risk of suffering incalculable damage. It is not we who seek

war; war is being forced upon us. As to the means at our disposal for

waging it, supposing England will not spontaneously agree to our just

demands, His Excellency the Minister of War will be best able to give us


He bowed once more to the Grand Dukes and resumed his seat. The tall,

stately figure of the War Minister, Kuropatkin, next rose, at a sign

from the President, and said--

"For twenty years I served in Central Asia and I am able to judge, from

my own experience, of our position on the south frontier. In case of

a war with England, Afghanistan is the battle-ground of primary

importance. Three strategic passes lead from Afghanistan into India: the

Khyber Pass, the Bolan Pass, and the Kuram Valley. When, in 1878, the

English marched into Afghanistan they proceeded in three columns from

Peshawar, Kohat, and Quetta to Cabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar respectively.

These three roads have also been laid down as our lines of march. Public

opinion considers them the only possible routes. It would carry me too

far into detail were I to propound in this place my views as to the

'pros and cons' of this accepted view. In short, we SHALL find our way

into India. Hahibullah Khan would join us with his army, 60,000 strong,

as soon as we enter his territory. Of course, he is an ally of doubtful

integrity, for he would probably quite as readily join the English, were

they to anticipate us and make their appearance in his country with a

sufficiently imposing force. But nothing prevents our being first. Our

railway goes as far as Merv, seventy-five miles from Herat, and from

this central station to the Afghan frontier. With our trans-Caspian

railway we can bring the Caucasian army corps and the troops of

Turkestan to the Afghan frontier. I would undertake, within four weeks

of the outbreak of war, to mass a sufficient field army in Afghanistan

round Herat. Our first army can then be followed by a ceaseless stream

of regiments and batteries. The reserves of the Russian army are

inexhaustible, and we could place, if needs be, four million soldiers

and more than half a million of horses in the field. However, I am more

than doubtful whether England would meet us in Afghanistan. The English

generals would not, in any case, be well advised to leave India. Were

they defeated in Afghanistan only small fragments of their army at most

would escape back to India. The Afghans would show no mercy to a

fleeing English army and would destroy it, as has happened on a previous

occasion. If, on the other hand, which God forbid! the fortune of war

should turn against us, we should always find a line of retreat to

Turkestan open and be able to renew the attack at pleasure. If the

English army is defeated, then India is lost to Great Britain; for the

English are, in India, in the enemy's country; as a defeated people they

will find no support in the Indian people. They would be attacked on all

sides by the Indian native chieftains, whose independence they have so

brutally destroyed, at the very moment that their power is broken. We,

on the other hand, should be received with open arms, as rescuers of the

Indian people from their intolerable yoke. The Anglo-Indian army looks

on paper much more formidable than it really is; its strength is put at

200,000 men, yet only one-third of this number are English soldiers, the

rest being composed of natives. This army, moreover, consists of four

divisions, which are scattered over the whole great territory of India.

A field army, for employment on the frontier or across it, cannot

possibly consist of more than 60,000 men; for, considering the

untrustworthiness of the population, the land cannot be denuded of its

garrisons. As a result of what I have said, I record my conviction that

the war will have to be waged in India itself, and that God will give us

the victory."

The words of the General, spoken in an energetic and confident tone,

made a deep impression upon his hearers; only respect for the presence

of the Grand Dukes prevented applause. The greyhaired President gave the

Minister of War his hand, and invited the Minister for Foreign Affairs

to address them.

"In my opinion," said the diplomatist, "there is no doubt that the

strategical opinions just delivered by His Excellency the Minister

for War are based upon an expert's sound and correct estimate of the

circumstances, and I also am certain that the troops of His Majesty the

Tsar, accustomed as they are to victory, will, in the event of war, soon

be standing upon the plain of the Indus. It is also my firm conviction

that Russia would be best advised to take the offensive as soon as

ever the impossibility of our present relations to England has been

demonstrated. But whoever goes to war with England must not look to one

battleground alone. On the contrary, we must be prepared for attacks of

the most varied kinds, for an attack upon our finances, to begin with,

and upon our credit, as to which His Excellency Witte could give better

information than I could. The Bank of England, and the great banking

firms allied with it, would at once open this financial campaign.

Moreover, a ship sailing under the Russian flag would hardly dare show

itself on the open seas, and our international trade would, until our

enemy had been crushed, be absolutely at a standstill. Moreover, more

vital for us than considerations of this sort would be the question:

What of the attitude of the other great Powers? England's political

art has, since the days of Oliver Cromwell, displayed itself chiefly in

adroitly making use of the continental Powers. It is no exaggeration to

say that England's wars have been chiefly waged with continental armies.

This is not said in depreciation of England's military powers. Wherever

the English fleet and English armies have been seen on the field of

battle, the energy, endurance, and intrepidity of their officers,

sailors, and soldiers have ever been brilliantly noticeable. The

traditions of the English troops who, under the Black Prince and Henry

V., marched in days of yore victorious through France, were again

green in the wars in the eighteenth century against France and against

Napoleon. Yet infinitely greater than her own military record has been

England's success in persuading foreign countries to fight for her, and

in leading the troops of Austria, France, Germany, and Russia against

each other on the Continent. For the last two hundred years very few

wars have ever been waged without England's co-operation, and without

her reaping the advantage. These few exceptions were the wars of

Bismarck, waged for the advantage and for the glory of his own country,

by which he earned the hatred of every good Englishman. While the

continent of Europe was racked by internal wars, which English diplomacy

had incited, Great Britain acquired her vast colonial possessions.

England has implicated us too in wars which redounded to her sole

advantage. I need only refer to the bloody, exhausting war of 1877-8,

and to the disastrous peace of San Stefano, where England's intrigues

deprived us of the price of our victory over the Crescent. I refer,

further, to the Crimean War, in which a small English and a large French

army defeated us to the profit and advantage of England. That England,

and England alone, is again behind this attack upon us by Japan has been

dwelt upon by those who have already addressed you. Our enemies do not

see themselves called upon to depart in the slightest degree from a

policy that has so long stood them in such good stead, and it must,

therefore, be our policy to assure ourselves of the alliance, or at

least, where an alliance is unattainable, of the benevolent neutrality

of the other continental Powers in view of a war with England. To begin

with, as regards our ally, the French Republic, a satisfactory solution

of our task in this direction is already assured by the existing

treaties. Yet these treaties do not bind the French Government to

afford us military support in the case of a war which, in the eyes of

shortsighted observers, might perhaps be regarded as one which we had

ourselves provoked. We have accordingly opened negotiations through our

Ambassador with M. Delcasse, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs,

and with the President of the Republic himself. I have the supreme

satisfaction of being in a position to lay before you the result of

these negotiations in the form of a despatch just received from our

Ambassador in Paris. It runs, in the main, as follows: 'I hasten to

inform Your Excellency that, in the name of the French Republic, M.

Delcasse has given me the solemn assurance that France will declare war

upon England at the moment His Majesty the Tsar has directed his armies

to march upon India. The considerations which have prompted the French

Government to take this step have been further explained to me by

M. Delcasse in our conference of this day, when he expressed himself

somewhat as follows: 'Napoleon, a hundred years ago, perceived with rare

discernment that England was the real enemy of all continental nations,

and that the European continent could not pursue any other policy but to

combine in resisting that great pirate. The magnificent plan of Napoleon

was the alliance of France with Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, and

Russia, in order to combat the rapacity of England. And he would, in

all probability, have carried his scheme through had it not been that

considerations of domestic policy determined the Tsar Alexander I., in

spite of his admiration for Napoleon's ability, to run counter to the

latter's intentions. The consequences of Napoleon's defeat have shown

themselves sufficiently clearly during the past hundred years in

the enormous growth of the English power. The present political

constellation, which in many respects is very similar to that of the

year 1804, should be utilised to revive Napoleon's plan once more.

Russia has, of course, the first and most vital interest in the downfall

of England, for, so long as Great Britain controls all the seas and all

the important coastlines, it is like a giant whose hands and feet are

fettered. Yet France is also checked in her natural development. Her

flourishing colonies in America and the Atlantic Ocean were wrested

from her in the eighteenth century. She was ousted by this overpowering

adversary from her settlements in the East Indies and--what the French

nation feels perhaps most acutely--Egypt, purchased for France by

the great Napoleon with the blood of his soldiers, was weaned away

by English gold and English intrigues. The Suez Canal, built by a

Frenchman, Lesseps, is in the possession of the English, facilitating

their communications with India, and securing them the sovereignty of

the world. France will accordingly make certain stipulations as the

price of its alliance--stipulations which are so loyal and equitable

that there is no question whatever of their not being agreed to on

the part of her ally, Russia. France demands that her possessions in

Tonking, Cochin China, Cambodia, Annam, and Laos shall be guaranteed;

that Russia be instrumental in assisting her to acquire Egypt, and that

it pledge itself to support the French policy in Tunis and the rest of

Africa." In accordance with my instructions, I felt myself empowered

to assure M. Delcasse that his conditions were accepted on our side. In

answer to my question, whether a war with England would be popular in

France, the Minister said: "The French people will be ready for any

sacrifice if we make Fashoda our war-cry. British insolence never

showed itself more brutal and insulting than over this affair. Our brave

Marchand was on the spot with a superior force, and France was within

her rights. The simple demand of an English officer, who possessed

no other force but the moral one of the English flag, compelled us,

however, under the political circumstances which then obtained, to

abandon our righteous claims, and to recall our brave leader. How the

French people viewed this defeat has been plainly seen. The Parisians

gave Marchand a splendid ovation as a national hero, and the French

Government seriously contemplated the possibility of a revolution. We

are now in a position to take revenge for the humiliation which we then

endured, probably out of excessive prudence. If we inscribe the word

FASHODA on the tricolour there will not be in the whole of France a man

capable of bearing arms who will not follow our lead with enthusiasm."

It appeared to me to be politic to assure myself whether the Government

or the inspired press would not perhaps promise the people the recovery

of Alsace-Lorraine as the price of a victorious issue of the war. But

the Minister replied decidedly, "No. The question of Alsace-Lorraine,"

he declared, "must remain outside our view as soon as we make up our

minds to go in for practical politics. Nothing could possibly be more

fatal than to rouse bad blood in Germany. For the German Emperor is the

tongue of the balance in which the destinies of the world are weighed.

England in her own esteem has nothing to fear from him. She regards him

more as an Englishman than a German. Her confidence in this respect must

not be disturbed; it forms one of the props on which British arrogance

supports itself. The everlasting assurances of the German Emperor, that

he intends peace and nothing but peace, appear, of course, to confirm

the correctness of this view. But I am certain that the Emperor

William's love of peace has its limits where the welfare and the

security of Germany are seriously jeopardised. In spite of his impulsive

temperament, he is not the ruler to allow himself to be influenced

by every expression of popular clamour, and to be driven by every

ebullition of public feeling, to embark on a decisive course of action.

But he is far-seeing enough to discern at the right moment a real

danger, and to meet it with the whole force of his personality. I do

not, therefore, look upon the hope of gaining him for an ally as a

Utopian dream, and I trust that Russian diplomacy will join with ours

in bringing this alliance about. A war with England without Germany's

support would always be a hazardous enterprise. Of course we are

prepared to embark upon such a war, alike for our friendship with Russia

and for the sake of our national honour, but we could only promise

ourselves a successful issue if all the continental great Powers join

hands in this momentous undertaking."

Although the fact of an offensive and defensive alliance with France in

view of a war with England could not have been unknown to the majority

of the assembled company, yet the reading of this despatch, which

was followed with breathless attention, evidently produced a deep

impression. Its publication left no room for doubt that this war

had been resolved on in the highest quarters, and although no loud

manifestation of applause followed its reading, the illustrious

assemblage now breathed freely, and almost all faces wore an expression

of joyous satisfaction.

Only one man, with knitted brows, regarded the scene with serious

disapproval. For decades past he had been regarded as the most

influential man in Russia--as a power, in fact, who had constantly

thwarted the plans of the leading statesmen and had carried his opinions

through with unswerving energy.

This solitary malcontent was Pobiedonostsev, the Chief Procurator of the

Holy Synod, who, despite his grey hairs, was detested only less than he

was feared.

His gloomy mien and his shake of the head had not escaped the presiding

Grand Duke, and the latter evidently considered it to be his duty to

give this man who had enjoyed the confidence of three successive Tsars

an opportunity of recording his divergent opinion.

At his summons the Chief Procurator arose, and, amid complete silence,


"It cannot be my duty to deliver an opinion as to the possibility or on

the prospects of an alliance with Germany, for I am as little acquainted

as any here present with the intentions and plans of the German Emperor.

William II. is the greatest sphinx of our age. He talks much, and his

speeches give the impression of complete sincerity; but who can guess

what is really behind them? That he has formulated a fixed programme

as his life's work, and that he is the man to carry it out, regardless

whether public opinion is on his side or not, thus much appears to me

to be certain. If the subjection of England is a part of his programme,

then the hopes of the French Minister would, in fact, be no Utopia,

only supposing that the Emperor William considers the present the most

suitable time for disclosing to the world his ultimate aims. It would

be the task of our diplomatic representative at the Court of Berlin to

assure himself on this point. But it is quite another question whether

Russia really needs an alliance either with Germany or with the Western

Power just referred to, and my view of the case leads me to answer this

question in the negative. Russia is, at the present time, the last and

sole bulwark of absolutism in Europe, and if a ruler called by God's

grace to the highest and most responsible of all earthly offices is to

remain strong enough to crush the spirit of rebellion and immorality

which here and there, under the influence of foreign elements, has shown

itself in our beloved country, we must, before all things, take heed to

keep far away from our people the poison of the so-called liberal ideas,

infidelity, and atheism with which it seems likely to be contaminated

from the West. In like manner, as we, a century ago, crushed the

powerful leader of the revolution, so also shall we to-day triumph

over our foe--we single-handed! Let our armies march into Persia,

Afghanistan, and India, and lead throughout all Asia the dominion of the

true faith to victory. But keep our holy Russia uncontaminated by the

poison of that heretical spirit, which would be a worse foe than any

foreign power can be."

He sat down, and for a moment absolute silence reigned. The Grand Duke

made a serious face, and exchanged a few whispered words with both his


Then he said: "All the gentlemen who have here given us their views on

the situation are agreed that a declaration of war upon England is

an exceedingly lamentable but, under the circumstances, unavoidable

necessity; yet before I communicate to His Majesty, our gracious

Lord, this view, which is that of us all, I put to you, gentlemen, the

question whether there is anyone here who is of a contrary opinion. In

this case, I would beg of him to address us."

He waited a short while, but as no one wished to be allowed to speak, he

rose from his chair, and with a few words of thanks and a gentle bow to

the dignitaries, who had also risen in their places, notified that

he regarded the sitting, fraught with momentous consequences for the

destiny of the world, as closed.