September 23, 2013
This account, written by the American banker Wharton Barker and published in The Independent (LVI) of March 24, 1904, recounts Barker’s conversation with Russian Tsar Alexander II, the celebrated Liberator of the serfs, on August 17, 1879, a few years before his assassination at the hands of anarchists. Here the Tsar confirms that, at the height of the American Civil War in 1862-1863, the Imperial Russian government had issued an ultimatum to Britain and France specifying that, if these powers should intervene on the side of the Confederate States of America, they would immediately find themselves at war with the formidable Russian Empire. The Tsar explains that the Russian battle fleets which arrived to great éclat in New York and San Francisco in September-October of 1863 were the visible tokens of this policy. He also situates the Russian approach to the Civil War in the context of other cases in which Russia had acted to preserve a European and world balance of power designed to check the inordinate geopolitical and economic ambitions of Great Britain. Alexander II’s policy may be compared to the war-avoidance doctrine of Putin and Lavrov today. This extraordinary document will thus repay study by historians of the events of 150 years ago, as well as by statesmen of today.
And today, before they can understand, they will have to remember. Therefore we take this opportunity to cast belated light on these great events.