chapter  5
7 Pages

The Agreement of 1873

It was in November 1869 that Buchanan first got wind of Russian preparations for ‘serious operations’ against Khiva.1 Questioned by him about reports of the establishment of a base at Krasnovodsk on the east coast of the Caspian Sea, Gorchakov insisted that it was intended merely to be a ‘factory’ and would be used purely for commercial purposes.2 It would give greater security to trade and open a shorter caravan route to Central Asia. While it would be guarded by a small armed force, it would be incorrect to describe it as a fort. This was in fact, as Gorchakov almost certainly must have known, highly economical with the truth. In March of that year, General Cherniaev, the captor of Tashkent, who had been seconded to the Asiatic Department of the Foreign Ministry on his return to St Petersburg, had prepared a memorandum urging that Russia must give herself the capability of making a ‘diversion towards India’ whenever a split developed with Britain on the European front. 3 The aim was not to invade India, which would have been far too costly an enterprise, but to oblige the British to reinforce their troops there and so weaken them in Europe. Having taken Tashkent, Russia had a ‘superlative base’ for action towards India, but the distance to it from the military base at Kazan was such that it would take all of eight months to move any sizable number of troops from the one to the other. Britain, by contrast could reinforce India within four months via the Cape of Good Hope, or two months once the Suez Canal had been opened. An operational base should therefore be established on the eastern shore of the Caspian, to which troops could easily be moved from the Caucasus. Krasnovodsk Bay was the most suitable place, and the establishment of a commercial operation there, supported by a small military force, would provide the opportunity to extend Russian influence and gain knowledge of the shortest routes to Central Asia. This would ‘upset no one, impose no obligations on ourselves and allow the natural course of events to show us what needs to be done and how to do it’. From the outset, therefore, the occupation of Krasnovodsk was essentially a strategic move.