Anglo-Russian Negotiations, 1865–73
As the Russian advance in Central Asia continued, to the accompaniment of the debate over the appropriate British response, so thoughts in both London and Calcutta turned to the possibility of negotiating a territorial settlement which might prevent an eventual confrontation between the two powers. In July 1865, the then Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, no doubt influenced by the fall of Tashkent the previous month, decided to try to reach ‘the basis of an understanding’ with the government in St Petersburg that neither country had any intention of extending their territories in the region. He proceeded to consult his colleague at the India Office, Sir Charles Wood;1 but the latter, while not opposed to ‘most unreserved communication between the two countries on all matters connected with their future movements and designs in Central Asia’, was opposed to any agreement that might tie British hands in circumstances which at the time could not be foreseen, and thought it ‘better to abstain, at present, from contracting any definite engagements’.2 The idea was also opposed by Rawlinson, then a member of the India Council, who, along with others, was not only sceptical about the value of any agreement with the Russians, but was clear that British freedom of action should be maintained. ‘It would’, he wrote,3
be a suicidal policy on the part of England to place in the hands of Russia such an instrument of possible mischief as the right of interference in the rectification of our north-west frontier which she should derive from any mutual agreement to remain within our present limits. It would be, in fact, to invite rather than stave off the threatened evil: to call up to the hall-door the wolf that is now merely prowling in the back-yard.