Alexander Izvolsky

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Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky
File:Alexander Izvolsky.jpg
Count Alexander Izvolsky
Born (1856-03-18)March 18, 1856
Moscow, Russia
Died August 16, 1919(1919-08-16) (aged 63)
Biarritz, France
Nationality Russian
Occupation Diplomat, Foreign Minister

Count Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky or Iswolsky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Петро́вич Изво́льский, 18 March [O.S. 6 March] 1856, Moscow – 16 August 1919, Paris) was a Russian diplomat remembered as a major architect of Russia's alliance with the British Empire[citation needed] during the years leading to the outbreak of the First World War.


Early career

Izvolsky came from an aristocratic family of Polish descent.[1] He graduated from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum in St Petersburg with honours, and shortly thereafter married Countess von Toll, whose family had far-reaching connections at court. Through these connections, he joined the Foreign Office, where Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky became his patron. Izvolsky served as Russia's ambassador to the Vatican, followed by posts in Belgrade, Munich, and Tokyo (from 1899). While in Tokyo, Izvolsky urged a peaceful accommodation with the rising power of Imperial Japan over Korea and Manchuria. He assisted Japanese former Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi arrange a trip to St. Petersburg in 1902 in an effort to defuse increasing tensions. These efforts incurred the wrath of Tsar Nicholas II, and Izvolsky found himself transferred to Copenhagen from 1903. From that posting he continued to press for a diplomatic settlement with Japan before and during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.[1] He served as Russia's Imperial Foreign Minister between April 1906 and November 1910.

Anglo-Russian alliance

In the wake of the disastrous Russian-Japanese War and the Russian Revolution of 1905, Izvolsky was determined to give Russia a decade of peace. He believed that it was Russia's interest to disengage from the conundrum of European politics and to concentrate on internal reforms. A constitutional monarchist, he undertook the reform and modernization of the Foreign Office.

In the realm of more practical politics, Izvolsky advocated a gradual rapprochement with Russia's traditional foes - Great Britain and Japan. He had to face vigorous opposition from several directions, notably from the public opinion and the hard-liners in the military, who demanded a revanchist war against Japan and military advance into Afghanistan. His allies in the government included Pyotr Stolypin and Vladimir Kokovtsov. He concluded the Russo-Japanese Agreement of 1907 to improve relations with Japan.[1]

Having been approached by King Edward VII during the Russo-Japanese War with a proposal of alliance, he made it a primary aim of his policy when he became Foreign Minister, feeling that Russia, weakened by the war with Japan, needed another ally besides France; this resulted in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

Bosnian crisis

Another primary objective was to realize Russia's long-standing goal of opening (i.e., permitting free transit, without prior conditions; and in exclusive right to Russia) the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (known jointly as the "Straits") to Russian warships, giving Russia free passage to the Mediterranean and making it possible to use the Black Sea Fleet not just in the coastal defense of her Black Sea territory; but also in support of her global interests.

In one of the secret articles of the renewed Three Emperor's Alliance of 1881 Austria-Hungary had asserted the right 'to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina at whatever moment she shall deem opportune' and the claim was repeated intermittently in Austro-Russian agreements.[2] This was not contested by Russia, but St Petersburg maintained the right to impose conditions. Izvolsky, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II proposed that the annexation of Bosnia-Herzogovina be exchanged for Austrian support for improved Russian access to the Turkish Straits.[3]To this end Izvolsky met with the Austrian Foreign Minister, Baron (later Count) Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, at the Moravian castle of Buchlov on September 16, 1908, and there agreed to support Austria's annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for Austria's assent to the opening of the Straits to Russia; and to support such an opening, at any subsequent diplomatic conference.

Aehrenthal's announcement of the annexation on 5 October 1908, secured through alterations of the terms of the Treaty of Berlin, at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, occasioned a major European crisis. Izvolsky denied having reached any agreement with Aehrenthal. [4] He subsequently denied even any foreknowledge of Aehrenthal's intentions and tried unsuccessfully to have a meeting called to deal with the status of Bosnia-Herzogovina.[5] The impasse in diplomacy was resolved only by the St Petersburg note of March 1909 when the Germans demanded that the Russians at last recognize the annexation and urge Serbia to do likewise. If they did not, German Chancellor Bülow suggested, there was the possibility of an Austrian war on Serbia, and the further direct possibility that the Germans would release the documents proving Izvolsky's connivance in the original annexation deal. Izvolsky backed down at once. [6] Reviled by Russian pan-Slavists for "betraying" the Serbs (who felt Bosnia should be theirs), the embittered Izvolsky was eventually dismissed from office.

Historiography has traditionally laid most blame for the annexation crisis at the Austrian Aehrenthal's door. The historian Christopher Clark however, in his 2012 study of the causes of the First World War The Sleepwalkers, has challenged this view "the evidence suggests that the crisis took the course it did because Izvolsky lied in the most extravagant fashion in order to save his job and reputation. The Russian foreign minister had made two serious errors of judgement [firstly] that London would support his demand for the opening of the Turkish Straits to Russian warships - [and] he grossly underestimated the impact of the annexation on Russian nationalist opinion - [when] - he got wind of the press response in St Petersburg, he realized his error, panicked, and began to construct himself as Aehrenthal's dupe." [7] The years following the annexation crisis, in an atmosphere of increased 'chauvinist popular emotion', and with a sense of humiliation in a sphere of vital interest, saw the Russians launch a substantial programme of military investment. [8]

Later life

Upon becoming ambassador in Paris in 1910, Izvolsky devoted his energies to strengthening Russia's bonds with France and Britain and encouraging Russian rearmament. When World War I broke out, he is reputed to have remarked, "C'est ma guerre!" ("This is my war!").

After the February Revolution Izvolsky resigned but remained in Paris, where he was succeeded by Vasily Maklakov. He advocated the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and wrote a book of memoirs before his sudden death in Biarritz in August 1919.


Izvolsky married Marguerite Carlovna, née Countess Toll, a Balt of great charm whose influence at court was impeded by her ignorance of the Russian language. Their son fought in the Dardanelles. Their daughter Hélène Iswolsky was received into the Russian Catholic Church and became a prominent scholar, first in France and later in the United States.


Screen Portrayal

Izvolsky was depicted in the 1974 BBC mini-series Fall of Eagles. He was played by actor Peter Vaughan.


  • Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5: The Scarecrow Press.CS1 maint: location (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Blennerhassett, William Lewis (1922). [ "Isvolsky, Alexander Petrovich" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fay, Sidney B. (1928, repr. 1966). The Origins of the World War
  • Izvolsky, A.P. Recollections of a Foreign Minister. 1920
  • Stieve, Friedrich (1926). Izvolsky and the World War

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War, p. 167-168.
  2. Christopher Clark, the Sleepwalkers, p.83
  3. Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.85
  4. Clark, p.85
  5. N. Shebeko, Sovenirs, p.83 Paris 1936
  6. Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p85
  7. Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.86
  8. Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.87; David Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War, Oxford 1996, pp. 162-63
Political offices
Preceded by
Vladimir Lambsdorff
Foreign Minister of Russia
Succeeded by
Sergei Sazonov