HL Deb 21 July 1856 vol 143 cc1080-4

said, he now wished to ask his noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) another question of which he had given notice—namely, whether it was true that the two fortresses of Ismail and Reni, which were included in the cession of that portion of the territory which the Russian Government had made over to Turkey by the treaty of Paris, had been, as he was informed they were, totally and entirely dismantled? It was manifest, he thought, that the territory of the Delta was of little use as a bulwark to Turkey if no fortresses were maintained there. While Ismail stood as a fortress no Russian army could cross the Danube without leaving those fortresses in their rear; whereas if they were once destroyed, the whole geographical face of the country in regard to an invasion by Russia would be in the same state as before the war. Considering then that the Allies had taken a great part of Sebastopol; that they had also taken Kinburn, Kertch, Eupatoria, Kamiesch, and some of the fortresses on the Circassian coast, it appeared to him that we had had nothing like a fair exchange, even supposing that Ismail and Reni remained untouched, and still less was that the case if these places were reduced from the condition in which they were when the propositions of Austria were made to their present defenceless state. He wished to ask his noble Friend, therefore, if it were true that these fortresses had been dismantled before their evacuation by the Russians? If they had been, whether it was the result of any agreement which had been come to at the Congress at Paris? Whether the Turkish Government would not be obliged to maintain fortresses in the same position?—for in the case of a guaranteed country like Turkey there should have been a condition that the fortresses should be maintained. He would also ask whether any fortresses were to be rebuilt on the right and left bank of the Danube; and if so, by what soldiers they were to be garrisoned?—for it was of consequence, if fortresses were to be maintained there, that they should be garrisoned by troops who would be free from the temptation of Russian intrigue. There was another question to which he was desirous of calling the attention of his noble Friend. With some degree of hurry after the peace was concluded, his noble Friend dispatched Lord Wodehouse to St. Petersburgh as Minister from the British Court, and that noble Lord had been there for at least a month; but never yet, to his (the Earl of Malmesbury's) knowledge, nor he believed to the knowledge of any one of their Lordships, had any Minister or representative appeared at St. James's from the Russian Court. Now, without being extremely punctilious upon such points, it was nevertheless desirable that diplomatic usages should be studied a little more minutely, and that we should not run any risk of jeopardising Her Majesty's dignity by sending an envoy to Russia without ascertaining that one was coming to represent that country in England. He should like to know, therefore, why no accredited Minister had yet arrived from St. Petersburgh; and when he might expect to see the Court of Russia represented at the Court of Her Majesty?


I will answer the questions of my noble Friend in the order in which he has put them. With regard to the question as to the fortresses of Ismail and Reni, I cannot exactly state what has been actually done as to those Danubian fortresses, because the Commissioners appointed to settle the frontier of Moldavia have been occupied with other business, and have not yet been able to give their attention to the state of those fortresses. I have heard this morning from St. Petersburgh that there had been no report received there of what had been done upon the subject. I have no doubt, however, that those fortresses have been dismantled, and I think it is a very unusual proceeding on the part of the Russian Government—a very unfortunate mode of inaugurating the peace. There were no regular precautions taken or arrangements made in the Treaty of Paris about the manner in which those fortresses should be given up. I should have considered it almost an affront to require any explanation as to the way in which a thing was to be done with regard to which there could have been no difference of opinion. I understand the Russian Government to assert that they considered that they had a right, until the boundary of the frontier was marked out, and until the country had been given over to the Allies, to demolish any fortresses on the Danube in the same manner as the Allies had to demolish the works at Sevastopol, But there is this very great distinction. Since the peace has been signed nothing has been demolished by the Allies, nor any act of aggression committed; whereas the dismantling of the fortresses of Ismail and Reni took place after the peace was signed. We being in possession of Eupatoria, of Kin-burn, and, more particularly, of Kertch, we might, in retaliation, have destroyed all the public works of those places; but we considered that, as soon as peace was signed, the places became Russian, and it would have been dishonourable on our part to meddle with those works; and, on the same principle, we contend that from the moment the peace was signed Russia had no right to meddle with these Danubian fortresses. Such, my Lords, is the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on this subject, and it has been communicated to the Court of Russia; but we have as yet received no formal answer on the subject. There is another fortress to which my noble Friend has not alluded—that of Kars—concerning which I have made some inquiry from the Russian Government. The answer which I have received is, that the moment peace was signed an Imperial order was sent to Kars directing that nothing there should be destroyed—otherwise the destroying of the citadel of that fortress would have been an express violation of the Treaty of Paris; but it was stated that owing to the disturbed state of the country, those orders were delayed on the route, and before they arrived some destruction of the works had already taken place; the moment, however, the Imperial mandate reached no further damage was done. There has been a report that on a part of the territory that is to be ceded to Moldavia certain Crown lands have been sold, and the answer to an inquiry on this subject is, that some authorities were proceeding to sell Crown lands, but that the Russian Government admitted that they were no longer theirs to deal with, and the sale had been stopped. The Russian Government have stated in the strongest terms that their object is to carry on everything connected with the peace in the most faithful manner, and I can only hope that for the future nothing will occur to destroy the confidence which, after peace has been established, should exist between the different countries. With regard to the arrival of the Russian Minister in this country, I have to say that we received an official intimation from Baron Brunow when he came to this country to deliver a letter to Her Majesty, that Count Creptowitch had been appointed Minister to this country. As he had been so long in coming, and this country was left without a representative of Russia, which was somewhat disrespectful to Her Majesty, I inquired at St. Petersburgh the reason of the delay, and I have been informed that the Minister will be here at the end of the month, and that the delay had been the result of unavoidable causes.


When the Russian Government ceded the territory on the left bank of the Pruth, of course they ceded at the same time the fortresses situated in that territory. It had been invariably the custom, so far as his memory went, when fortresses had been ceded, to insert provisions in the treaty detailing the manner in which they should be given up, and whether the guns, ammunition, archives, and plans should be included; and if the noble Earl now complained that Ismail and Reni had been dismantled the fault was his own, for not taking the precautions which all Governments had hitherto adopted of making such provisions as he had referred to. He regretted that in this instance, and in the other less important instance his noble Friend had referred to, there should be the least glimmer, or the least appearance, of any misunderstanding between this country and Russia with regard to the performance of the treaty.


The noble Earl's remarks are founded upon the cases of fortresses which were named in the treaty. In this instance they were not named.


Just so.


The not naming the fortresses to be surrendered was, in his opinion, au additional instance of neglect on the part of the noble Earl. The value of the ceded territory, in fact, consisted in these fortresses; and the omission to name them is, I repeat, an additional instance of negligence on the part of the noble Earl, The noble Earl admitted that in this case Russia had acted towards us, if not with a breach of faith, yet with the breach of an understanding, whilst, in another case, she had treated us with considerable discourtesy, which did not augur very well for the continuance of the patched-up peace that had been concluded. He should be glad to know, as the noble Earl had received some answer from the Russian Government with regard to his remonstrances on the subject of Kars, whether he had also received any answer, and if so, what answer, to his remonstrances as to the other fortresses, Ismail and Reni.


I must remind the noble Earl that it was not with reference to these fortresses that the territory on the banks of the Danube was ceded by Russia, nor did they form the most important part of that territory. The object of that cession of territory by the "patched-up peace," as the noble Earl terms it, but which peace has given great satisfaction to the country, was that Russia should not have access to the Danube by the continued possession of that territory. In answer to the noble Earl's question, he begged to say that he had not received from the Russian Government any conclusive reply to the communication addressed to them on the subject of Ismail and Reni.