HL Deb 30 March 1882 vol 268 cc279-81

The statements I refer to in the Question I am about to ask Her Majesty's Government have proceeded from the Constantinople Correspondents of The Times and The Standard, March 11, from the Constantinople Correspondents of The Times and The Standard, March 24, and from the Constantinople Correspondent of The Times, March 27. The most important of them is that the Porte had entered a formal protest against the passage of the Moskowa with 700 soldiers on board through the Bosphorus. The Moskowa is described as one of the Volunteer Fleet, used in time of peace as a merchantman. She was bound from Nicolaieff, the naval arsenal in the Black Sea, to Vladivostock, on the East Coast of Siberia. There is a statement with regard to another vessel for which a Firman had been asked for and conceded. The necessity of maintaining the Bosphorus and Dardanelles against ships of war has been recognized in many Treaties. It is specifically laid down in the 1st Article of the Treaty of 1841, by which the Egyptian difficulty of that period was settled. No doubt the Black Sea Conference of 1871 enabled ships of war to ascend the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, but only at the desire of the Sultan. The allegations I have mentioned may be perfectly unfounded; but, if correct, ought not to be entirely passed over. The circumstances of the late war; the particular relations of the Treaty of San Stefano to the Congress of Berlin; the mysterious accession of the First Lord of the Treasury to the Offices he holds, create in Russia a not unnatural desire to surmount the barriers which, speaking roughly, guard the Mediterranean from the Black Sea, and which a few years back had nearly vanished altogether. A merchantman develops into a ship of war by easy stages. Whatever goes through the Bosphorus may possibly remain there for a considerable period. In this way, a naval occupation may be silently effected so as to add no little force to the Embassy with which it is connected. I have but one more remark to offer. Of all the fallacies the Eastern Question has created, possibly the greatest lies in the assumption that whatever the Sublime Porte is led to ratify should cease to be an object of distrust among the Powers which maintain its independence. Those Powers maintain its independence not for Ottoman, but European interests and objects. There are many instances in which the diplomatic influence of Russia may lead the Porte to ratify what it is anxious to oppose, and what, at least, ought not to be conceded. In the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, by which, in 1833, Russia and the Porte were bound for eight years to defend one another—a Treaty which drew forth a protest from France and Great Britain—this truth received a well-known illustration. But I will add no further preface to the Question. I have to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether they are prepared to give any information as to the alleged passage of Russian ships with armed men through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles?


We are informed that a Russian transport called the Moskowa anchored at the beginning of the month of March in the Bosphorus with 700 soldiers on board, whom she was transporting from Nicolaieff, in the Black Sea, to Vladivostock, on the Eastern Coast of Siberia. This arrival, without previous communication with the Porte, caused considerable dissatisfaction to the Sultan, and the Moskowa was requested immediately to proceed upon her voyage. She had, however, started before the order reached her. The Russian Embassy contended that the soldiers were passengers and unarmed, and that it was, therefore, not necessary to obtain the previous assent of the Turkish Government to the anchorage of the vessel. An application was subsequently made to the Ottoman Government from the Russian Government for permission for another ship to pass through with exiles destined for the Pacific Coast in charge of a military guard. The Foreign Minister objected. We have not yet heard officially how the matter has been decided. There is no doubt whatever that with regard to men-of-war and to merchant vessels containing armed men the permission of the Ottoman Government would have to be obtained. I should not like to give off-hand an opinion with regard to Government vessels, which do not answer exactly to the description of the above-mentioned vessels, without knowing all the facts of each case.


Are we to understand that the question whether any communications will be addressed to the Russian Government is under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government?


We must obtain further information before we decide whether we shall send any further communications or not.