Russian Empire–United States relations
The relations between the Russian Empire and the United States of America (1776–1922) predate the Soviet Union–United States relations (1922–1991) and the Russia–United States relations (1991–present). Relations between the two countries were established in 1776.
- 1 Establishment of relations (1776)
- 2 Russian involvement in the American Revolutionary War
- 3 19th century
- 4 1880–1918
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 See also
Establishment of relations (1776)
The relations between the two states are usually considered to have begun in 1776, when the United States of America declared its independence from the British Empire and became an independent state. Earlier contacts had occurred between Americans and Russians however: In 1698, Peter the Great and William Penn had met in London, and in 1763 a Boston merchant had anchored his ship at the port of Kronstadt after a direct transatlantic voyage.
Russian involvement in the American Revolutionary War
Despite being geographically removed from the American scene, under Catherine the Great significantly affected the American Revolution through diplomacy. While Catherine personally oversaw most of Russia's interactions with the new nation, she also entrusted certain tasks to her foreign advisor Nikita Ivanovich Panin, who often acted on Catherine's behalf when it came to matters of international diplomacy. Catherine and Panin interacted with the British government through James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury at the Russian court. The decisions made by Catherine and Panin during the Revolution to remain officially neutral, refuse Britain's requests for military assistance, and insist on peace talks that linked a resolution of the American Revolution with the settlement of separate European conflicts indirectly helped the Americans win the Revolution and gain their freedom.
Trade with the Americans
Small scale direct trade between Russia and the colonies began as early as 1763. Such trade was a violation of Britain's Navigation Acts, which only allowed the colonies to trade with Britain. Russian products such as hemp, sail linen and iron started arriving in colonial ports years before the Revolutionary War began and did not stop once the war started. The Americans and Russia saw each other as trading partners.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, Catherine believed an independent American nation would be ideal for Russian business interests. While some Russian leaders worried that an independent America might interfere with Russia's trade with other European nations, Catherine saw direct Russo-American trade as an excellent opportunity to expand commerce. Catherine knew that after the Revolution, a free America could trade directly with Russia without interference. Moreover, if the Americans gained their freedom, Britain would have to turn to other countries - such as Russia - to supply it with the resources it could no longer simply extract from America.
Catherine chose to have Russia remain officially neutral during the Revolution, never openly picking sides in the war. On an unofficial basis, however, she acted favorably towards the American colonists, by offering to provide them anything she could without compromising Russia's neutrality and her eventual desire to act as a mediator.
In March 1780, the Russian ministry released a "Declaration of Armed Neutrality." This declaration set out Russia's international stance on the American Revolution, focusing mainly on the importance of allowing neutral vessels to travel freely to any Russian port without being searched or harassed by the Navigation Acts. While the declaration kept Russia officially neutral, it supported many of France's own pro-colonial policies and resisted Britain's efforts to strangle America through a naval blockade. The declaration also gave the American rebels an emotional lift, as they realized Russia was not solidly aligned with Britain. With Russia as a potential, powerful friend, Russo-American connections and communications continued to improve. Nevertheless, Catherine refused to openly recognize the United States as an independent nation until the war ended.
Britain's requests for assistance
As the Revolutionary War continued into the late 1770s, a growing list of European powers took sides against Britain. The British Ministry saw the need to solidify an alliance with Russia to bolster its American war. As a world power that had allied with Britain in the past, the Russians were an obvious choice to assist Britain with logistical and military support, as well as diplomatic efforts. While Catherine seems to have admired the British people and their culture, she disliked Britain's King George and his ministry. She was particularly disturbed by the Seven Years' War, during which Catherine observed Britain's efforts to discreetly exit the conflict and leave Russia's Prussian allies vulnerable to defeat. She considered these efforts immoral and disloyal, and saw Britain as an unreliable ally. She also viewed the American Revolution as Britain's fault. Citing the constant change in Britain's ministries as a major reason, Catherine understood the American grievances. Despite Russia's official neutrality, Catherine's negative opinions of British rule and her view that Britain caused the revolution weighed on her decisions when Britain began to request Russian support. In the summer of 1775, Britain sent diplomats to Russia in an attempt to learn whether Catherine would agree to send troops to America to aid British forces. Although her initial response seemed positive, Catherine denied King George's formal request for support. While her dislike of the British ministry likely influenced her decision, Catherine formally cited the fact that her army needed rest after having just finished more than six years of war.
In November 1779, Britain made another plea for Russian assistance. Swallowing their pride, the British ministry acknowledged to Catherine the collective power of Britain's enemies, as well as the King's desire for peace. The British ministry's letter to Catherine explained these concerns and offered to "commit her Britain's interests to the hand of the Empress." The British included a specific request that Russia use force against all British enemies, including other European countries, to stop the American Revolution. After waiting several months, Catherine decided to refuse Britain's request. In 1781, Britain attempted to bribe Russia to gain its assistance. Distressed and realizing that they were close to losing the war, James Harris asked if a piece of British territory could convince Russia to join the fight on the side of England. Offering the island of Minorca, Harris did not request soldiers in exchange; this time Britain simply asked that Russia convince France to exit the war and force the American rebels to fight alone. Perhaps revealing her secret desire to have the Americans gain their independence, Catherine used Harris' proposal to embarrass Britain. She declined Harris' offer and published Britain's attempts at bribery to the French and Spanish.
Attempt at peace-making
Catherine played a significant role in peacemaking efforts during the Revolutionary War. In October 1780, she sent a proposal to each of the European powers involved in the conflict. The proposal requested that the countries meet to discuss what could be done to create peace. The powers met in Vienna after Britain requested the Austrian ministry co-mediate the peace talks. Catherine sent Prince Dimitri Galitzin to act on her behalf as the Russian mediator. She sent him with a proposed set of peace guidelines that included a multi-year armistice between the countries and a requirement that there be negotiations between Britain and their European enemies as well as between Britain and America. Catherine chose not to include a proposal concerning whether America would become autonomous. Since the British would not accept American independence and the French would not accept anything short of it, Catherine realized that explicitly providing for either outcome would lead to an immediate breakdown in the talks. Catherine's ambiguous negotiation efforts ultimately fell through.
The Monroe Doctrine was partly aimed at Holy Alliance support of intervention in Latin America which Russia several times tried to get the United States to join, as well as the Ukase of 1821 banning non-Russian ships from the Northwest Coast. The Russo-American Treaty of 1824 set parallel 54°40′ north as the boundary between Russian America and the Anglo-American Oregon Country.
American Civil War
For many years a myth persisted that during the American Civil War (1861–1865), Russia supported the Union against the Confederacy which deterred the British from intervening. In fact Russia was strictly neutral.  The myth was invented by the American State Department to mislead the British about American potential strength.
During the winter of 1861–1862, the Imperial Russian Navy sent two fleets to American waters to avoid their getting trapped if a war broke out with Britain and France. Many Americans at the time viewed this as an intervention on behalf of the Union, though historians deny this. The Alexander Nevsky and the other vessels of the Atlantic squadron stayed in American waters for seven months (September 1863 to June 1864).
1865 saw a major project attempted: the building of a Russian-American telegraph line from Seattle, through British Columbia, Russian America (Alaska) and Siberia—an early attempt to link East-West communications. It failed and never operated.
Alaska purchase, 1867
Russia operated a small fur-trade operations in Alaska, coupled with missionaries to the natives. By 1861 the project lost money, threatened to antagonize the Americans, and could not be defended from Britain. It proved practically impossible to entice Russians to permanently migrate to Alaska; only a few hundred were there in 1867. In the Alaska Purchase of 1867 it was sold to the United States for $7.2 million dollars. All the Russian administrators and military left Alaska but some missionaries stayed on to minister to the many natives they had converted to the Russian Orthodox faith.
From 1880 to 1917, about 3.2 million immigrants arrived in the U.S. from the Russian Empire. Most were Jews or Poles; only 100,000 were ethnic Russians. Meanwhile large numbers of minorities-– especially Jews, Poles, and Lithuanians emigrated to the United States before 1914. Few ethnic Russians emigrated. Relations remained cool, especially because of the repeated pogroms.
Pograms massacre Jews
After 1880, repeated anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia alienated American elite and public opinion. In 1903 the Kishinev pogrom killed 47 Jews, injured 400, and left 10,000 homeless and dependent on relief. American Jews began large-scale organized financial help, and assisted in emigration. More violence in Russia led in 1913 to the United States repealing an 1832 commercial treaty.
In 1900, Russia and America were part of the Eight-Nation Alliance suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China. Russia soon afterward occupied Manchuria at this time, and the US asserted the Open Door Policy to forestall Russian and German territorial demands from leading to a partition of China into various colonies.
President Theodore Roosevelt played a major role in ending the Russo-Japanese War. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed in 1905, marking a humiliating defeat for the Russians. Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize/
In World War I the United States declaration of war on Germany (1917) came after the Czar was overthrown in the February Revolution. When the Czar was still in power, many Americans deplored fighting a war with him as an ally. With him gone, the Woodrow Wilson administration United States used this new provisional government to describe how the new democratic nations are fighting against autocratic old empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary. During the war, the American Expeditionary Forces were just starting to see battle when the October Revolution removed Russia from the war.
Before Germany surrendered in November 1918, the US participated in Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War with the Polar Bear Expedition and the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. the American goal was to prevent the German enemy from gaining access to war supplies controlled by the Bolsheviks. when the British tried to use American forces to stop the spread of Bolshevism, President Wilson removed them .
- Frank A. Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," The American Historical Review 21.1 (1915): 92–96.
- Nikolai Bolkhovitinov, Russia and the American Revolution (Tallahassee: Diplomatic, 1976): 76.
- Bolkhovitinov, Russia and the American Revolution, 80–84.
- Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," 92.
- Norman Saul, Distant Friends: the United States and Russia, 1763–1867 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1991): 12.
- Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," 92.
- Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," 93.
- Lawrence Kaplan, The American Revolution and "a Candid World" (Kent: Kent State UP, 1977): 91.
- Saul, Distant Friends: the United States and Russia, 7.
- Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," 94.
- Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," 94.
- Golder, "Catherine II and the American Revolution," 95.
- Bolkhovitinov, Russia and the American Revolution, 50–52.
Seeger, Murray (2005). Discovering Russia: 200 Years of American Journalism. AuthorHouse. p. 97. ISBN 9781420842593. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
In 1801 [...] President Jefferson initiated relations with the new czar, Alexander I, sending Leverett Harris, a political friend from Pennsylvania, as the first American consul-general to Russia. Russia tried to be a third-party meditator of peace in the war of 1812. However, Great Britain officials rejected this idea.
Kirchner, Walther (1975). Studies in Russian-American Commerce 1820-1860. Leiden: Brill Archive. p. 191. ISBN 9789004042384. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
[...] in St. Petersburg, Levett Harris [...] had been America's first consul from 1803 to 1816 [...]
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- John Powell (2009). Encyclopedia of North American Immigration. Infobase. pp. 257–59.
- Philip Ernest Schoenberg, "The American Reaction to the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903." American Jewish Historical Quarterly 63.3 (1974): 262-283.
- Stuart Knee, "Tensions in nineteenth century Russo‐American diplomacy: The 'Jewish question'." East European Jewish Affairs 23#1 (1993): 79-90.
- Stuart E. Knee, "The Diplomacy of Neutrality: Theodore Roosevelt and the Russian Pogroms of 1903-1906." Presidential Studies Quarterly 19#1 (1989): 71-78.
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- Bolkhovitinov, Nikolai N. The Beginnings of Russian-American Relations, 1775-1815. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.
- Jensen, Ronald J. The Alaska Purchase and Russian-American Relations (1973).
- Saul, Norman E. Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Foreign Policy (2014).
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- Trani, Eugene P. "Woodrow Wilson and the decision to intervene in Russia: a reconsideration." Journal of Modern History 48.3 (1976): 440-461.