Constantinople—the "Latch-Key to Russia."
By L. Pavlov.
It was one hundred and eight years ago, that Alexander I., in discussing with Napoleon the conditions of a treaty, formulated clearly for the first time the real importance of Constantinople for Russia, when he called it the "Latch-key to Russia". But Napoleon was shrewd enough to look far ahead, and he then expressed his conviction that Constantinople in the hands of Russia would spell "l'empire du monde", a world empire, for the Tsar.
Napoleon was powerful enough at that time to put an end to all discussions of this matter, and the question was dropped then, as it had been several times before.
The importance of Constantinople was realized by the Russian statesmen long before the time of Alexander. Peter the Great found Turkey one of the most powerful countries in Europe, fully able to defy him and to refuse his request to grant Russia freedom of navigation on the Black Sea. Peter's struggle with Turkey was not successful, and his failure to force Turkey to grant Russia the freedom of the Black Sea was one of the reasons that compelled him to attempt the Baltic Sea.
Catherine took up the problem with a greater degree of success. She waged two wars upon Turkey, the second of which left Russia in possession of Crimea and reduced the Porte to the condition of a second-class power, compelled to seek its safety in the wranglings of the other European nations. The annexation of Crimea gave Russia a footing on the Black Sea. And in order to make these new possessions more secure, the powerful naval fortress of Sebastopol was constructed. It is interesting to note that the gates of Sebastopol bore the inscription, "The Road to Constantinople."
It was only in 1798 that a Russian fleet appeared for the first time under the walls of Constantinople. But it was a friendly visit, for Turkey had agreed to permit the Russian fleet free passage through the Straits in order to enable Russia to fight Napoleon more effectively.
Neither Paul I., nor his son, Alexander I., brought Russia any nearer to a realization of her purpose. Although Alexander waged a six-year war against Turkey, he obtained no advantages, and the war naturally came to an end in 1812, when Napoleon began his invasion of Russia.