Russia eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 819 pages of information about Russia.

CHAPTER XXXVIII

TERRITORIAL EXPANSION AND FOREIGN POLICY

Rapid Growth of Russia—­Expansive Tendency of Agricultural Peoples—­The Russo-Slavonians—­The Northern Forest and the Steppe—­Colonisation—­The Part of the Government in the Process of Expansion—­Expansion towards the West—­Growth of the Empire Represented in a Tabular Form—­Commercial Motive for Expansion—­The Expansive Force in the Future—­Possibilities of Expansion in Europe—­Persia, Afghanistan, and India—­Trans-Siberian Railway and Weltpolitik—­A Grandiose Scheme—­Determined Opposition of Japan—­Negotiations and War—­Russia’s Imprudence Explained—­Conclusion.

The rapid growth of Russia is one of the most remarkable facts of modern history.  An insignificant tribe, or collection of tribes, which, a thousand years ago, occupied a small district near the sources of the Dnieper and Western Dvina, has grown into a great nation with a territory stretching from the Baltic to the Northern Pacific, and from the Polar Ocean to the frontiers of Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and China.  We have here a fact well deserving of investigation, and as the process is still going on and is commonly supposed to threaten our national interests, the investigation ought to have for us more than a mere scientific interest.  What is the secret of this expansive power?  Is it a mere barbarous lust of territorial aggrandisement, or is it some more reasonable motive?  And what is the nature of the process?  Is annexation followed by assimilation, or do the new acquisitions retain their old character?  Is the Empire in its present extent a homogeneous whole, or merely a conglomeration of heterogenous units held together by the outward bond of centralised administration?  If we could find satisfactory answers to these questions, we might determine how far Russia is strengthened or weakened by her annexations of territory, and might form some plausible conjectures as to how, when, and where the process of expansion is to stop.

By glancing at her history from the economic point of view we may easily detect one prominent cause of expansion.

An agricultural people, employing merely the primitive methods of agriculture, has always a strong tendency to widen its borders.  The natural increase of population demands a constantly increasing production of grain, whilst the primitive methods of cultivation exhaust the soil and steadily diminish its productivity.  With regard to this stage of economic development, the modest assertion of Malthus, that the supply of food does not increase so rapidly as the population, often falls far short of the truth.  As the population increases, the supply of food may decrease not only relatively, but absolutely.  When a people finds itself in this critical position, it must adopt one of two alternatives:  either it must prevent the increase of population, or it must increase the production

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Russia from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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