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When and how many times the Russians could take Istanbul, and why they did not succeed
When and how many times the Russians could take Istanbul, and why they did not succeed

For centuries, the Russian Empire rivaled Turkey, converging with enviable consistency on the battlefield. The Turks preferred to remain patrons of the Muslim area. Russia, in turn, called itself the Byzantine successor and protector of Orthodox Christians. Russian rulers periodically contemplated the return of Constantinople to the sphere of Orthodoxy, but despite the availability of opportunities, they did not implement this plan.

Prophetic Oleg's shield on the gates of Constantinople

The gates of Constantinople, on which Oleg nailed his shield

In September 911, Kievan Rus signed the first written agreement with Byzantium. And as a sign of the successful completion of his military campaign, the prophetic prince Oleg nails a shield to the entrance to Constantinople. During that historical period, the Greeks tried to bring Christianity to the young Old Russian state, but they did not achieve much success in this field. The raids on the future Istanbul were made from the 9th century, even before the rule of the Novgorod Varangians. Therefore, the following decades, the Byzantines sought to maintain friendly relations with their warlike neighbors.

Nevertheless, the military operation of 907 was caused by the unwillingness to deepen trade ties and the disdainful attitude of Orthodox Byzantium to the pagan Rus. With his campaign, Oleg decided to consolidate the status of the only reliable trade route in Eastern Europe for the direction "from the Varangians to the Greeks." This event turned out to be the most productive initiative of the prince, comparable only to the unification of Novgorod and Kiev.

According to The Tale of Bygone Years, Oleg's army reached incredible proportions, including almost all representatives of the East Slavic tribes and Finno-Ugric peoples. In the campaign, according to the testimony of Nestor the chronicler, a couple of thousand ships, 40 people each, were equipped. When the Greeks cut off the road along the Bosphorus for the army, the prince threw the ships into the Golden Horn Bay on skating rinks. From this direction Constantinople became even more vulnerable. The Byzantines thought about negotiating, eventually accepting the terms of the Russian prince.

Aspirations of Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great nurtured a solution to the Eastern question

Catherine II dreamed of a great Orthodox empire, which she bequeathed to Alexander and Constantine, her grandchildren. The Greek project, which arose during the reign of the Empress, assumed the solution of the so-called Eastern Question (relations with Turkey). It was required to revive the Byzantine state destroyed by the Ottoman Empire. Catherine's scenario could only be realized by demonstrating military superiority over the Ottoman Empire, in other words, it was necessary to take Constantinople. Catherine failed to do this.

But history knows such cases when the Russian army was one step away from the Istanbul gates. This historical parallel was actualized in 1829 under Nicholas I, who could well have realized the grandmother's dream. When the Russian army under the leadership of Diebitsch took Adrianople through the Balkan Mountains, a couple of hundred kilometers remained to Istanbul. This distance could be covered in two days, and the collapsed Turkish front was unable to defend its capital. But Nicholas I did not advance, but concluded a favorable peace for himself with Mahmud II.Western Europe was not interested in Russian domination in the Balkans, and the Russian sovereign sacrificed his own interests to the ideas of the Holy Alliance.

Skobelev in the Istanbul suburb

General Skobelev was ready to storm the Turkish capital

By the end of February 1878, the victorious General Skobelev entered San Stefano. Having suffered a complete defeat on the Balkan and Asian fronts, Turkey appealed to Russia with a request to reconcile. Negotiations were already underway, but the Russian troops did not stop, approaching Constantinople itself. The number of troops concentrated near San Stefano reached 40 thousand soldiers. Behind the Russians left snowy mountain ranges, many forced rivers, conquered Turkish fortresses. Few doubted that Constantinople would survive. From day to day, everyone was waiting for the news of the capture of the Ottoman capital by the troops of the Russian Empire.

Constantinople had no defense left - the best Turkish units surrendered. One Ottoman army was blocked in the Danube, and the army of Suleiman Pasha fell defeated south of the Balkan Mountains. Historians say that Skobelev, with the onset of evening, changed into inconspicuous clothes and walked around the city. Looking closely at city buildings, trying to memorize the grid of streets and the location of houses, he was preparing for a probable assault. And in St. Petersburg, a cross was already being cast on the dome of the Cathedral of St. Sophia. The army lived on the idea of ​​capturing Constantinople, but this time the dream did not come true either. With that victory, the Russian soldier only won the freedom of Orthodox Bulgaria.

Probable reasons for the rejection of Constantinople

The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453

Much time has passed since 1453, when Constantinople was proclaimed the capital of the Ottomans. Perhaps this was well understood by the Russian sovereigns, who had the opportunity to take the city by force. Istanbul managed to become an absolutely Muslim center when Orthodox churches turned into mosques. This circumstance alone did not allow the Russian authorities to use the term "liberation" in relation to the city. Since “liberating,” it means carrying out military expansion on a religious basis. And this is already a full-fledged crusade, which no one was going to declare at that time. And Great Britain and France absolutely did not dream of a free stay of Russia in the Mediterranean, where the Russians have been striving at least since the time of Peter the Great.

If Russia entered Constantinople, the British and French would most likely oppose, as in the Crimean War. By the end of the 19th century, the "Eastern question" had already become a geopolitical one, affecting the interests of several large European states at once. So even the brilliant victory of Alexander II in the war with the Turks in 1877-1878. not only did not allow the lukewarm seizure of Istanbul, but also pushed for European concessions and softening the conditions of the initial peace agreement with the Turks. By the way, the idea of ​​returning Constantinople to the Orthodox bosom also loomed during the reign of Nicholas II. But at the last moment, the "Bosphorus operation" was canceled

One of the main attractions of Istanbul - Hagia Sophia - was recently rebuilt. Now this Christian cathedral became a mosque, which is important for atheists.

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