G. Tchicherin


On the Lausanne Conference

(December 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 113, 16 December 1922, pp. 945–946.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive

Before leaving Moscow, comrade Chicherin gave one of the Editors of the Russian Telegraph Agency the following exposition of the fundamental problems of the Near East and the program of the Soviet delegation at the Lausanne conference.


The Problem of the Near East

At the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles East meets West, Europe meets Asia. Taken all in all, the struggle which has arisen around this spot is one between the imperialism of the capitalist lands of the West and the exploited peoples of the East. It is from this point of view that these exploited peoples regard the fight of the Turkish people and their last brilliant victory. In the great combat between world capital and the peoples it oppresses, one of the leading parts is played by the struggle for the Near East, the struggle for the Straits.

At the same time serious differences divide the great powers who meet together at Lausanne to defend their supremacy over the peoples of the East. It is just at this most sensitive geographical spot of the old world, the frontiers between Europe and Asia, that the jealousy between the great powers endeavouring to dominate one another has always shown its acutest character. Constantinople and the Straits have always constituted the most important subject of the whole diplomacy of the great powers. The Turkish empire, before the Turkish people took its fate into their own hands, owed its existence solely to the irreconcilable antagonism among the great powers, especially between Tsarist Russia and England. The geographical position of the Mediterranean renders it the most important of all seas, for over it flows the traffic between Europe and Asia, for the world route between East and West, between the Atlantic and the Pacific, leads through it, and it contains the most important fulcrums of world imperialism and especially the basis of England’s world sovereignty.

The conquest of the Straits by Tsarism would have secured access to these world waterways for Tsarist Russia, and in addition an extremely important and strong strategic naval base backed by the gigantic territories of Russia. Thus during the 19th century Great Britain exerted all her forces, to keep Tsarism from approaching Constantinople. And it was not by accident that, when German rule extended to Constantinople, and began to stretch out its feelers across Bagdad into the depths of Asia and in the direction of India, that the Near East, the Bagdad peninsula, became the object of one of the sharpest antagonisms which led to the world war.

Soviet Russia’s policy in the Straits question

Fresh problems have cropped up within this problem. After three years of heroic fighting the Turkish people has save itself from the danger threatening its existence; it has liberated nearly the whole of Turkish land from foreign oppression, and is now endeavouring to create a politically and economically independent state, permitting no enslavement nor exploitation of the Turkish people by other countries or by Western capital. Soviet Russia, the young workers’ republic, supports the oppressed peoples, and follows this fight against world capital with the tallest sympathy. Soviet Russia is herself threatened by world capital, which seeks to exploit Russia. In the Near East, Russia defends the right of self-determination of the peoples, and their complete economic and political independency; she gives fullest support to the sovereign rights of the Turkish people as the owner of the Straits and the adjoining coasts. All thought of aggression is far removed from the Soviet republic; its sole desire is the preservation of peace on the Black Sea, and the security of its own coasts. Full realization of the principle of Turkish sovereignty over Turkish land and water, the complete exclusion by Turkey of foreign war ships from the Straits, perfectly free traffic for the merchant marine, and the complete security of Turkey’s political and economic independence in every respect – these are the main points of Soviet Russia’s Near Eastern policy, determined by Russia’s general principles, by the interests of peace on the Black Sea, and finally, by the wish to secure the Soviet coasts.

England’s policy

England is striving in a diametrically opposite direction. England would like her fleet to have the right to pass freely through the Straits, and would like to keep the coasts of the Straits under the immediate control of her troops, or of the so-called international commissions over which England wields overwhelming influence. England is concerned over her numerous positions in the Mediterranean and also in the East, on the Black Sea and in the Indian Ocean. England’s predominance in the Mediterranean is a necessary factor in her world command of the seas. England therefore finds it hard to renounce claim to such a strong strategic position as that afforded by the Straits, from where the relation of forces in the Mediterranean can best be influenced. While Turkey is fighting in the elementary interests of her existence, England’s program in. the Straits and in the Near East is diametrically opposed; for England is fighting for the most important positions of her world domination.

France’s Policy

In the Near East, as in every part of the world, France is always the enemy of England. England and France have for centuries been hereditary enemies, and now, after a mutual victory over the opposing imperialist coalition of the central European powers, they are competing with one another with ever increasing intensity, and the antagonism between them becomes acuter every day. The new France which emerged from the war, an enterprising industrial France, is seeking new economic connections, markets, and sources for raw materials, and resumes her old traditional strivings for expansion. In pursuance of these objects France is trying to assume the role of protector of Turkey with the idea of obtaining a ruling position in that country, or seizing the ores and other natural riches of Asia minor, and of forming over it a network of French railways. The new so-called Mediterranean policy of France represents an irreconcilable contradiction to the fundamental tendencies of English world expansion and English dominion of the seas. The struggle between England and France for mastery in Asia Minor and in the Straits is one of the most essential items of their antagonism. But now that it is a question as to whether it will be possible for the capitalist states to maintain domination over the Eastern peoples at all, Poncaré turns suddenly to England, and joins in the fight of the Western exploiters against the Eastern exploited.

Italy’s role

Italy represents an unexpected new factor at Lausanne, for her foreign policy is inspired by an unusual spirit of enterprise and courageous initiative. Italy now feels herself to be a young and powerful country, whose power increases day by day. While the population of France is gradually decreasing, that of Italy is increasing rapidly. In this respect she has already overtaken France. Her riches are increasing, she will soon be economically one of the strongest countries of Europe; her economic life is characterised by greater activity and productivity than that of France.

In July the consciousness of growing power has extraordinarily increased, and Italy now presents herself at Lausanne with an independent policy, the purport of which has not yet been made known to the outer world. Italy does not possess such long-standing and firmly rooted economic interests in Turkey as England and France, so it is easy for her to appear as a friend on the side of Turkey against England. On the other hand, Italy must keep in with the other great European powers, and her ever-increasing strivings after expansion will scarcely allow her to agree to the complete emancipation of the peoples of the East from every form of oppression and exploitation by the European powers. Italy’s policy at Lausanne will be distinguished by complexity and by unexpected changes of scenery. Italy is striving to resist the predominance of England and France, and with the clear idea of best protecting her own interests, has already adopted the line of approaching and recognizing Soviet Russia, conscious that thus the most advantageous results can be obtained for herself and Russia alike.

The Little Entente

The Little Entente, this echo of the Entente, appears at Lausanne as the fourth European power, and hopes to obtain some advantage to itself by submitting to the will of the Entente.

Our task at the conference

The Soviet Republic appears at Lausanne as the opposite pole of world policy, as the friend of the oppressed and exploited peoples of the East, and especially as the defender of all Turkish rights in the Straits, and as advocates of the complete exclusion of all warships from the Straits. Without Russia it is not possible to come to any permanent agreement at Lausanne on questions dealing with the Near East. The Russian delegation will not sign any agreement or treaty not in accord with the fundamental principles of the Soviet republic. The independence of Turkey, the recognition of all the legal rights of the Turkish people in the Straits and in all districts inhabited by Turks, the exclusion of foreign warships from the Straits in the interests of peace in the Black Sea, and the free passage for trading vessels, – these are the theses of our program at Lausanne, theses based on the principles of our policy, and in the interests of peace, the protection of our coasts and the approaches to our coasts. The Soviet Republic is fully conscious that without its participation no permanent agreement can be reached in the Near Eastern question. But it will only participate in such an agreement when it is in accord with the fundamental principles and the Near Eastern program of the Soviet Republic.

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