Crimean war (1853 – 1856) was a conflict that resulted in Russia losing to an alliance of Britain, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire. Although pretending to be neutral, the Australian Empire also contributed (partly) to the fall of the Russians. At the time, the immediate issue at hand was on the right of Christians occupying the Holy land controlled by the Ottoman Empire. While the French promoted and advocated for the rights of Catholics, the Russians were concerned with those of the Orthodox. Even though the underlying long-term causes involved the Ottoman Empire’s decline, the Britain and France were also unwilling to let Russia gain territory and power all at Turks (Ottoman) expense. In the end, Russia lost and Ottoman gained a two-decade respite from Russian pressure.
With a little support from Britain, the Ottomans stood firmly against the Russians occupying the Danubian Principalities (currently Romania). It was when a Turkish squadron, on the Black Sea at Sinope (Turkish side) was destroyed by the Russian Black Sea fleet, that the French and British fleets entered the Black Sea to protect Turkish transports (January 1854). By the end of March, Britain and France declared war on Russia. Russia had to evacuate the Danubian principalities not only to satisfy Austria, but also to prevent the country from getting involved in the war. Most of the fighting was for control of the Black Sea, with the Crimea peninsula, southern Russia, suffering land battles. The Russians, for a year, held their great fortress at Sevastopol. After its fall, peacemaking took place at Paris in 1856 at the end of the first quarter and the religion problem had already been resolved. However, the major outcome was that the Black Sea was completely neutralized – no Russian warships would be there – and two vassals, Wallachia and Moldavia, were now more independent under Ottoman’s rule.
The French emperor Napoleon III’s ambition to restore the grandeur of France resulted in immediate chain of events that led France and Britain to declare war on Russian on March 1854. He expected Catholic support to come his way if he declared war on Eastern Orthodoxy (as sponsored by Russia). Charles de La Valette was not only a zealous Catholic, but also a dedicated member of the “clerical party” demanding French protection of the rights of the Roman Catholic to the holy areas/ places in Palestine. In May 1851, La Valette was appointed by Napoleon as his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The main reason for this appointment was to force the Ottomans to acknowledge France as the “sovereign authority” (over Christians). After Russia disputed this change in authority, Ottomans reconsidered their earlier decision. They renounced the French treaty and insisted that Russia was the sole protector of the Ottoman Empire’s Orthodox Christians.
Napoleon III’s response was forceful, sending the ship Charlemagne to the Black Sea, violating the London Straits Convention in the process. However, the Ottomans were fully aware of the fact that the Charlemagne sailed at higher speeds of 8 1/2 knots and the technologically inferior Ottoman and Russian navies combined did not stand a chance. Therefore, France’s display of force presented substantial threat, and when coupled with aggressive diplomacy and adequate resources, Sultan Abdulmecid had to accept a new treaty that confirmed France (with the Roman catholic Church included) as the supreme Christian authority with so much power and control over the holy places of the Roman Catholic. They also gained possession of the Church of the Nativity keys, previously in the Greek Orthodox Church’s possession.
The war erupted for many reasons: Napoleon was searching for prestige, Nicholas had a quest for control and power over the Straits and he miscalculated the probable reaction of the European powers that failed to make their positions clear, and public opinion in Britain put pressure at crucial moments. Because of peace negotiations that took place at the Congress of Paris, the Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March 1856. To conform to art. XI and XIII, the Sultan and the Tsar agreed they would not establish any naval/ military arsenal on the coast of the Black Sea. The Black Sea clauses made Russia weak, no longer posing a naval or military threat to the Ottomans. In the end, the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were returned (nominally) to the Ottoman Empire, making them independent (in practice). The result saw the Great Powers pledging to respect the Ottoman Empire’s independence and territorial integrity. The Crimean War marked France’s ascend to pre-eminent power on the entire Continent.