Russian Ships in the Gulf, 1899-1903
by Efim Rezvan
London: Ithaca Press, 1994 (distributed by Paul & Company). 165 pp. $75.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
The Soviet collapse made this book both possible and newly relevant. Possible in that the end of totalitarian secrecy led to the opening of the Russian Navy Central Archives in St. Petersburg. Newly relevant in that the Powers are once again, as a century ago, jostling for geo-political position and trade advantage in the Persian Gulf; and just as the Russians then challenged the British predominance, so they today challenge the American one. (For details, see the two articles by Victor Posuvalyuk in this issue.)
In early 1899, Tsar Nicholas himself approved the sending of a shallow-draught gunboat, the Gilyak, to the Persian Gulf. As an aide put it, the intent was "by showing the Russian flag in the Persian Gulf, to indicate to the British and the local authorities alike that we consider the Gulf accessible to the ships of all nations. . . . the purpose will be to make an impression with no aggressive intent or plans for territorial aggression."
The documents Rezvan has collected that fill most of Russian Ships in the Gulf show just how successful this effort was. The local authorities, and Sheikh Mubarak of Kuwait especially, welcomed the Russians as "natural ally in an anti-British coalition." But then the Russian ships disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, as developments in East Asia compelled them devote attention instead to the Japanese navy.
Related Topics: History, Russia/Soviet Union | Daniel Pipes | March 1995 MEQ
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