Franco-Russian Alliance

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This article is about the 1892–1917 alliance. For the 1936-1939 alliance, see Franco-Soviet Alliance.
Pont Alexandre III in Paris and the Trinity Bridge in St Petersburg remain two symbols of the Franco-Russian Alliance.

The Franco-Russian Alliance was a military alliance between the French Third Republic and the Russian Empire that ran from 1892 to 1917. The alliance ended the diplomatic isolation of France and undermined the supremacy of Germany in Europe. France would remain the principal ally of Russia until 1917, from an economic, financial and military point of view.


The 1882 Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy had left Russia vulnerable, while France had been diplomatically isolated since its defeat in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent policies of Otto von Bismarck. Despite the deep social and political differences between France, a republic, and Russia, an absolute monarchy, relations between the two countries rapidly improved.

Commemorative flag

From 1888, Russia was provided with cheap loans floated on the Paris Bourse, essential to rebuild the technologically deficient Russian military and to build strategic railways that could bring the troops to the German front. In 1891, the French Fleet visited the Russian naval base at Kronstadt and was warmly welcomed by Tsar Alexander III. This visit marked the first time La Marseillaise was played on an official occasion in Russia; to play it previously had been a criminal offence.[1]

The new German Emperor Wilhelm II, after dismissing Bismarck, oversaw a change in the direction of German foreign policy. The secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia was allowed to expire in 1890, despite Russian requests to renew it. The German Chancellor Caprivi advised Wilhelm II not to renew the treaty, because by this treaty Germany promised to remain neutral if Russia were to occupy the Straits (i.e. Constantinople). Such a treaty, if made public, would enrage both the British and the Ottoman empire.[2]

1893 political cartoon depicting the Franco-Russian Alliance. Marianne and the Russian bear embrace.

After extensive negotiations, the Franco-Russian alliance was drafted August 17, 1892. It became final on January 4, 1894. The alliance was to remain in place as long as the Triple Alliance existed. The secret treaty between France and Russia stipulated that if one of the countries of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) attacked France or Russia, its ally would attack the aggressor in question, and that if a Triple Alliance country mobilized its army, France and Russia would mobilize. France would engage 1.300.000 troops and Russia 700.000 - 800.000.[3]

After the ascension of Tsar Nicholas II in 1894, Wilhelm tried repeatedly to persuade him to renounce the treaty, denouncing the French Republic as an anti-clerical, radical threat to monarchy and Europe's social order. Nicholas, despite his absolutist views, his dislike of the French republic, and his deference to the older and more experienced Wilhelm, maintained the alliance. In the wake of the Russo-Japanese War, Wilhelm proposed a German-Russian-French alliance to confront the Japanese and British. Nicholas found this arrangement acceptable, but the proposal was met with violent opposition by his advisers, especially senior minister Sergei Witte, and the tsar again refuted Wilhelm.

This treaty formed a crucial step towards the First World War. As opposed to treaties and alliances that were meant to solve conflicts of interest between the countries party to the treaty, the Franco-Russian alliance was an alliance directed against another country, Germany.[4] In this regard, it presented a countervailing force against the Dual Alliance (1879) of Germany and Austria-Hungary, which provided for mutual aid against an attack by Russia and mutual neutrality in the event of attack by another power (such as France).

The Franco-Russian Alliance, along with the Anglo-Russian Entente and the Entente Cordiale formed the so-called Triple Entente between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, France and Russia.

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  1. ^ Mansergh 1949, p. 35.
  2. ^ Andriessen, 1999, De andere waarheid, page 273
  3. ^ Andriessen, De andere waarheid, 1999, page 20
  4. ^ Christopher Clark, 2012, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, page 131: "By contrast with the earlier alliances of the European system, such as the Dual and Triple Alliances and the League of the Three Emperors, this one came into life as a military convention, whose terms stipulated the combined deployment of land forces against a common enemy.... The aim was no longer to "manage adversarial relations" between alliance partners, but to meet and balance the threat from a competing coalition."

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