Sergey Sazonov | 18 July 1914

A look at the personality and role of Sergey Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, who’s been pushing support for Serbia hardest of all.

Poincare and Viviani

President Poincare bitches to his diary today about his prime minister, Rene Viviani. He’s selected Viviani primarily in order to deflect a parliamentary challenge to the Three-Year Law, one of his major policy achievements, increasing French conscripts’ length of service from two years to three. Now he’s complaining that Viviani knows little of foreign affairs. Gee, I wonder whose fault that is?

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Sergey Sazonov

Sazonov is the long-standing Russian foreign minister, who’s been very active in formulating Russia’s Balkan policy. Today he speaks to the British and Austro-Hungarian ambassadors. He’s firm and uncompromising as ever.

He’s been the driving force behind the Russian response to the assassination. They’ve stood squarely behind Serbia. They’ve let it be known that as far as they’re concerned, Serbia has nothing to do with the asssassinations and any claim otherwise is gross slander. Their diplomats have been fuelling back to Sazonov reports that, taken together, comprehensively deny that Austria-Hungary might have any kind of legitimate grievance against Serbia.

Even the inconvenient fact of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is itself downplayed, with attempts to suggest that the dead man had been building a war party inside the A-H government. It’s a spectacular hatchet job, and once again it all leads up to the same thing. Austria-Hungary has no reason to take military action. Russia is a long-standing supporter of Serbia and, if A-H does do something rash, they will be left without any option but to go to war in defence of Serbia. Once again, “we have no choice, you have room for manoeuvre”.

And it’s this line that Sazonov pushes, in no uncertain terms, to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador, Fritz Szapary, today. With Sir George Buchanan, the British ambassador, he’s even more forthcoming. He says explicitly that if Austria-Hungary were to (for example) issue an ultimatum, Russia would consider that grounds for taking military action…


Meanwhile, the Serbian ambassador is deeply concerned with the tone of much of the British reporting. “They are saying these were the actions of a Serbian revolutionary, and that he had ties with Belgrade. This is not good for Serbia.” They are also, of course, as we now know, entirely accurate.

Actions in Progress

July Crisis
Franco-Russian summit

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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