Although they’ve settled into a kind of love-hate rut nowadays, historically relations between the precursors of modern Russia and modern Turkey have tended not to be so great. Consider that the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, two of those precursors, fought a whopping 12 wars against one another between the second half of the 16th century and World War I (which, of course, brought about the end of both empires). The Russians won most of these wars, while the Ottomans, suffice to say, did not. The Sick Man of Europe needed help from Britain and France to win their biggest victory against the Russians, in the 1853-1856 Crimean War.
By 1877, both empires had seen better days, and the Ottomans in particular were struggling with a relatively new concept: Balkan nationalism. All those European provinces and peoples that had been part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries—many of whom were fed up with the second-class status of Christians living within the empire—started, in the early 19th century, to absorb some funny ideas about national identity and self-determination from elsewhere in Europe. Those ideas were reinforced when the 1821-1832 Greek War of Independence ended with, well, an independent Greece. Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, and many others figured, hey, if the Greeks could be independent, why can’t we? This was the heyday of “pan-slavism,” and Russia, which was always interested in challenging Austria-Hungary for influence in the Balkans and acutely interested in avenging its defeat in the Crimean War, was eager to help its fellow Slavs win their freedom from the hated Turk.
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