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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Treaty of Portsmouth ends the Russo-Japanese War

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The negotiations between Czarist Russia and Imperial Japan about ending the war they had been fighting since February 8th, 1904, arranged by then US President Theodore Roosevelt in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, finally came to an end on September 5th, 1905 in nearby Kittery, Maine.

Defeated Russia recognized Japan as the new dominant power in Korea, which about two months later would become its protectorate. It also made significant territorial concessions in China by surrendering its lease of the Liaotung Peninsula in Manchuria and the Russian Navy base at Port Arthur, strategically located at its ice-free southernmost tip since 1898. Japan regained the part south of the 50th parallel of the island of Sakhalin (named Karafuto in Japanese) it had given up in 1875.

Even after a series of brilliant victories, Tokyo was trying to avoid a war of attrition and had taken the initiative. It assumed correctly that growing unrest in Russia would compel the government in Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital from 1703 to 1918, to agree to stop the armed conflict.

It marked the end of the expansionist policy in the Far East pursued by Czar Nicholas II (1868-1918) and weakened his position in general. He had no choice but to quickly issue the October Manifesto, an attempt to transform his empire from an autocracy into a constitutional monarchy.

It promised to guarantee at last civil liberties (freedom of speech, press and assembly) and to create a legislative body, the Gosudarstvennaya Duma, or State Assembly.

The Fundamental Laws, promulgated in 1906 as the equivalent of a Constitution, didn’t live up to the expectations they had created. However, the Russian ruler had ultimately relinquished absolute power. After the extremely bloody Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 he, his whole family and members of the household would be assassinated in Yekaterinburg.

Although Russia’s prestige was considerably diminished, the vast country remained influential in Asia, due to its ownership of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Chinese Eastern Railway leading to the warm-water port of Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.

In Japan the treaty significantly bolstered the prestige and the influence of the military, which after decades of costly modernization had proven that it was able to bring to its knees a traditional Western power.

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