At the time when the United States and the commercial powers of Europe were discussing the opening of Japan, Russia resolved, if possible, to forestall them. In 1847, the czar appointed a young general, Nicholas Muravieff, as governor of Eastern Siberia. Shortly after entering upon his office the sent an officer named Vagarof, who had explored the Amoor River, back to it with four Cossacks to make an extensive report. The party left Strelka in the spring of 1848, but was never heard of again. Suspecting that they had been captured by the Chinese, a demand was made for their surrender on the plea that they were deserters, but the Chinese replied that they knew nothing of them. Meanwhile Muravieff had ordered the exploration of the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk and the mouth of the Amoor. These orders were promptly executed, and in 1850 Lieutenant Orloff entered the river from the sea. The following year Captain Nevilsko´, who had come out in the Baikal, sent a boat up the river and laid the foundations of Nikolayefsk and Mariinsk, thereby securing a foothold on the Lower Amoor, knowing all the time that this was Chinese territory, and that Russia was at peace with China. The survey of the Sea of Okhotsk was not neglected. Port Imperial on the coast of Manchuria was discovered and occupied, and Urup, one of the Kurile Islands, was seized. When Commodore Perry arrived off the coast of Japan, he was watched by Admiral Poutiatine in command of the Pallas, Vostok, Olivutzu and Menzikoff. Aniwa Bay was seized the same year, and Russians landed on the west coast of what is known as Saghalien, but was known and owned by the Japanese under the name of Karafuto.
The Crimean War gave Muravieff a pretext to violate further the treaty with China. He claimed that the settlements on the Pacific, as well as the Russian ships, were in need of supplies, and that the ocean route was closed by the allied fleets. Was it Muravieff's duty to furnish those supplies? In that case, any reference to the ocean route was preposterous, because it is absurd to suppose that supplies would be sent from Eastern Siberia to the north Pacific coast by such a route; and if he had furnished them before by the overland route through Siberia, why, that road was open to him. What he needed was a pretext to secure the occupation of Japan, or at least of some of its islands, before the other powers could know of it and for that purpose, it was necessary to be in possession of the lower Amoor. Perry's energetic action thwarted him; but he could not know that. What he did know was that China was not in a condition to oppose him, and that the other powers need not know what he was doing.
He determined to send an expedition strong enough to insure respect, and lost no time in preparing it. Fifty barges, a steamer, and numerous rafts, a thousand Cossacks with cannon, the whole commanded by Muravieff himself, left Shilinsk on the 24th of May, 1854. Following the usual custom, the expedition was accompanied by scientific men to survey the river, prepare maps, explore the country, and examine its resources. At ten a.m. , June 8, they arrived at Aigun where Muravieff was received by the Chinese authorities, who displayed about the same number of armed men, but such men and such arms! Firelocks dating from the time of Kang-hi—1689,—convinced Muravieff that fifty Cossacks could put these braves to rout. Not caring to arouse Chinese hostility for fear that his schemes night attract attention, Muravieff did not resent it when the Chinese forbade him to enter the town; he continued on his journey, and on the 27th of June arrived at Mariinsk. After sending part of his force to Nikolayefsk, he went on to Port Imperial where he met Admiral Poutiatine. They discussed the situation, and Poutiatine left for Japan on the Diana.
Muravieff hurried back as he had come, and prepared another expedition which he took down the river in 1855. In that year he sent three thousand Cossacks, and five hundred colonists down the Amoor, together with horses, cattle, provisions, and military stores. This activity could not escape the Chinese who dispatched four officials to Nikolayefsk to protest against the invasion of their territory. They arrived in July, and were entertained by Muravieff with a review of his forces; after this hint he simply dismissed them. At this time the settlements which stood in such urgent need of supplies, were Mariinsk, which consisted of two log cabins, Nikolayefsk numbered ten, and Castries Bay had "four badly built huts."
In a remarkably short time we hear of the indefatigable Muravieff at St. Petersburg urging the annexation of the Amoor. He was opposed by the czar's ministers, but succeeded in convincing the emperor that China could offer no resistance, and that the powers need not hear of it until it was too late. Thus he secured large supplies of men and money. In the beginning of 1857, he was back at his post, and on the 1st of June he dispatched Colonel Ushakof with six hundred men from Shilkinsk, and soon after followed him with a brigade of Cossack infantry and a regiment of cavalry, to garrison the forts which he constructed at strategic points.
Seizing the opportunity of China's distress caused by the war with England and France, Muravieff demanded the cession of the Amoor Valley. The Chinese were helpless. On the 28th of May, 1858, a treaty was signed at Aigun, giving to Russia the left bank of the Amoor down to the Ussuri, and both banks below that confluent, besides the right to navigate the Sungari and Ussuri rivers. Russia gave absolutely nothing in return. Meanwhile Count Poutiatine had been sent from St. Petersburg to watch the allies and to profit by any blunder which they or the Chinese might make. Poutiatine stopped in Japan, claiming that the Koreans had given him the privilege of establishing a coaling station at Port Hamilton, but knowing that Great Britain would certainly investigate his claim, he did not press it. He tried to seize the Japanese Island Tsushima in the southern entrance to the Japan Sea, and midway between Japan and Korea; but a polite and firm invitation from the British admiral to leave that island, and the admiral's insistence to remain until after he had left it, spoiled that little game. Poutiatine then proceeded to China where he proposed to help put down the Tai P'ing rebellion in return for the cession of Manchuria to Russia. This handsome offer was politely declined. Once again Muravieff hurried to St. Petersburg; upon his advice the newly acquired territory was officially annexed, and, by ukase of October 31, joined to the littoral of the Sea of Okhotsk and Kamtschatka under the name of Maritime Province of Eastern Siberia, with Nikolayefsk as capital. Muravieff remained in supreme command.
The tireless empire builder was again on the Pacific Coast in 1858. On May 21, he founded Blagovestchensk and, after descending the river, laid the foundation of Khabarofka, at the mouth of the Ussuri. In October he was back at Kiakhta, arranging for the postal service between St. Petersburg and the extreme east. On the 26th of August, he was created Count Amoorsky, or Count of the Amoor, a promotion which he had well earned. On the 31st of December, a remarkable ukase was published, beginning "Now that Russia has regained possession of this valuable region, etc." The entire territory of Eastern Siberia contained 740,922 square miles, a territory equal to that of all the Atlantic Coast States, together with Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. This did not include the Amoor Province, which was placed under the administration of a governor and eighteen officials, who received a combined annual salary of $18,873.60, of which the governor received $4680.
Muravieff was back at his post in 1859. Both he and Poutiatine tried to induce the Japanese to give up Karafuto (Saghalien), but without success. At this time there was again trouble between China and the allied British and French, and when in 1860, a British-French force marched on Peking, Russia had sent another empire builder, General Ignatieff, to watch if he could not secure something. He did; when the allies entered Peking, Ignatieff sought Prince Kung and told him that the "foreign devils" would surely seize the country unless some strong power compelled them to leave. Russia was willing to do this, because she had always been fond of China; and all she asked was a strip of outlying territory of no value to China. Prince Kung gladly signed away the whole east coast of Manchuria, six hundred miles long; and Ignatieff redeemed his promise by visiting Lord Elgin and Baron Gros, the British and French plenipotentiaries. After paying them some flattering compliments, he made the remark that the Peiho river would freeze in a few days, and if they did not get out at once, they would have to stay all winter in Peking. The two gentlemen finished their business in a hurry, packed up, and left, but not without thanking Ignatieff for his kindness and reporting the matter to their government, which did not hear of the Russian's diplomacy until a year later. This is how Russia extended her empire on the Pacific Coast.
For many years the efforts to secure the whole island of Karafuto continued and Japan saw that war must follow unless a sacrifice was made. In 1875, Japan surrendered the island, in return for the Kurile group, but the Japanese treasured in their hearts the loss and disgrace. It was this which caused the assault upon the present czar, when he was traveling in Japan.
In 1894 the war between Japan and China broke out, and when China, humbled, sued for peace, Japan demanded the cession of the Liao-tung Peninsula,—where Port Arthur is located,—besides making other conditions. When this became known, Russia, after securing the help of Germany and France, gave Japan the "friendly advice," which was really a threat, not to take that peninsula. Japan, single-handed, could not fight the three powers, and gave way but every Japanese, high or low, young or old, was determined to pay off Russia. They bought or built war vessels everywhere and increased their army. Russia did not like this, and proposed that Japan should take all the islands in the Pacific, the Philippines, Hawaii, Borneo, etc., and leave the continent of Asia to Russia. Japan declined, and went on building ships. In the end of 1898, Russia announced that she had "leased" the very Liao-tung Peninsula which she had prevented Japan from taking. Japan understood, as the whole world did, that this "lease" meant possession. The Japanese statesmen did not protest, because there was but one protest that Russia would heed,—an appeal to arms. That was Japan's method when, in 1899, Alexander Pavloff, the Russian minister in Korea, secured from that government a concession in the port of Masampo, opening into the entrance to the Japan Sea. Japan's demand was: Let Masampo go, or it means war, and Russia evacuated Masampo, while Pavloff was told that he might take a furlough. Then came 1900, the Boxer troubles and the international march upon Peking. Japanese officers took note of the Russian troops, leaving the Russians to do the same with their soldiers. Japan never ceased her preparations. In the latter part of 1901, Marquis Ito Hirobumi visited the United States and crossed over to England, where he proposed an offensive-defensive alliance. British statesmen hesitated, when Ito told them in plain terms that if no such treaty was concluded, he was authorized to go on to Russia, and make the best terms he could for his country.
Meanwhile Pavloff had returned to Seoul, the capital of Korea, and by means best known to Russian diplomats, was trying to gain a foothold on the Peninsula. Under the pretext of a timber concession, the Russians constructed a fort on the Korean side of the Yalu river,—where it was afterwards discovered by newspaper correspondents, Russia had secured control of Manchuria with its 362,310 square miles and 11,250,000 population, and none of the powers dared protest. Japan was ready. Could she allow the "peaceful" absorption of Korea, as that of Manchuria had been accomplished? Safe in the offensive-defensive alliance with Great Britain, Japan approached Russia in a dignified manner, to be put off with vague replies. After six months of patience, Japan broke off diplomatic intercourse, and, as this is considered equal to a declaration of war, she struck and hit hard.