Courtesy Reuters

Twenty Years of Russo-German Relations 1919-1939

THE relations between Russia and Germany (or Prussia) for the past 200 years have been a series of alienations, distinguished for their bitterness, and of rapprochements, remarkable for their warmth. Who, for example, could have foreseen in 1761, when Russian troops had overrun Prussia, occupied Berlin and humbled Frederick the Great, that the sudden death of the Empress Elizabeth would bring to the throne Peter III, the inveterate admirer of Frederick and of Prussia, and that he would promptly make peace with his hero? Or that, nine years after this reprieve, Russia, Prussia and Austria would -- in Frederick's blasphemous phrase -- "take Communion in the one Eucharistic body which is Poland?"

A cardinal factor in the relationship has been the existence of an independent Poland; for, in general, it is true that when separated by a buffer state the two great Powers of eastern Europe have been friendly, whereas a contiguity of frontiers has bred hostility. In the period between the first and third partitions of Poland (1772-1795), Russia and Prussia were in the positions of two gangsters, who with a weaker confederate -- Austria -- were dividing up a rich haul of loot. While the division was in process, relations between the partners remained amicable, save for the growlings which arose if one or the other took rather too much. When Poland had vanished from the map of Europe, however, Russia and Prussia confronted one another with nothing more to devour than each other.

The outbreak of the French Revolution and the rise of the common enemy, égalitarianism, averted any major clash, and Napoleon's creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, under French protection, still further improved Russo-Prussian relations. Russia was the dominant partner. The bond, forged in the common task of freeing Europe from the Napoleonic hegemony, was a one-sided partnership, and not without its strains and rifts. The Napoleonic wars carried both Russian and Prussian troops onto each other's soil as invaders. A Prussian contingent accompanied the Grand Army

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