Internationalization of the Danube River

Last updated

The Danube River has been a trade waterway for centuries, but with the rise of international borders and the jealousies of national states, commerce and shipping has often been hampered for narrow reasons. In addition, natural features of the river, most notably the sanding of the delta, has often hampered international trade. For these reasons, diplomats over the decades have worked to internationalize the Danube River in an attempt to allow commerce to flow as smoothly as possible. [1]

Danube River in Central Europe

The Danube is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

International trade Exchanges across international borders

International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and services across international borders or territories.


A quay on the Danube in Pest, Hungary, 1843 Barabas, Miklos - Quay of the Danube with Greek Church in 1843.jpg
A quay on the Danube in Pest, Hungary, 1843

Rivalry among the great powers — particularly Great Britain and Russia — hindered such cooperation, but in 1856, at the end of the Crimean War, and it was finally decided to establish an international organization where they all could work together on behalf of the Danube. [1]

British and Russian rivalry

Military post on the Danube during the Crimean War, 1853, Illustrated London News Military Post on the Danube, Crimean War.jpg
Military post on the Danube during the Crimean War, 1853, Illustrated London News

In 1616 an Austro-Turkish treaty was signed in Belgrade wherein the Austrians were granted the right to navigate the middle and lower Danube, at that time under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Under the 1774 Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, ending a war between Russia and Turkey, Russia was allowed to use the lower Danube. [2]

Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca

The Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji was a peace treaty signed on 21 July 1774, in Küçük Kaynarca between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Following the recent Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Kozludzha, the document ended the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74 and marked a defeat of the Ottomans in their struggle against Russia. The Russians were represented by Field-Marshal Count Pyotr Rumyantsev while the Ottoman side was represented by Musul Zade Mehmed Pasha. The treaty was a most humiliating blow to the once-mighty Ottoman realm. It would also stand to foreshadow several future conflicts between the Ottomans and Russia. It would be only one of many attempts by Russia to gain control of Ottoman territory.

The Treaty of Adrianople, ending the Russo-Turkish War (1828–29), and signed on September 14, 1829, between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, provided a legal basis for excluding all foreign ships from the river delta. It gave Russia the right to establish quarantine stations on the Sulina Channel (the only one really navigable), and seven years later she made use of it. British trade began in 1834, on February 7, 1836, Russia published a decree that all Danube-bound vessels would be stopped and taken to the Russian port of Odessa for quarantine inspection. [3] :38–39

Treaty of Adrianople (1829) peace treaty

The Treaty of Adrianople concluded the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29, between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. It was signed on 14 September 1829 in Adrianople by Count Alexey Fyodorovich Orlov of Russia and by Abdülkadir Bey of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire gave Russia access to the mouths of the Danube and the fortresses of Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki in Georgia. The Sultan recognized Russia's possession of Georgia and of the Khanates of Erivan and Nakhichevan which had been ceded to the tsar by Persia in the Treaty of Turkmenchay a year earlier. The treaty opened the Dardanelles to all commercial vessels, thus liberating commerce for cereals, livestock and wood. However, it took the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi (1833) to finally settle the Straits Question between the signatories.

Russo-Turkish War (1828–29)

The Russo-Turkish War of 1828–1829 was sparked by the Greek War of Independence of 1821-1829. War broke out after the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II closed the Dardanelles to Russian ships and revoked the 1826 Akkerman Convention in retaliation for Russian participation in October 1827 in the Battle of Navarino.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known to its inhabitants and the Eastern world as Rome (Rûm), and known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was thoroughly Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

By 1836, things had got to the point where the House of Commons debated the subject. P. Stewart told his fellows on April 20:

British enterprise has found its way to these [Danubian] provinces; and already the jealous power of Russia has assailed to obstruct its success. . . . In 1836 there will be 5,000 tons [in trade] and upwards, if Russia is pleased to permit our subjects to exercise their just and lawful right. But . . . she has already interfered, and the matter must now and immediately be brought to an issue. . . . Russia has dared to offer insult to England by laying hands upon British shipping, and demanding tribute at the mouth of the Danube. . . . there cannot be a doubt but that Russia's determination is to close up the Danube entirely, and thus to stop out growing trade with the principalities. [3] :627

In 1840, Russia agreed in a treaty signed with Austria at St. Petersburg to keep the Sulina Channel open; for this purpose it would be allowed to tax vessels entering the river. [1] :6 The Russians brought in two dredging machines. One English account said they were "worked by manual labour for one day and then laid aside forever." [4] :148 Another account, written about the same time, had another version: The author claimed that the Turks (friendly to England at this time) [1] :6 had kept the channel clear

Saint Petersburg Federal city in the Northwestern federal district, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Manual labour physical work done by people

Manual labour or manual work is physical work done by people, most especially in contrast to that done by machines, and to that done by working animals. It is most literally work done with the hands, and, by figurative extension, it is work done with any of the muscles and bones of the body. For most of human prehistory and history, manual labour and its close cousin, animal labour, have been the primary ways that physical work has been accomplished. Mechanisation and automation, which reduce the need for human and animal labour in production, have existed for centuries, but it was only starting in the 18th and 19th centuries that they began to significantly expand and to change human culture. To be implemented, they require that sufficient technology exist and that its capital costs be justified by the amount of future wages that they will obviate. Semi-automation is an alternative to worker displacement that combines human labour, automation, and computerization to leverage the advantages of both man and machine.

by the simple expedient of requiring every vessel leaving to draw after her an iron rake; this was sufficient to stir the mud, and the current of the great river took it away. Muscovite artifice rejected this method as only worthy of Turkish barbarism, and went through the form of occasionally using a steam dredging machine. [5]

Modern map of the Black Sea. Odessa is the port at the top. Black Sea map.png
Modern map of the Black Sea. Odessa is the port at the top.

By 1851, Russians had changed their tactics. They set up quarantine stations in the delta itself and promulgated a new set of stringent regulations, which had as a purpose the frightening of shipping from the Danube to Odessa. For example, they declared that vessels visiting lower Danubian ports had to be held in a fourteen-day quarantine, while at Black Sea ports of Russia itself the quarantine was only four days. [1] :5 [6]

In the same year, an English writer called the Russian inspectors "crude, barbarous and political." [6] Another Englishman wrote in 1854 that the fertility of Moldavia and Wallachia was "not a mere geographical fact, but a subject fraught with the utmost importance; for the size of our [British] labourer's loaves varies with the depth of the water on the bar of the Danube." [5]

There is, perhaps, no instance in which the seemingly tortuous, yet ever steadily aggressive and grasping character of Russian policy can be better marked than in her conduct at the Sulina mouth of the Danube. [5]

In 1856, the mouths of the Danube River were wild passages, littered with wrecks of sailing ships and hazarded with hidden sandbars. The banks of the river were sometimes indicated only by clusters of wretched hovels built on piles, and by narrow patches of sand, skirted by tall weeds. [7]

Edward D. Krehbiel, writing in 1918, observed that Russia had probably been "aggravating the already bad conditions for the purpose of hindering commerce on the Danube and increasing that of Odessa." [5] Meanwhile, Russia continued to levy its taxes (it was estimated that the total tax burden amounted to 50 percent of the produce [8] ), and the channel remained clogged. Even the Austrians were upset with this, and the Treaty of St. Petersburg was renewed only once before they allowed it to lapse.

Demands for control

Napoleonic France at the Congress of Rastatt in 1798 made the first public governmental proposal for internationalizing the river, but "it was doomed to failure for political reasons," meeting with resistance from the Habsburg monarchs (Habsburg Monarchy). [9]

After Napoleon's fall the British joined the call for internationalization. In September 1850, Charles Cunningham, British vice-consul at Galatz, Romania, wrote that "the different nations interested in the navigation of the Danube should name commissioners (as seems to be done on the Rhine), and the Commission [should] . . . attend to the duties of clearing the Sulina." [10]

Modern map of the Danube (in German). Galatz is the first dot upstream from the Black Sea, and the Sulina channel is the middle one in the delta (right).
Click here for a larger version of this map. Donau-Karte.png
Modern map of the Danube (in German). Galatz is the first dot upstream from the Black Sea, and the Sulina channel is the middle one in the delta (right).
Click here for a larger version of this map.

In 1851 one English journalist wrote that "a commission might be named by the governments connected with the trade, in order that the respective commissioners might watch over the interests of the shipping of their country, as exists on the Rhine. [4] :145.148 Another wrote in 1854:

The capacities of this great river as a commercial highway are certainly unequalled by those of any other European stream; and their full employment would be of incalculable advantage not merely to the countries on its banks but to all commercial nations. . . . The natural difficulties of the navigation are indeed great, but capable of being easily removed. [11]

On December 28, 1854, during the Crimean War (France, Britain, Sardinia, and Turkey versus the Russian Empire), the allies sent to Russia a note urging the internationalization of the river as one of the bases for a peace treaty:

. . . it would be desirable that the course of the Lower Danube . . . be withdrawn from the territorial jurisdiction. . . . In every case the free navigation of the Danube could not be secured if it be not placed under the control of a syndical authority, invested with the powers necessary to destroy the obstructions existing at the mouths of the river, or which may hereafter be formed there. [12]


Francois Adolphe Bourqueney of France Francois-Adolphe de Bourqueney.jpg
François Adolphe Bourqueney of France

On March 15, 1855, representatives of five monarchies gathered around a table in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in an attempt to end the bloody war in the Crimea. Appearing for Great Britain were Lord John Russell and the Earl of Westmoreland. France sent its chief diplomatist, François Adolphe Bourqueney. Austria was represented by Count Karl Ferdinand von Buol-Schauenstein and Baron Anton von Prokesch-Osten, while the Ottoman Empire sent Aarif Effendi and Russia Prince Alexander Mihailovich Gortschakoff. Later, the negotiators were reinforced by the arrival of Foreign Ministers Drouyn de Lhuys of France and the Ottoman Mehemed Emin Aali Pasha. The second point on the agenda was what to do about the Danube River. [13]

Prince Gortchakoff stipulated that navigation should be free and that Russia favored an international control agency, but he objected to the use of the phrase syndical authority (syndicat in French) "because it was vague and new." [14] He said if syndicat implied any exercise of sovereignty, he must oppose it because the Danube "must be kept free of all political considerations." Baron Bourqueney replied that "the syndicat ought to represent the interests of all. [15] Later the conference agreed to substitute the phrase European Commission. [1] :12

Alexander Mihailovich Gortschakoff of Russia Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov.jpg
Alexander Mihailovich Gortschakoff of Russia

Foreshadowing a dispute that was to last until 1948 — whether the nations bordering the river should control it or share authority with the major shipping powers — a dispute immediately arose over the composition and powers of the new commission. [1] :12 The delegates finally decided to establish two bodies — a Delta group composed of the European powers, and a separate, river commission. [16]

An European commission, formed of delegates from each of the Contracting Powers, shall determine the . . . means to be employed to keep the navigation free, and shall draw up the instructions for a River-bordering commission, composed of delegates of Austria, Russia, and Turkey. [17]

Nevertheless, the Vienna conference failed over the future of the Black Sea, and the Crimean War went on, only to be ended the next year by the Treaty of Paris (1856). The victors, led by Britain and Austria, excluded Russia from the "River-bordering commission" by the simple expedient of rolling back its borders from the Danube banks in favor of Turkey. [18]

Britain was winning in its attempt to hobble Russia, and the creation of the European Danube Commission was successful in "postponing a showdown for another ninety years." [19] Though Russia did have a seat on the latter commission, its primary influence on the Delta was halted. Professor John C. Campbell wrote in 1949 that the commission became "a symbol and sentinel of the political interest of the West in preserving Southeastern Europe and Turkey from Russian domination." [20]

The European Commission of the Danube, with members Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia and Turkey, was established on a supposedly temporary basis by the Treaty of Paris in 1856 but, as The Times of London said, the body became a "striking example of the durability of the provisional," because it was never dissolved. [21] The Times continued:

A series of prolongations confirmed its existence and strengthened its privileges, which came to include its own flag, police and courts. Its seat was at Galatz, and its powers extended from Braila to the sea. It did excellent technical work, and the volume of shipping on the lower Danube grew rapidly. After 1918 only Great Britain, France Italy and Rumania were members of the Commission, till Germany was readmitted in March, 1939. Above Braila there was no international control until after the first world war. [21]

See also

A series of articles on this subject in chronological order

Related Research Articles

Crimean War 1850s military conflict

The Crimean War was a military conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Roman Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. It has widely been noted that the causes, in one case involving an argument over a key, have never revealed a "greater confusion of purpose", yet they led to a war noted for its "notoriously incompetent international butchery".

Danube Delta river delta in east-central Europe

The Danube Delta is the second largest river delta in Europe, after the Volga Delta, and is the best preserved on the continent. The greater part of the Danube Delta lies in Romania, with a small part in Ukraine. Its approximate surface area is 4,152 km2 (1,603 sq mi), of which 3,446 km2 (1,331 sq mi) is in Romania. With the lagoons of Razim–Sinoe, located south of the main delta, the total area of the Danube Delta is 5,165 km2 (1,994 sq mi). The Razim–Sinoe lagoon complex is geologically and ecologically related to the delta proper and the combined territory is listed as a World Heritage Site.

Treaty of Paris (1856) 1856 treaty

The Treaty of Paris of 1856 settled the Crimean War between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Treaty of Berlin (1878) a peace treaty signed on 13 July 1878

The Treaty of Berlin was signed on 13 July 1878. In the aftermath of the Russian victory against the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, the major powers restructured the map of the Balkan region. They reversed some of the extreme gains claimed by Russia in the preliminary Treaty of San Stefano, but the Ottomans lost their major holdings in Europe. It was one of three major peace agreements in the period after the 1815 Congress of Vienna. It was the final act of the Congress of Berlin and included Great Britain and Ireland, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Germany's Otto von Bismarck was the chairman and dominant personality.

The Treaty of London was signed on of 6 July 1827 by the United Kingdom, France, and Russia on 6 July 1827. The three main European powers had called upon Greece and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) to cease hostilities that had been going on since the Greeks had revolted against Ottoman rule on 6 March 1821. After years of negotiation, the European allied powers had finally decided to intervene in the war on the side of the Greeks. The Allied powers mainly wanted this treaty to cause the Ottoman Empire to create an independent Greek state. It stated that while the Ottoman Empire should recognise the independence of Greece, the Sultan would be the supreme ruler of Greece. The treaty declared the intention of the three Allied powers to mediate between the Greeks and the Ottoman Turks. The base arrangement was that Greece would become a dependency of Turkey and pay tribute as such Additional articles were added to detail the response should the Turkish Sultan refuse the offer of mediation and continue hostilities in Greece. These articles detailed that the Turks had one month to accept the mediation or that the Allied powers would form a partnership with the Greeks through commercial relations. Measures were also adopted that if the Ottoman Sultan refused the armistice, the Allies would use the appropriate force to ensure the adoption of the armistice.

Sulina Town in Tulcea County, Romania

Sulina is a town and free port in Tulcea County, Romania, at the mouth of the Sulina branch of the Danube. It is the easternmost point of Romania.

Danube–Black Sea Canal canal

The Danube–Black Sea Canal is a navigable canal in Romania, which runs from Cernavodă, on the Danube river, to Constanța, and to Năvodari, on the Black Sea. Administrated from Agigea, it is an important part of the European canal system that links the North Sea to the Black Sea. The main branch of the canal, with a length of 64.4 km (40.0 mi), which connects the Port of Cernavodă with the Port of Constanța, was built between 1976–1984, while the north branch, known as the Poarta Albă – Midia Năvodari Canal, with a length of 31.2 km (19.4 mi), connecting Poarta Albă and Port of Midia, was built between 1983–1987.

Bystroye Canal canal

The Deepwater Navigation Course "Danube – Black Sea is a deep-water canal in the Danube Delta that runs through a Danube Delta distributaries Chilia, Old Istambul and "Bystroe". Through most of its length it coincides with the Romania-Ukraine border that stretches along Danube through. The canal is served by the Ukrainian state company Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority and its piloting services branch Delta Lotsman. Portion of the canal, Bystroe, stretched through territory of Ukraine rather along the main course raised big concern in Romania which emphasized ecological issues of it as it stretches through the Ukrainian Biosphere Reserve "Danube Delta".

In diplomatic history, the "Eastern Question" refers to the strategic competition and political considerations of the European Great Powers in light of the political and economic instability in the Ottoman Empire from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Characterized as the "sick man of Europe", the relative weakening of the empire's military strength in the second half of the eighteenth century threatened to undermine the fragile balance of power system largely shaped by the Concert of Europe. The Eastern Question encompassed myriad interrelated elements: Ottoman military defeats, Ottoman institutional insolvency, the ongoing Ottoman political and economic modernization programme, the rise of ethno-religious nationalism in its provinces, and Great Power rivalries.

The Convention of Constantinople was a treaty signed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire on 29 October 1888.

Silistra Eyalet Ottoman province

The Eyalet of Silistra or Silistria, later known as Özü Eyalet meaning Province of Ochakiv was an eyalet of the Ottoman Empire along the Black Sea littoral and south bank of the Danube River in southeastern Europe. The fortress of Akkerman was under the eyalet's jurisdiction. Its reported area in the 19th century was 27,469 square miles (71,140 km2).

The Congress of Paris was a diplomatic meeting held in Paris, France, in 1856, between representatives of the great powers in Europe to make peace after the almost three-year-long Crimean War.

Danube Commission (1948) organization

The Danube Commission is concerned with the maintenance and improvement of navigation conditions of the Danube River, from its source in Germany to its outlets in Romania and Ukraine, leading to the Black Sea. It was established in 1948 by seven countries bordering the river, replacing previous commissions that had also included representatives of non-riparian powers. Its predecessor commissions were among the first attempts at internationalizing the police powers of sovereign states for a common cause.

Danubian Sich

The Danubian Sich was an organization of the part of former Zaporozhian Cossacks who settled in the territory of the Ottoman Empire after their previous host was disbanded and the Zaporizhian Sich was destroyed.

Danube Cossack Host

The Danube Cossack Host was a Ukrainian Cossack Host formed in 1828 prior to the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829), on the order of Emperor Nicholas I from descendants of the Zaporozhian Cossacks living in Bessarabia and in particularly the Budjak. Ukrainian Cossack Host named Lower-Danube Budjak Host had been formed there in 1807 but was disbanded soon afterwards. The Host also included some volunteers from the Nekrasov Cossacks and the Balkan peoples such as Romanians, Serbs and Bulgarians. Initially three selos of the Akkerman poviat where in the Cossacks control: Akmangit, Starokazachye, and Volonterovka.

Nazi rule over the Danube River was brought about by force of arms, through annexation of Austria, invasion of Yugoslavia and of the Soviet Union and treaties with the Kingdom of Romania and Hungary, but a legal cover was provided through moves that resulted in a new international order on the river beginning in 1940 and ending in 1945.

See Internationalization of the Danube River for events before 1856.

The Danube River Conference of 1948 was held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to develop a new international regime for the development and control of the Danube in the wake of World War II. It was the first postwar conference pitting the victorious Allies of the west against the Soviet Union and its allied states of Eastern Europe in which the latter held a majority and were expected to win all points of disagreement between the two sides. As such, it attracted more than the usual share of attention from East and West alike.

The Sinaia Agreement was concluded on 18 August 1938 between Romania, France and the United Kingdom. It entered into force on 13 May 1939.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 George L. Garrigues, The European Commission of the Danube: An Historical Survey, Division of Social Sciences, College of Letters and Science, University of California, Riverside, 1957
  2. "Danube River." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 June 2009
  3. 1 2 "The Reopening of the Danube," Dublin University Magazine. XLIV (November 1854), p. 632, and Edward D. Krehbiel, "European Commission of the Danube: An Experiment of International Administration", Political Science Quarterly, XXXIII (March 1918)
  4. 1 2 "Occupation of Sulina by Russia," New Monthly Magazine , IX (February 1851)
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Etchings from the Euxine, II, The Danube and the Crimea," Fraser's Magazine, L (September 1854, p. 296)
  6. 1 2 "Russia and the Danube," New Monthly Magazine, IXC (1851), p. 364
  7. Trotter, Henry (1911). "Danube"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 822. An 1873 paper by chief engineer Charles Hartley of the Danube River Commission
  8. "The Reopening of the Danube," p. 632
  9. Joseph De Somogyi, "The Historical Development of the Danubian Problem to the Present," Journal of Central European Affairs, VIII (April 1948), p. 47
  10. Krehbiel, "Etchings from the Euxine, II, The Danube and the Crimea," Fraser's Magazine, L (September 1854, p. 296). This is the same man who was pitied in 1851 because he earned only £250 a year as vice-consul while other nations had full consuls earning twice as much. "When the consular body meets on public occasions, the agent of England . . . walks not first, as he should, but last." "Occupation of Sulina by Russia," New Monthly Magazine, IX (February 1851), p 148
  11. "The Reopening of the Danube," p. 625-626
  12. The Annual Register, or a View of the History and Politics of the Year 1855 (pub. 1856), p. 201.
  13. Annual Register, p. 204.
  14. Krehbiel, p. 40
  15. Krehbiel, p. 40
  16. Annual Register of 1855, p. 203
  17. Text of the draft treaty, finally adopted in 1857. Annual Register of 1855, p. 203.
  18. John C. Campbell, "Diplomacy on the Danube," Foreign Affairs, XXVII (January 1949), p. 316
  19. Charlotte Rasmussen, "Freedom of the Danube," Current History, XII (January 1947), p. 28
  20. Campbell, p. 317
  21. 1 2 "Control of the Danube: Ninety Years of International Regulation," The Times, July 5, 1946, page 5

Further reading