Franco-Russian Alliance

The Franco-Russian alliance was formed to offset the power of the Triple Alliance between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires. The combination of the two alliances divided Europe into two increasingly hostile diplomatic and military camps, setting the stage for World War I.

Summary of Event

The Franco-Russian alliance, concluded in 1894, represented the climax of the growing rapprochement between the two nations and also demonstrated the declining relationships each had experienced with Germany and Great Britain since 1885. Both France and Russia feared the preeminence of Germany in Europe, based on the Triple Alliance among Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy. France could neither forgive nor forget the stinging defeat of 1871 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine Lorraine
Alsace to the newly united German Empire. Tension between France and Germany was exacerbated by the Boulanger Boulanger crisis
Paris;Boulanger crisis
France;Boulanger crisis crisis of 1886-1889 and the increase in the size of the German army provided by the bills of 1887 and 1890. Russia for its part had pledged benevolent neutrality with Germany in the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 if either should be attacked by a third great power, but Russia too was suspicious of Germany. Russia;and France[France]
France;and Russia[Russia]
Dual Entente (1894)
Triple Alliance;and Franco-Russian alliance[Franco Russian alliance]
Giers, Nikolay Karlovich
Germany;and Russia[Russia]
Russia;and Germany[Germany]
[kw]Franco-Russian Alliance (Jan. 4, 1894)
[kw]Russian Alliance, Franco- (Jan. 4, 1894)
[kw]Alliance, Franco-Russian (Jan. 4, 1894)
Russia;and France[France]
France;and Russia[Russia]
Dual Entente (1894)
Triple Alliance;and Franco-Russian alliance[Franco Russian alliance]
Giers, Nikolay Karlovich
Germany;and Russia[Russia]
Russia;and Germany[Germany]
[g]Europe;Jan. 4, 1894: Franco-Russian Alliance[5920]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 4, 1894: Franco-Russian Alliance[5920]
Alexander III
Lannes, Gustave Louis
Boisdeffre, Raoul Le Mouton de
Obruchev, Nikolay
William II (emperor of Germany)

German chancellor Otto von Bismarck Bismarck, Otto von
[p]Bismarck, Otto von;and Russia[Russia] compromised any chance of friendship with Russia by persuading the Reichstag Germany;Reichstag to put through a sharp increase of the German tariff Tariffs;German on agricultural imports, an increase which proved to be injurious to Russian landowners. These landowners began to pay more heed to the anti-German propaganda put forth by the Pan-Slavs. Moreover, Bismarck forbade the Reichsbank to accept Russian securities as collateral for Russian industrialization loans. In 1890, William II William II (emperor of Germany)
[p]William II (emperor of Germany)[William 02 (emperor of Germany)];and Otto von Bismarck[Bismarck] dismissed Bismarck and decided to forego renewal of the Reinsurance Treaty. Four days before the old agreement expired, he signed the Heligoland Heligoland Treaty with Great Britain, gaining the strategic North Sea North Sea;Heligoland island by granting the British some territorial concessions in Africa. Both Russia and France regarded the Heligoland Treaty as the basis of the Quadruple Quadruple Alliance;and Franco-Russian alliance[Franco Russian alliance] Alliance.

While Germany was Russia’s chief rival on the Continent, Great Britain had thwarted the imperialistic hopes of Russia in the Middle East and in Asia. At the same time, Britain was France’s rival in Africa and southeast Asia. Russia and France began to look toward each other for mutual trust and protection, although the wide divergence between the autocracy of the one and the republicanism of the other meant that their friendship grew slowly. A French loan of five hundred thousand francs to Russia in December of 1888 helped to nullify Bismarck’s financial sanction, and larger loans were given by France to Russia in the following year. In return, Russia agreed to purchase five hundred thousand rifles from France.

Editorial cartoon by John Tenniel (1820-1914) depicting the German emperor William II as a ship’s captain dismissing his pilot, Otto von Bismarck. The caption reads, “Dropping the pilot. The Prussian Bully has no further use for Prince Bismarck.”

In July of 1891, Czar Alexander Alexander III III and Nikolay Karlovich Giers, the Russian minister for foreign affairs, played host to a French naval squadron at Kronstadt. The spectacle of the autocratic czar of all the Russias standing bareheaded at attention for the playing of the national anthem of republican France created a sensation throughout Europe. It was becoming clear that neither the Russian nor the French government would allow ideological differences to stand in the way of cooperation against the Triple Alliance. The enthusiasm generated by this visit paved the way in August for an exchange of notes between the two governments. In these notes, they agreed to mutual consultations if either were threatened by attack.

Czar Alexander Alexander III and Giers remained cautious. It was not until August 17, 1892, that they were persuaded by the French to consider the draft of a military convention. General Raoul Le Mouton de Boisdeffre Boisdeffre, Raoul Le Mouton de agreed on behalf of the French general staff to come to the aid of Russia if Russia were attacked by Germany or Austria supported by Germany. General Nikolay Obruchev Obruchev, Nikolay agreed on behalf of the Russian general staff to aid France if France were attacked by Germany or Italy supported by Germany. Both France and Russia agreed not to conclude a separate peace. It was not, however, a binding agreement, because the czar and Giers refused to ratify the agreement until 1893.

Giers was particularly concerned about the terms of the military convention, which had been worked out by Boisdeffre and Obruchev without the participation of any representative of the Foreign Ministry. The two military men were naturally concerned with strictly military issues rather than the general political context. They focused their attention on how wars could be won rather than on how they might be averted or limited. Giers was reluctant to assume military obligations toward France that might seriously restrict Russia’s room to maneuver in a diplomatic crisis. Nevertheless, a series of events undercut his resistance to the military convention.

In 1893, Great Britain appeared to move closer to the Triple Alliance, Germany increased its army even further, and the visit of the French fleet to Kronstadt was returned by an equally cordial visit of the Russian fleet to Toulon in October. Czar Alexander III Alexander became convinced that Russia should ratify the military convention with France despite Giers’s reservations. Finally, on December 27, Giers notified the French ambassador to St. Petersburg, Gustave Louis Lannes Lannes, Gustave Louis , the marquis de Montebello, that Russia formally approved the draft of the military convention that had been drawn up by the chiefs of the French and Russian general staffs in August of 1892. Lannes, who had worked hard to secure agreement, was able to announce the approval of the French government on January 4, 1894.


The Franco-Russian alliance, or the Dual Entente as it came to be called, divided Europe into two armed camps in the decade before 1914. For ten years before 1914, it tended to stabilize rather than endanger the tranquillity of the Continent. France felt secure against Germany, and Russia believed that it had obtained greater assurance than before. Both countries saw the alliance as a means of countering the challenge given by British imperial policy outside Europe, and there were actually occasions in 1894 and 1895 when the Franco-Russian alliance made common cause with Germany against Great Britain.

The balance of power shifted between the Dual Entente and the Triple Alliance, as Italy virtually deserted the latter in 1902 and then Britain began to make overtures to the former. Faced with a serious German challenge to Britain’s naval supremacy, the British government decided in 1904 to settle its colonial rivalries with France in Africa and southeast Asia. Britain and Russia reached a similar agreement in 1907 concerning long-standing differences in the Middle East and Asia. Clashes for supremacy in Morocco Morocco and in the Balkans continued to be heated. After 1904, however, international crises of these types began to be seen against the background of two gigantic armed camps created by competitive alliances, and events in 1914 brought about international conflict in World War I.

Further Reading

  • Berghann, V. R. Imperial Germany, 1871-1918: Economy, Society, Culture, and Politics. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005. Comprehensive and accessible survey of Germany history, organized thematically. Includes a chapter on foreign policy before and after World War I.
  • Bridge, F. R., and Roger Bullen. The Great Powers and the European States System, 1815-1914. New York: Longman, 1980. A concise introduction to European international relations from the defeat of Napoleon to the outbreak of World War I.
  • Kennan, George F. The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Diplomat and historian George Kennan produced this informative study of the negotiations that resulted in the Franco-Russian alliance in 1894.
  • Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House, 1987. A sweeping history that examines the impact of economic change on international politics since the Renaissance.
  • Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. A historical account of statesmanship and the balance of power since the seventeenth century.
  • Langer, William L. The Franco-Russian Alliance, 1890-1894. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1929. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1977. More than a history of Franco-Russian relations, this book studies European diplomacy from the fall of Bismarck to the signing of the alliance.
  • MacKenzie, David. Imperial Dreams, Harsh Realities: Tsarist Russian Foreign Policy, 1815-1917. Fort Worth, Tex.: Harcourt Brace College, 1994. An introduction to the history of Russian foreign policy during the last century of the czarist regime.
  • Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1954. A classic history that studies in detail the operation of the balance of power in Europe.

German States Unite Within German Empire

Three Emperors’ League Is Formed

Congress of Berlin

Triple Alliance Is Formed

French Right Wing Revives During Boulanger Crisis

Great Britain Strengthens Its Royal Navy

First Hague Peace Conference

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