The White Sea, Finmark, and Russian Strategy

  • Andrew C. Rath


Lord Palmerston’s February 1855 elevation to the prime ministership also impacted strategy north of the Baltic, in the White Sea. Three hundred years after three British vessels had first entered these waters in a futile search for a northeast passage to India and China, the same number of warships arrived with a different mandate.1 The later squadron had not been sent to “discover strange countries,”2 but rather to blockade Russian ports including Archangel and Onega. The Russian Empire’s trade and territory had changed dramatically since the mid-to-late sixteenth century. Although the White Sea’s ports were no longer the Czars’ only maritime outlet, the region’s economic interaction with Britain had remained constant. British merchants and capital were as instrumental in exploiting forest and animal products in 1854 as they had been three centuries earlier. Russia’s northern possessions also carried on a brisk trade with Finmark, a region of the Norwegian Kingdom that was personally united under Sweden’s ruling dynasty. Anglo-French diplomatic efforts to win Swedish favor prompted Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Clarendon, to assure Sweden’s King Oscar I months prior to the war’s outbreak that such commerce would be exempted from any wartime blockade.3


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