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Russia Pursues Naval Treaty with Britain

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 112th installment in the series.

April 15, 1914: Russia Pursues Naval Treaty with Britain

The European alliance system was undoubtedly a major cause of the First World War, but the image of a rigid structure bringing about conflict with mechanical inevitability isn’t quite accurate. On one side, the Triple Alliance wasn’t much of a triple anything: Germany and Austria-Hungary were closely bound to each other, but the third member of the defensive pact, Italy, was unreliable, to say the least. Meanwhile there was no formal diplomatic agreement governing the Triple Entente of France, Russia, and Britain; rather, it was an informal coalition hinging on France, which had a defensive alliance with Russia and a mostly unwritten “Entente Cordiale” (friendly understanding) with Britain.

Indeed, the Brits were a cagey lot who prized their traditional independence from Europe and remained leery of any commitments that might embroil them in a Continental conflict. They were especially reluctant to promise intervention with land forces, a prospect that summoned nightmarish memories of the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars. But as the world’s dominant naval power—and at the same time, an overstretched empire looking for ways to cut costs – Britain was more receptive to the idea of naval conventions that could reduce demands on the Royal Navy while serving as a force multiplier for British sea power. That was the thinking behind the Anglo-French Naval Convention of 1912, as well as Russian overtures for a similar agreement in the final months before war broke out.

The Russians had a number of reasons to want a naval convention with Britain: it would firm up British commitment to the Triple Entente, deter Germany and Austria-Hungary, and let France know that Russia was pulling its weight in their alliance. But the most important reasons were the super-dreadnought battleships Britain was building for the Ottoman Empire, the Reshad V and Sultan Osman I (latter pictured above, rechristened HMS Agincourt), which threatened to change the balance of power in the Black Sea, frustrating Russian plans to conquer the Turkish capital of Constantinople.

As this complex dynamic illustrates, Britain and Russia were what today might be termed “frenemies,” happy to cooperate in some areas, like containing Germany, but openly competing in others, like the Middle East and Asia. Nevertheless the Russians hoped that Britain might be persuaded to sell the battleships to Russia instead of Turkey as part of a naval convention, and were willing to offer concessions in Persia and Central Asia—where the British feared Russian influence might someday threaten India, the crown jewel of the British Empire—to sweeten the deal. Eventually Anglo-Russian agreement might even extend to a formal three-way alliance with France, converting the Entente into a solid military bloc containing Germany.

This was the gist of a letter sent by Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov to the Russian ambassador in London, Count Alexander Konstantinovich Benckendorff, on April 15, 1914, in which Sazonov observed:

The English, filled with their old insular mistrustfulness, must not lose sight of the fact that they will one day find themselves under the inexorable necessity of taking an active part in the struggle against Germany, if she undertakes a war, the only aim of which can be to tilt the balance of power in Europe in her own favor. Is it not better from every point of view to secure oneself in advance… by an act of political farsightedness which would make an end of the steadily growing ambitions of Germany?

The following day, the Russian naval minister broached the idea of Russia buying the dreadnoughts with the British ambassador to St. Petersburg, Sir George Buchanan. The Russians also called on their French friends to act as intermediaries and present the Russian case for an Anglo-Russian naval convention, possibly followed by a full alliance. In the second half of April, King George V and British foreign secretary Edward Grey were due to visit Paris, where President Poincare, Premier Viviani, and foreign minister Gaston Doumergue would make the Russian case.

The British, ambivalent as always, were distinctly lukewarm about the proposed naval convention with Russia, but some progress was made: Grey agreed to the idea in principle in April, and on May 19, 1914, he met with Benckendorff and the French ambassador Paul Cambon back in London, apparently to set up preliminary negotiations between the British and Russian admiralties. Meanwhile on April 27 British undersecretary for foreign affairs Sir Arthur Nicolson noted: “I know the French are haunted with the same apprehension—that if we do not try to tighten up ties with Russia she may become weary of us and throw us overboard. In that case we should be in an exceedingly awkward position, as she could cause us an infinity of annoyance, to put it mildly, in the Mid and Far East, without our being in any way able to retaliate.”

But as always diplomacy proceeded at a sedate pace, and was swiftly overtaken by events following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 (there was no more need for a convention when Russia and Britain were allied in an actual war against Germany). That’s not to say that the negotiations had no result. In the final months of peace German newspapers caught wind of the rumored Anglo-Russian Naval Convention, further stoking German paranoia about “encirclement” by the Triple Entente. Like Russia’s Great Military Program and planned Black Sea buildup, ironically the negotiations for a naval convention with Britain managed to inflame German fears without adding appreciably to Russian security.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 Badass Facts About Jason Statham
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Jason Statham is one of the preeminent action heroes of a generation—some would say he’s our last action hero. On the screen, he's been a hitman, a transporter, a con man, a veteran, and a whole host of other unsavory, but oddly endearing, tough guys. Before he stepped foot on his first movie set, though, Statham had a past life that would rival any of the colorful characters he’s brought to the screen. To celebrate his 50th birthday, we’re digging into what makes this English bruiser tick with these 10 fascinating facts about Jason Statham.

1. DIVING WAS HIS FIRST CALLING.

Before becoming a big-screen tough guy, Jason Statham exuded grace and fluidity as one of the world’s top competitive divers in the early 1990s. He spent 12 years as part of the British National Diving Squad, highlighted by competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Though he was an elite diver, Statham never qualified for the Olympics, which he admits is still a “sore point” for him. "I started too late," he has said of his diving career. "It probably wasn't my thing. I should have done a different sport."

2. HE DABBLED IN MODELING.

With his diving career over, Statham entered the world of modeling for the fashion company French Connection. If his rugged image doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to the world of male modeling, that was exactly what the company was going for.

“We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for French Connection, said in a 1995 interview with the Independent. "His look is just right for now—very masculine and not too male-modelly."

3. HE DANCED HALF-NAKED IN A COUPLE OF MUSIC VIDEOS.

A word of warning: The internet never forgets. Back in 2015, two ‘90s music videos went viral—“Comin’ On” by The Shamen and “Run to the Sun” by Erasure—and it’s not because the songs were just that good. It’s because both videos featured a half-naked, and quite oily, Jason Statham curiously dancing away in the background.

Both make liberal use of Statham’s lack of modesty, which is a far cry from the slick suits and commando gear we’d later see him sporting in The Transporter and Expendables series. So which one is your favorite? Leopard-print Speedo Statham from “Comin’ On” or his Silver Surfer look from “Run to the Sun”? And no, “both” isn’t an option. (Though “neither” is acceptable.)

4. GUY RITCHIE CAST HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SELLING KNOCKOFF JEWELRY AND PERFUME ON THE STREET.

After years of high dives, modeling, and pelvic gyrations, Statham was still looking to make a real living in the late ‘90s. His next odd job? Selling knockoff perfume and jewelry on London street corners. Luckily, that type of real-world hoodlum was exactly what director Guy Ritchie needed for 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Ritchie was introduced to Statham through his modeling gig at French Connection and saw the potential this real-world con man had for the movie. He wrote the role of Bacon specifically for Statham, which would end up being the movie that propelled him to Hollywood stardom.

5. JOHN CARPENTER WANTED HIM AS THE LEAD IN GHOSTS OF MARS.

Though Statham gained acclaim for his role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he wasn’t quite a leading man yet. Director John Carpenter wanted to change that by casting him as James “Desolation” Williams, the main character in Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter was convinced that Statham was ready for the role, the producers weren’t. They pushed the director to cast someone with more name value, eventually settling on Ice Cube. Statham stayed in the movie in a smaller role as Sgt. Jericho Butler.

6. HE REGULARLY DOES HIS OWN STUNTS.

Jason Statham in Wild Card (2015).
Lionsgate

In addition to being in impeccable shape, Statham also takes pride in doing many of his own stunts in his movies, from hand-to-hand combat to dangling from a helicopter 3000 feet above downtown Los Angeles. In fact, he’s almost dogmatic in his belief that actors should be doing their own stunts.

“I'm inspired by the people who could do their own work,” the actor said. “Bruce Lee never had stunt doubles and fight doubles, or Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I've been in action movies where there is a face replacement and I'm fighting with a double, and it's embarrassing.”

The worst offenders? Superhero movies. And Statham isn't shy about sharing his thoughts on those:

"You slip on a cape and you put on the tights and you become a superhero? They're not doing anything! They're just sitting in their trailer. It's absolutely, 100 percent created by stunt doubles and green screen. How can I get excited about that?"

7. FILMING EXPENDABLES 3 ALMOST KILLED HIM.

For all the authenticity that Statham likes to bring to the screen by doing his own stunts, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. While filming an action scene for Expendables 3, the brakes failed on a three-ton stunt truck Statham was driving, sending it off a cliff and into the Black Sea.

If you've ever wondered if the real Statham was anything like the movie version, his underwater escape from a mammoth truck should answer that.

"It's the closest I've ever been to drowning,” Statham said on Today. “I've done a lot of scuba diving; I've done a lot of free diving ... No matter how much of that you've done, it doesn't teach you to breathe underwater ... I came very close to drowning. It was a very harrowing experience."

8. HE PRACTICES A RANGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.

Statham’s fitness routine is about more than just weights and core work. The actor is also involved in a variety of different fighting disciplines like boxing, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Out of everything he does to stay in shape, it’s the martial arts that have the been most helpful for Statham’s onscreen presence. “That’s what I have to give most of my time to these days: training for what I have to do in terms of providing action in an authentic manner," he told Men's Health

Statham is not alone in his passion for martial arts; director Guy Ritchie is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in karate. When Men’s Health asked Statham if the two ever sparred, he responded, “I remember when we started out, we’d go on a press tour for Lock, Stock… and we’d be moving all the furniture out of the way in the hotel room, trying to choke each other out.”

After all, what are collaborators for?

9. HE’S WELL AWARE SOME OF HIS MOVIES HAVE BEEN DUDS.

When asked by Esquire if he ever watched one of his movies during the premiere and thought "Oh, no ...," his response was a very self-aware: "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah."

He went on to rattle off his Guy Ritchie movies, The Bank Job, Transporter 1 and 2 (not 3), and Crank as being among his favorite films. As for the others, the actor joked, “And the rest is sh*t."

He clarified that remark as a joke and said, “I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good.”

He then compared his work to the inner workings of a watch, saying, “A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."

10. HIS MOVIES HAVE MADE MORE THAN $1.5 BILLION IN THE U.S. ALONE.

Statham's films may have a tough time impressing critics, but audiences and studio executives can’t get enough. Taken as a whole, Statham’s filmography has raked in just a touch more than $1.5 billion in the United States, with the worldwide total standing at $5.1 billion.

A lot of this is due to his more recent entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, but he’s also had seven movies cross the $100 million mark worldwide outside of that series. This isn’t an accident; Statham knows exactly what type of movie keeps the lights on, as he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the f*cking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20 million. You can't fault these people for wanting to make money.”

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The 5 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Nicolas Cage stars in Knowing (2009).
Vince Valitutti/Summit Entertainment

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

If any film stands as a proper influence on The Twilight Zone and its use of science-fiction and fantasy to mask political and civil issues, it’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a Cold War-era parable about an alien named Klaatu who arrives on Earth carrying a warning about warfare. Naturally, all humans want to do is shoot him.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. KNOWING (2009)

The histrionics of Nicolas Cage: You either like them or you don’t. Knowing is Cage at half-caf: While he enjoys a few meltdown scenes, he’s largely reserved here as an astrophysics professor who stumbles onto information that could herald the end of the world.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

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