29 APRIL 1899, Page 20



IT is quite possible that the Times, not for the first time in its career, has done a very great public service by an act of publicity. The publication (on Wednesday) of the striking statement as to Russia and England made byM. de Witte, the Russian Minister of Finance, at the private meeting of. the Council of Ministers, may, and we hope will, lead to milts of the greatest moment. . That statement, which of course was never intended to be made public, puts with the ntanost frankness Russia's commercial position. Russia, like all other countries, wants to grow rich, and wants to develop her great estate. Now, to do this she must do two things. She• must sell the surplus ' products of her agriculture, for Russia is still chiefly an agricultural country, and she must be able to borrow capital for the purpose of developing her internal resources. But her ability to fulfil these essential needs is at present greatly hampered. France, Germany, Austria, and indeed the whole of the Continent, shut out Russian products; the well-beloved ally, France, being the most exclusive of all the Powers. England is thus the only country which offers a market for Russia's agri- cultural products and even here the amount of trade done is not anything like 'what it might be, and, from the Russian point of view, ought to be, for unless the Russian peasants can sell their surplus products their condition is extremely grave. But not only is Russia hampered by the Continent's unwillingness to buy from her. The unwillingness or per- haps-we should say the inability, of the Powers to lend her money is equally well marked. As M. de Witte remarks, the London money market became closed to Russia after the Afghan frontier troubles. Then Berlin was tried, but again political complications closed the doors. Next France was used, but now France seems unable to lend any more. She is either timid or sucked dry. Practically, London remains the only available source of loans, for London is infinitely the greatest money market of the world. It comes, then, to this, that Russia wants our aid both as a purchaser and as a borrower. But, as M. de Witte most truly points out, England will not become a better purchaser and• a better lender unless public opinion here can be made to take a more friendly view of Russia,—can be made, that is, to believe in the security of Russian investments, and can, we may add, be got to understand that Russia and England are not natural enemies.

We began by saying that it is possible that the publication of this frank statement may prove a very great public service. Our reason is that we believe that M. de Witte's words may, if properly understood in this country, be made the basis for that understanding between Russia and England which we have always urged as extremely desirable from a political point of One of the chief obstacles to such a result is that people here may be inclined to look with suspicion upon any attempt to meet M. de Witte's proposals half-way, and to give them fulfilment. It will very probably be urged that it is because Russia is practically bankrupt that her need of money is so great, and that therefore she is a most undesirable borrower. That, however, is not our view' nor is it, we believe, the true one. We do not think that Russia's anxiety to borrow is suspicious. We hold, on the other hand, that it is most reasonable and natural that Russia should want money. Russia is in reality at this moment almost exactly in the position in which America found herself in the early fifties. Just as America had then got a rich and vast undeveloped territory stretching westward to the Pacific, so Russia has now a rich and vast undeveloped territory to the east of her, also unbounded to the east except by the Pacific. America threw herself upon the task of development with characteristic energy, and during the last fifty years attracted the capital of the world, but chiefly of England, to develop the resources of the West. Russia cannot hope to do her work so rapidly, but she is as anxious to perform a similar task, and in all probability her Siberian provinces are almost as richly en- dowed by Nature as the West. What then more natural than that she should desire the capital without which develop- ment is impossible? No doubt America asked for it bymeans of numberless private companies, and Russia, to a great ex- tent, asks for the money as a Government loan ; but that is only because in Russia almost all railways are built and owned by Government, and therefore Government is bound to be the chief developer-. It really comes to this,—Russia desires to develop her East as America did her West, and she can, -in practice, only do it by means of English capital. We have then, if we like to use it, the chance of develop- ing Russian Siberia. But obviously this resolves itself into a question of terms. If the terms are good enough, no one will deny that it would be to the advantage of England to take a . great share in the development pf. Russia ; by terms we mean, of course, not merely so- much per cent., but also solid assurances that Russia will remain on friendly terms with this country. The investor very naturally does not want -to put his money into a country with which he will be at war in six months. M. de Witte evidently realises this, for he speaks strongly of the necessity . for influencing public opinion in England, and for making English people take up .a friendly, attitude towards Russia. That is perfectly sound, for undoubtedly hitherto Russia has not acted wisely in such matters. Her Government has often done things— as often as not, no doubt, by pure heedlessness—which have seemed to Englishmen to show great hostility of intention. At the same time, if the opportunity of helping Russia, to develop and organise her trade, especially in the East, is one worth seizing by us—as we believe it is—we must meet Russia half-way. We must cease making a bogey of -Russia, and of talking and acting as if every advance by Russia were necessarily hostile to us. At present Russia is to far too many Englishmen the enemy, and she cannot move hand or foot without causing suspicion.

To put the matter in a concrete shape, it appears to us that if M. de Witte's statement represents the facts, and if he also represents in this matter the opinion of the Russian Government, there is an opportunity for English capital being used on reasonable security. But even when one has got as far as this there still remain over a considerd 'e number of difficulties. Two men may be anxious to do business, may believe that business can be done, and would lead to mutual benefits, and yet their respective suspicious- ness may spoil everything. How are suspicions on both sides, in the case of Russia and England to be removed ? RusAia thinks that England is always on the watch to thwart Russian operations in Manchuria and Mongolia, in Persia, on the Bosphorus, and even in Syria. England, on the other hand, thinks that wherever Russia puts her foot there will instantly arise a tariff wall which will destroy trade and kill English commerce. That is the essential ob- jection felt by our commercial classes to Russian expan- sion in North Chin,a. Englishmen also believe that Russia has designs on India, and imagine that she is steadily working round so as first to envelop and then to invade the peninsula from the North. Can these suspicions be got -rid of ? Yes, we believe they can, though we are by no means sure that the Russian Government will have the courage to adopt the proposal in question. We believe that in the present case a commercial treaty is just the instrument needed to bring about the desired understanding. If Russia wants us to buy her produce, let her make a treaty with us that all British goods shall be admitted to her ports at a fixed ad valorem, duty of, say, for argument's sake, 10 per cent. We should, of course, make no stipulation for any preference, but leave that matter entirely to Russia. She must manipulate- her own tariff as she chooses. Next, Russia should allow any company formed in England for or engaged in develop- ing Russian industries to import English -machinery and English articles to be used in the company's work either free or at a specially low rate, provided that the shares of the company had been subscribed in England. In this way English capital would no doubt be attracted ; but even if this last proviso were impossible, and English goods were simply admitted at a reasonable rate for revenue purposes, the. attractive effect upon capital would be considerable. . Ow merchants are enterprising, and if they were yearly selling more goods to Russia and doing more business there, they, would feel inclined to put their money into Russian comr panies. We should soon find men who would declare that they believed in the future of -Russia, and were willing to back their belief. Russia has only to open her gates to English goods on reasonable terms, and two things will inevitably happen. In the first place, we shall take a great deal more Russian produce than we do now in exchange for our increased imports; and next, We shall begin to receive Russian advances as to loans with increased favour. Another useful article such a treaty as we have suggested would be a clause giving Englishmen the same rights as to holding land and trading, &c., as Russians enjoy here. Lastly, the treaty should be made for a fixed term of years, say thirty years. That would give a greater assurance to investors *than a treaty in which no term was stated. But perhaps it will be said that such a commercial treaty is impossible, because there is nothing we can give• in exchange for Russia's concessions. We do not think, however, that this is so grave a difficulty as it sounds, because the whole idea of the treaty is to provide Russia with a method of doing the things which M. de Witte says she desires to do,—i.e., sell us more of her produce and get credit in our money market. M. de Witte wants to influence public opinion, and in our view the way to do that is to negotiate a good commercial treaty. And though we cannot make commercial concessions to Russia, because they have all been made already to her and the whole of the rest of the world, we believe that there are political, concessions which Russia would consider as equally valuable. Let us not merely tell her unofficially, but agree with her, that we at any rate shall not check her advance to Constantinople, shall not be per- petually crossing her- path in Mongolia or dragging her back in Persia. Such assurances, given if necessary in a non-public instrument, might easily be made to balance Russia's concessions. These, however, are details which belong to the domain of the diplomatist rather than to that of the journalist. All we are concerned to insist on is that, if M. de Witte is sincere, as we believe he is, here is a great opportunity for a commercial treaty. To conclude such a treaty would indeed be a triumph for Lord Salisbury. If he were to obtain for England a sound basis for the develop- ment of Russia's great domain in the East he would give yet another ground for the nation's gratitude. And he is just the statesman for making such a commercial treaty. He has no blind prejudices, he always looks at, commercial matters in a wide, and not a narrow, spirit, and he has a perfect genius for the detail of that give and take which is of the essence of all successful foreign negotiations.