The Victor of Targoviste
Contemporary allegorical print alluding to the "amputation" of territories from the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Targoviste
The view from Vienna in early 1775 was extremely distressing. Having helped goad the Turks into war to check Russian ambitions expecting that they would bleed each other white, the Austrians were shocked to witness the apparent collapse of Ottoman military power. Not long ago the Austrians had conceived of Russia as a junior partner, a potentially strong but backwards state which could be used to achieve their own objectives in Europe. In only a few years, however, Russia had clearly shown it was nobody’s junior partner. Emperor Pyotr's embarrassment at the hands of the Danes had been only a temporary setback. With the Ottomans collapsing, the Poles brought to heel, and Brandenburg as his loyal ally, Pyotr’s influence looked vast and threatening.
Two strategies recommended themselves. One was the path of confrontation with Russia. Austrian arms, victorious in the last war, were still to be feared. The Austrian leadership dreaded the idea of war with Russia, but some made the argument that if war was inevitable, then there was no better time for it than now. Should the empire wait until after
the Ottomans were vanquished, and Pyotr’s Hohenzollern allies had even more time to build their armies and finances? If Austria did not act now, would it ever be in a position to act again?
The other path, of course, was cooperation
with Russia. War with Russia almost certainly meant simultaneous war with Brandenburg, a contest which the Austrians feared they could not win. Their own list of allies in such a struggle did not include any state more formidable than Saxony. Was it not better to instead join
Pyotr in plundering the Ottoman Empire? After all, weren’t the Turks the oldest and truest enemy of the Austrian house? Why should the empire’s blood and treasure be risked to prop up an edifice which had proven itself to be thoroughly rotten? Instead of attempting to minimize Russia’s absolute
gains, Austria could instead focus on limiting their relative
gains by seizing Ottoman possessions in equal measure.
Minister Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz saw no reason he could not pursue both strategies at once. Indeed, if Austria demonstrated that it was willing to use the proverbial stick, it might cause Pyotr to look upon the carrot more favorably. Kaunitz declared that the Danube was a red line for Austria, and that Russian advances past this point could not be countenanced. To back up this warning, Austrian troops were massed on the empire’s eastern borders. Pyotr and his advisors were taken aback by this threat; they had not anticipated that Austria
of all states would rise in defense of the Turks, and had fully expected that if Maria Theresa became involved it would be as Russia’s ally, not her enemy. In fact Kaunitz was bluffing, for the Empress-Queen was firmly against war with Russia, but the Russians failed to call his bluff.
Kaunitz’s attempt to pivot to cooperation, however, stumbled upon his own deviousness. Operating on the maxim that one should never do anything for free, even as Kaunitz threatened Russia he was simultaneously extorting the Sultan for Austria’s “help.” The Ottoman government was so desperate to stop the Russians that they were willing to countenance territorial concessions to Austria, and Kaunitz had an agreement in hand which ceded Oltenia to Habsburg rule in exchange for a pledge to support Ottoman territorial integrity (although this “support” stopped just short of an actual military alliance). But Kaunitz’s duplicity was too much for Maria Theresa, who declared that, having made an agreement with the Porte and promised to uphold their integrity, the “honor of her house” would be compromised if she were to turn on them and join Pyotr in his spoliation of the Ottomans.
In fact the Russo-Turkish war was all but over by mid-1776. Having driven the last major Ottoman army over the Danube in May, the Russian command decided that - even leaving aside Kaunitz’s ultimatum - it was not feasible to give chase. An outbreak of plague was wreaking havoc on the Russian army (and would soon be doing the same to Russian cities), and the army’s supply lines were already stretched to the breaking point. In the Aegean the Russians maintained naval dominance and were enforcing a blockade of the Dardanelles, but the Ottomans had contained the Greek rebellion in the Morea and were steadily reasserting control. The Battle of Askyphon proved to be Russia’s high-water mark in Crete, the conquest of which had never really rested on sound military logic, and from this point the invaders steadily fell back until finally evacuating the last of their forces from Hóra Sfakíon at the beginning of 1777. The Porte’s situation could hardly be called good
- their armies were in tatters, practically everything north of the Danube was under enemy occupation, and the Russian blockade was taking a tremendous toll - but it was at least stable
Russians and Turks arrayed in battle
Just as the fighting between the Russians and the Turks was winding down, however, Russo-Austrian tensions reached a new height. Alarmed by Russian advances into Wallachia and the flight of Ottoman armies over the Danube, the Austrians made their own move over the frontier in July of 1776. Making good on their “secret” agreement with the Porte, the Austrians took possession of Oltenia, while other Austrian armies simultaneously entered western Moldavia and advanced into Poland to establish a “security cordon.” Yet even as the empires were seemingly poised at the brink of war, both Pyotr and Maria Theresa were insisting to their ministers that war was entirely unacceptable. Some compromise had to be reached.
Russia’s opening bid was the annexation of everything up to the Dniester, which Pyotr thought exceedingly fair; generous, even, compared to a potential border on the Danube which the emperor (somewhat implausibly) claimed was easily within his grasp. The advantage which the Russians would gain by taking this vast swath of the Black Sea littoral was immediately obvious to the Austrians. Up to this point the Russians had always been forced to wage overland campaigns against the Turks along the same predictable lines of attack, but with naval access a whole new strategic dimension would be open to them. They would be able to move forces where they chose, with or without Austrian support, and it was possible to imagine that one day Russian battalions would be disembarking upon the Golden Horn.
As if this situation was not already complicated enough, King Friedrich Christian added to the confusion by dying in March of 1777 at the age of 54. With the stakes now higher than ever, many assumed that a larger war - a new War of the Polish Succession - was practically inevitable. Alarmed by this news, the Russians quickly arranged for an armistice with the Turks, although as noted by this time there had been no significant engagements for months.
The Austrians reflexively supported a Wettin continuation, but the new Saxon elector was less than enthusiastic. Friedrich August, now 25 years old, had witnessed his father’s frustrated abandonment of the kingdom and feared that Poland had become little more than a millstone around the familial neck. He also hoped to continue his father’s program of economic development rather than plunging Saxony into another war - which, if the last war was anything to go by, was likely to result in the electorate being reduced to a smoking ruin regardless of who ended up “winning.” His uncle Franz Xaver was happy to take this burden from him, but the archduke’s candidacy was unlikely to pass muster with Pyotr, who had his own ideas.
Pyotr’s first pick was again Prince Heinrich of Brandenburg, who was just as unacceptable to Vienna as he had been in the last election. This time, however, Pyotr hinted that he might be open to other solutions. Polish elections were expensive, particularly if they had to be decided by war, and after five years of war with the Porte the Russian treasury was not in good shape. Pyotr had asked the British for financial support, but London had airily dismissed his ambassadors, claiming that no British interest was at stake in Poland. Pyotr was confident that he could win a confrontation with the Austrians over the Polish throne, but was it really worth bankrupting the state? A “Piast” candidate (that is, a native Polish prince; the actual Piast dynasty was long dead) might be more tractable to Russian influence and more agreeable to Vienna.
With only lukewarm support for a Wettin candidacy in both Poland and Saxony, Kaunitz wondered whether the end of Wettin rule might not be a blessing in disguise. It had already occurred to him that Pyotr might be convinced to forgo expansion at the expense of the Ottomans in exchange for Polish territory, but robbing her allies the Wettins had not been palatable to the empress. If the Wettins did not rule, the Commonwealth could be carved up for everyone’s mutual benefit. Brandenburg also favored this idea, hoping to recover their Prussian province and crown. But Pyotr heeded the advice of Chancellor Panin, who believed that carving up Poland would weaken Russian power, not strengthen it. Poland was already effectively in Russian hands, even more so if a pliant native king was elected. Why should he share his protectorate with others?
Of course, this did not mean that Polish territory was entirely sacrosanct. The Russian armies which had occupied Right-Bank Ukraine at the behest of King Friedrich Christian just before the war had never left, and Pyotr clearly intended to turn this occupation into ownership. After all, if the Poles could not maintain control of their province, someone
had to take responsibility for keeping order. Russian management would bring peace and stability, and it would also be a useful strategic acquisition to ensure future access to the Danubian states without having to meddle in Poland.
With the understanding that it was better to compromise the Danubian states and make a few territorial adjustments than to open up Poland to a full-scale partition, the Russians offered to accept the Austrian annexation of Oltenia and the Polish territories of Spisz and Nowy Targ, which Austria had quietly occupied at the start of the war in 1772. (The Russians had not seen fit to make a fuss out of it as long as they were fully occupied with the Turks.) The Austrians thought this too meager a counterpart to Russian acquisitions and pressed for more, but it was unclear where this would come from; Pyotr did not wish to further despoil the Poles, and Maria Theresa did not wish to further despoil the Turks.
The focus of negotiations now shifted to the Danubian Principalities, the voivodeships of Wallachia and Moldavia. These were Ottoman vassal states, ruled by Greek princes appointed by the Porte since the 1710s. The Russian leadership perceived these states as rightfully belonging in Russia’s sphere - the people were, after all, largely Orthodox - and did not wish to compromise them further. But Austria too wished to preserve the Principalities, because Kaunitz firmly believed that under no circumstances should Austria and Russia share a border. If they were under a friendly government, so much the better, but he had no desire to annex them in full.
Emperor Joseph II, who had donned the imperial mantle after the death of his father in 1773, proposed that the role of “friendly buffer state” could be played by a new “Kingdom of Dacia,” an amalgamation of the two principalities, and he had just the man in mind to rule it: His brother-in-law Franz Xaver.
This would not only ensure the installation of a friendly ruler between Austria and Russia, but would offer the Wettins some consolation for losing the Polish crown. Critics in the government pointed out that this whole idea was a betrayal of the agreement made with the Ottomans which Maria Theresa had been so loath to breach. But Kaunitz could justify anything if he put his mind to it: If this “Dacia” were to remain a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, however nominally, then it did not really
represent a loss of Ottoman territorial integrity, just a reorganization.
Emperor Pyotr was less than enthusiastic about this plan. His advisors understood very well that the objective of such a state was to obstruct any further Russian expansion into the Danubian region, and even if such a kingdom was erected Franz Xaver was hardly his first choice. But Pyotr was not very interested in further acquisitions in this direction, and his commitment to the project of Russian pan-Orthodox hegemony was highly dubious. (This was, after all, the sam Pyotr who had imposed religious liberty upon the empire.) If placing a Wettin in the Danubian voivodeships was the price of dissolving Austria’s opposition to an Ottoman peace deal and a Piast election in Poland - to say nothing of avoiding an Austrian war - perhaps that was worth the price. Besides, a Wettin king in Poland had proved no real obstacle to the exertion of Russian influence there; why should it be different in Wallachia and Moldavia?
The major remaining issue concerned Brandenburg, as Elector Friedrich Wilhelm was insistent that he should not come away from this affair empty-handed. Above all, he wanted the retrocession of East Prussia and the royal crown that came with it. Pyotr had supported this for many years and had raised the prospect of a redeemed Prussia on several occasions. When the moment came, however, the emperor suddenly hesitated. Even if East Prussia was “rightfully” Hohenzollern, which Pyotr may still have believed, putting that province on the table would destroy the present negotiations with Vienna. At the very least the Austrians would insist upon major territorial concessions in Poland to match; at most, they might go to war to prevent Prussia’s restoration.
Moreover, even if it had been diplomatically possible, Pyotr was no longer certain that reconstituting the Kingdom of Prussia was really in his interest. As he had grown older, his burning ardor for Friedrich’s Prussian state had cooled somewhat. His advisors questioned whether it was wise to aggrandize Russia’s Hohenzollern allies too
much, lest they should think themselves his equals rather than his clients. There were also objections from his council that such a move would put the legitimacy of recent Russian annexations in doubt, as Courland and the other border provinces had been notionally traded for the cession of East Prussia to Poland. The importance of legitimacy may be overstated here; after all, it wasn’t as if Poland was in a position to wrest those territories back from the empire. But Pyotr was certainly sensitive to his domestic
legitimacy, having been threatened by several revolts and attempted coups since his accession, and among the ruling elites there were murmurs that it would be downright shameful to simply return
a province which the Russians had only very recently wrested away at the cost of considerable Russian blood and treasure. Ultimately Pyotr allowed a revision of the Polish border in the elector’s favor, but it was a mere pittance compared to what Friedrich Wilhelm aspired to.
He would remain, for the time being, “just” an elector.
Kazimierz V Czartoryski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, King of Prussia, etc.
In Poland, Russia and Austria abandoned their respective candidates and accepted the election of the 43 year old Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, who took the regnal name of Casimir V. One of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Poland, Czartoryski had carefully cultivated connections to both Russia and Saxony and was seen as the most credible man to become Poland’s first “native” king since the deposition of Stanislaus. King Casimir hoped that these close relations would allow him to obtain the permission of neighbors to allow sensible reforms to the dysfunctional Polish political system, but the recent experiences of the Wettins were not reassuring. Most outsiders assumed that Poland would continue in its course as Russia’s helpless satellite.
When he entered Wallachia in 1778 following the signing of a formal peace treaty at Targoviste, Franz Xaver was required to revise both his religion and his title. The Russians, concerned that Franz Xaver would try to convert the locals to Catholicism as the Austrians had done when they last ruled Oltenia, had demanded that he convert to Orthodoxy, while the Ottomans insisted that the title of “king” was off the table. Kings, after all, were sovereign, and the royal dignity was thus inconsistent with the idea that “Dacia” would remain an Ottoman vassal. Franz Xaver seems to have objected more to the change in title than the change in religion: Compensating the Wettin loss of one crown with another of nominally equal rank was a fundamental part of Joseph’s original plan. But Kaunitz felt this demotion was necessary to preserve the facade of upholding Ottoman integrity, and so Franz Xaver was forced to accept the dignity of a mere prince
of Dacia - for now, at least.
The Treaty of Targoviste and its attendant agreements constituted a clear success for Pyotr, the crowning triumph of his reign thus far. Yet his success had less to do with Russian finesse than the mere fact that Austria was not in a position to stop him. Kaunitz had played a weak hand as best as he could: He knew from the start that his sovereign would never voluntarily choose war with Russia, and without a real threat of force all he could do was posture, browbeat, and cajole. If Pyotr really wanted the northern Black Sea littoral Austria could not prevent him from taking it, and Kaunitz knew it. It may be that Vienna would have been best served by joining Pyotr in carving up the Turks, and Pyotr had urged them to do exactly that; but Maria Theresa did not want it, and so Kaunitz’s hands were tied. Oltenia, a few towns in Poland, and a backwards pseudo-client state on the lower Danube were not much to brag about when compared to Pyotr’s own acquisitions.[A]
Yet this glorious Russian triumph came at the cost of a very serious erosion of Russia’s diplomatic position. The powers friendliest to Russia at the outset of the war were Britain and Brandenburg; by the end of the war, Pyotr had alienated both of them. The British had supported the Archipelago expedition because they fancied that it might undermine the French position in the Mediterranean, and because they still hoped to court Pyotr as an ally. But unexpected Russian success and the possibility of actual Russian conquests in the isles (though these never materialized) spooked London, and the British withdrew their support for the Russian naval expedition even before the war was over. It gradually began to dawn on British policymakers that Pyotr was only stringing them along, and would never submit himself to be Britain’s continental proxy as Austria had once been.
As Austria had once regarded Russia, so Russia now regarded Brandenburg: as a junior partner, a tool to be used to further Russia’s own interests. In pursuing those interests, however, Pyotr had frustrated the elector’s foremost aim. However justifiable his decisions may have been, the message received in Berlin was that Pyotr was a devious hypocrite and that a slavish devotion to St. Petersburg was not the golden path to a Hohenzollern restoration. A faction began to arise within the Hohenzollern court advocating for a rapprochement with Austria; after all, despite recent bad blood, Vienna and Berlin shared a common interest in the acquisition of Polish territory, an ambition which Pyotr resolutely opposed (except, of course, when he
was the one acquiring it). A true confluence of interest was not possible as long as Maria Theresa ruled in Vienna; her memories of the ruin and humiliation inflicted upon her by Friedrich the Bold were still too bitter. But she would not be on the throne forever.
Europe after the Treaty of Targoviste in 1778 (Click to expand)
 Defending his idea in a memorandum to the government ministers, Joseph drew a parallel to Theodore von Neuhoff: if a mere adventurer, with no royal pedigree and no support, could revive an ancient (or at least medieval
) kingdom and recover it from oppression and degradation, there was no reason why a Saxon prince with the joint backing of Vienna and Saint Petersburg could not do the same.
 Hohenzollern acquisitions amounted to the Starostei Draheim, which had been pawned to Brandenburg in 1657 but not formally annexed until this point, and the Wałcz district consisting of the towns of Deutsch Krone (Wałcz), Tütz (Tuczno), and Märkisch Friedland (Miroslawiec). This district was mostly Protestant and German-speaking, but had not been ruled by Brandenburg since 1368.
[A] The outcome of this war is worse for the Ottomans than OTL, mainly because the First Partition of Poland failed to (fully) materialize. OTL's partition was substantially influenced by Frederick of Prussia, who isn’t around ITTL, and his nephew has neither the same position nor the same political talents. Pyotr, meanwhile, has a different view Polish affairs than Catherine had IOTL. The Ottomans haven’t really done any worse on the battlefield (the war went disastrously for them IOTL as well), but without the distraction of carving up Poland, the Russians and Austrians end up taking a little more at the Sultan’s expense. The result is that, in addition to losing control of the Crimean Khanate as they did IOTL, the Ottomans have also lost Yedisan (which historically they would not cede to Russia until the 1792 Treaty of Jassy), and have lost effective control of the Danubian Principalities, which have been unified (well, sort of - Oltenia is Austrian now) far in advance of OTL’s events. Still, I said this TL wasn’t an “Ottoman screw,” and I don’t think it is. The imperial core is intact; Wallachia, Moldavia, and Yedisan are peripheral territories which the empire can survive without. The question is whether they can build a political, economic, and military system capable of matching the European powers, and that's a question I'm not equipped to answer.
A “Dacian” kingdom was indeed proposed by Emperor Joseph II during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768, although he seems to have been interested in giving it to Prince Henry of Prussia, whom he may have seen as an amenable compromise between Habsburg and Russian candidates. (This option is less palatable ITTL given Henry's status as Pyotr's favorite and "the general who saved Brandenburg from the Austrians"). Prince Henry was also at one point discussed as a possible candidate for the Polish crown, and there was even a plan to make him King of the United States (the so-called “Prussian Scheme”). Henry might hold the world record for “candidate for the most thrones without ever actually getting one.” Later, Catherine took up the idea of a client Dacia with Grigory Potemkin as its king, part of the fantastical “Greek Plan."
On a “meta” note, I will repeat what I said earlier that this update is not strictly necessary. KTC is probably going to conclude before the consequences of this chapter really have any impact on Corsica, which means I don’t really have to worry about the repercussions of these events. Thus far in the story I feel like I’ve been pretty conservative with continental butterflies, so this time I've decided to just go for it and give you some alt-historical shenanigans (and a shiny new Dacia). If you think that’s too unrealistic, then I have great news for you: This is basically a bonus chapter and you could dismiss it as entirely non-canonical without really changing anything in the rest of the story. Go ahead, make up your own ending for KTC’s Russo-Turkish War of 1772. I will probably never mention Dacia in this TL ever again.