On 24 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Russia, Frigyes Count Szapary (pictured), sent a coded telegram to the Austro-Hunarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold. In his telegram, Szapary informs Berchtold of a conversation between the German Ambassador to Russia and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs on the subject of Austro-Hungarian policy towards Serbia.
Count Szapary to Count Berchtold. Saint Petersburg, 24 July 1914.
After a Council of Ministers, which lasted five hours, [the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs] Herr Sazonov in the evening received the German Ambassador [to Russia, Count Pourtalès], with whom he had a long conversation, much animated at times, but ending on friendly terms.
The Minister defended what was probably the view of the Council of Ministers, that the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Servia was not a concern, limited to these two States, but a European affair, since the arrangement of 1909, ending with a declaration by Servia, had been accomplished under the auspices of all Europe. (This absolutely mistaken point of view—since England was the mediator—is, I am sorry to say, indirectly acknowledged in our Note, where Servia is accused of having placed itself in opposition to “la volonté de I’Europe” [i.e. “the will of Europe”] and where a communication to the “Puissances signataires” [i.e. “the Signatory Powers”] is mentioned.)
The Minister complained most particularly of the offer of examining a dossier, when at the same time an ultimatum had been sent out. Russia would have asked for an international examination of the dossier offered. My German colleague called Herr Sazonov’s attention to the fact that Austria-Hungary would not accept interference in its …. [note: cypher illegible] to Servia, and that Germany must also protest against imputations, that would offend its ally’s dignity.
During the course of the conversation, the Minister declared that what Russia would not regard with indifference Austria-Hungary’s eventual intention “to devour Servia”. Count Pourtalès replied that he did not suppose Austria-Hungary had any such intention, all the more because this would be altogether against its own interests. Austria-Hungary was probably merely anxious “to inflict a well-deserved punishment upon Servia”. Herr Sazonov expressed doubts that Austria-Hungary would be satisfied with this, even if it gave declarations to this effect.
The conversation concluded with an appeal from Herr Sazonov that Germany might help Russia to preserve the peace. The German Ambassador assured the Russian Minister that Germany certainly had no desire to bring about war, but that it would naturally stand up for the interests of its ally.
The above conversation seems to me to give a clear idea of the position which Russia will adopt in our conflict with Servia. Whether I am to make use of the argument of our territorial désinteressement [i.e. lack of interest in Serbian territory] and when, is for your Excellency to say. In the case of Italy, it will be unavoidable.
Although I have no reason to suppose that [the Italian Ambassador to Russia] Marquis Carlotti has any doubts on the subject, still I should be very much obliged if you would inform me, whether in conversation with my Italian colleague, I may assume territorial disinterestedness to be our principle.
I do not think that Herr Sazonov has spoken to him after the Council of Ministers and after the conversation with Count Pourtalès. There was no time to do it in. I conclude that the Minister had been instructed previously by his Imperial master [i.e. Tsar Nicholas II], if possible to find a way out of the threatening complications.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.