Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Conversation Between Count Berchtold and the Russian Chargé d’Affaires, 24 July 1914

On 24 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), had a conversation with the Russian Chargé d’Affaires (the defacto Ambassador) to Austria-Hungary. In their conversation, the two men review Austro-Hungarian policy towards Serbia.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

Conversation between Count Berchtold and the Russian Chargé d’Affaires to Austria-Hungary. Vienna, 24 July 1914.

Daily Report.

I received the Russian Chargé d’Affairs [Prince Kudacheff] on the morning of 24 July, and assured him that I was particularly anxious to inform him as soon as possible of our step in Belgrade and to explain to him where we stand.

While thanking me for this kind intention, Prince Kudacheff did not conceal his apprehension over our categorical way of treating Servia, remarking that in Petersburg the government was all along preoccupied whether our démarche [i.e. the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia] would not take the form of much humiliation for Servia, in which case a repercussion would be unavoidable in Russia.

I took great pains to relieve the representative’s apprehensions. There was nothing further from our mind than to humiliate Servia, a proceeding which would be against our interests. It had been my particular care to eliminate everything from the Note [i.e. the ultimatum] which could have been interpreted in this sense. The only aim we had in view, was to clear up the intolerable situation between Servia and the Monarchy and this we hoped to accomplish by causing the Servian government to deny having anything to do with the tendencies directed against our Monarchy and stopping the movement by administrative measures.

On the other hand we asked to be allowed to convince ourselves that these measures were being conscientiously applied. I explained fully what a serious danger to the integrity of the Monarchy the continuation of the movement in favour of Greater Servia must become, and that it might even endanger the equilibrium of Europe, its peace and the safety of its dynasties, without exempting the Russian, if the conviction gained ground that doings which counted murder among their weapons remained unpunished. I concluded by assuring him that we had no intention of increasing the size of our territory, but wished to maintain it intact, a point of view which Russia must applaud, as much as we think it natural, that Russia would never tolerate an attack upon its own integrity.

Prince Kudacheff said that he was not acquainted with his government’s point of view and had no idea what Servia would say to the different demands addressed to it. His personal impression was that we were asking the impossible from a constitutionally governed state. He felt as if somebody had been asked to jump out of the window first, and come back over the stairs afterwards. We are prescribing the text of the declaration and the army order, and this he thinks Servia will regard in the light of a deep humiliation. Then he was thinking of the point, in which we asked to be allowed to let our organs help in the repression of propaganda, and this was a violation of the rights of peoples.

It is true Russia has made arrangements for establishing Russian organs of safety in France and Germany. But this is regarded as a “Privilege” and not a “Right”. Nor does it agree with the rights of peoples that the guilty persons are to undergo punishment in Servia; their extradition might be demanded (it is not clear what Prince Kudacheff meant by this, and when I contradicted him, he changed the conversation). The short term of the ultimatum also caused anxiety to the Russian representative. He asked: “What will happen, if the term expires and no satisfactory answer comes from Servia?”

When I told him that in this case our Ambassador would leave Belgrade with the personnel of the legation, he reflected some time and then said: “Alors c’est la guerre!” [i.e. Then this means war!”]

Before leaving, the Russian Chargé d’Affaires said that he would not fail to give his government all the information he had received from me, and most especially the assurance that we did not intend to humiliate Servia in any way.

Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.

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