The Foreign policy of Russia during Alexander II was directed first of all to the solution of the eastern question. The defeat in the Crimean war undermined the international authority of Russia, resulted into the loss of its prevailing influence in the Balkans. The neutralization of the Black sea made defenseless the southern sea borders of the country, thus hampering the development of the South and broke the expansion of foreign trade.
The main task of the Russian diplomacy was the cancellation of articles of the Parisian treaty. Trustworthy allies were necessary for this purpose. England remained the most dangerous enemy of Russia because of the rivalry in Transcaucasia and in Central Asia. Austria itself tried to fix in the Balkan. The Turkish policy was orientated to England. Prussia was still weak. Mainly the rapprochement with France was equitable to the interest of Russia, as France competed with England in the Mediterranean. To strengthen its positions in the East Russia still staked on the struggle of the Christian people against Turkey.
Since April 1856 the talented diplomat and politician Gorchakov Alexander Mikhailovich (1798-1883) became the head of the Russian department of foreign policy.
Gorchakov took care of the consent of the powers, insisting on the exclusive right of Russia to assert its national interests. Striving for the rapprochement with France, he tried to help Russia out from the international isolation.
In March 1859 the Russian-French treaty about the neutrality of Russia in the war of France and Sardinia against Austria was signed. But being sure of the French unwillingness to guarantee the support of the Russian interests in the East, Russia tried a rapprochement with Prussia. In 1863 the military convention with Prussia, which helped the tsarist government in its struggle against the Polish revolt, was signed.
Russia supported the aspiration of the Prussian chancellor O. Von Bismarck to the unification of the German lands. This diplomatic support helped Prussia to win the wars against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870-1871). At the London conference of the powers, that signed the Parisian treaty (January - March 1871), Russia achieved the cancellation of the interdiction to have a navy at the Black sea and to build military arsenals at the Black Sea coast.
The trading relations with Central Asia, being so much important for the Russian economy, were complicated because of constant civil dissensions in this region. The anxiety of the Russian government was caused by attempts of the English diplomacy to influence the Kokand and Khiva Khanates through the Afghan emir.
In 1864 began the resolute advance to the central Asian khanates.
Successful operations against the emir of Bukhara began in the spring of 1866. In March 1868 the emir declared the "sacred war" against Russia, but was defeated and in June he was compelled to sign a humiliating treaty.
The last big khanate was Khiva. But before its conquest the Russian government decided to take measures to weaken the tension with England. After long negotiations in 1873 the Russian-English agreement on the recognition of Afghanistan as a neutral zone and about the transfer of Khiva under the "charge" of Russia was signed. In February 1873 the Russian troops started a campaign against the khanate of Khiva. In May 1873 the capital of the khanate of Khiva was surrounded and capitulated, and in August the khan signed a peace treaty and recognized vassalage to Russia.
After suppression of the revolt in Kokand (1875-1876) on the 19th of February 1876 Russia declared the inclusion of Kokand into the Turkistan governorship. The Bukhara and Khiva khanates, which strongly decreased in the territory, preserved their nominal independence. In 1878-1879 England occupied Afghanistan and established its protectorate.
By the end of the 70s the advance of Russia to Turkmen tribes started. The Russian administration carried out its policy in the joined Central Asian states taking into account local traditions. The Russian legislation expanded in Central Asia. Intestine wars stopped. Free lands caused immigrants from Russia and from other nearest countries to move here.
On the Caucasus with the advance of the Russian army more and more new areas were conquered. In April 1873 the Russian-German military and defensive convention was signed. In the same year Russia and Austria-Hungary signed a political convention, to which joined Germany. So "The Union of three emperors" appeared.
In the summer of 1875 a new Middle East crisis burst out. Despite demands of the European powers Turkey refused to give equal rights to the Muslim and the Christian population of Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Bosnia and Herzegovina revolts broke out.
Having not achieved concessions through diplomacy, on the 12th of April 1877 Alexander II published the manifest of war against Turkey. Because of success of Russia, England sent a military squadron to the sea of Marmara and together with Austria threatened with rupture of diplomatic relations in case Russians captured Constantinople.
On the 19th of February (3rd of March) in San-Stephano was signed the peace treaty between Russia and Turkey. Turkey recognized the independence of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania and transferred to Russia Southern Bessarabia and the fortresses of Kare, Ardagan and Batum. In the Balkans appeared the Bulgarian princedom, which meant the independence of Bulgaria.
Under pressure of England and Austria-Hungary Russia had to place the articles of the agreement to the international discussion. Diplomatic defeat of Russia was promoted by the position of Bismarck, who strived for the rapprochement with Austria-Hungary. On the Berlin congress (June - July 1878), the San-Stephano peace treaty was changed: Turkey took back a part of its territories, including the fortress of Bayazet; the contribution was reduced in 4,5 times, Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina, and England received Cyprus.
The Far East policy of Russia was connected with the process of colonization of this territory and development of the Russian-Chinese trade. The Aigun treaty of 1858 and the Pekin treaty of 1860 about differentiation of the lands were added by agreements of the sea and overland trade. There was a problem in the relations with Japan concerning the "unshared" joint possession of Sakhalin. According to the Simod treaty of 1855 Japan actively occupied Sakhalin. On the 25th of April 1875 in St. Petersburg Russia and Japan signed the treaty of transfer to Japan of the Kurile Islands in exchange for the Japanese part of Sakhalin.