245. The New Era or more of the same?
“The weak are often cruel, because they stop at nothing to eliminate the consequences of their mistakes.”
George Savil Halifax
“There are two types of specialists: those who know nothing about everything and those who know everything about nothing.”
“It's easy to rule Russia, but it's completely useless.”
“The strong are lucky, and the very strong are very lucky.”
“Свершилось, нет его! Пред ним благоговея,
Устами грешными его назвать не смею.
Свидетели о нем - бессмертные дела.” 
Dostoevsky, ‘On death of Nicholas I’
18 February 1860 Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia died . The most probable cause was a flu combined with an advanced age (he was already 64 years old) and unwillingness to demonstrate a weakness: attending the routine troops review in a middle of a winter without an overcoat while already having a flue was, of course, impressive but rather foolish. In addition to the viral infection he got a pneumonia. Within few days he was dead. However, the rumor had been circulating, especially among the lower classes, about him being poisoned by the “enemies of the Russian Empire”.
Before his death, Nicholas managed to make orders regarding the funeral. He ordered a shortening of the official farewell period from the traditional 6 to 3 weeks. But even such a reduced deadline proved to be too much because embalming was not done properly and the corps started decomposing. The emperor was driven by compassion to his family: following the traditional procedure it would be forced to see the corpse several times a day for a month and a half. Nikolai saved his loved ones from this meaningless and most importantly unpleasant activity.
However, quite a few people considered this a mistake because a shortened period before the funerals deprived many of his subjects of a chance to get to St.Petersburg  and pay their respect.
On March 6 he was buried (Description of the ceremony is quite long and I’ll skip it ). The reign lasting 35 years was over. Nobody was quite sure what the new reign will look like and the new emperor, Alexander II was not an exception.
Alexander was born in 1818 and, following the tradition. received a home education. His father paid special attention to the upbringing of the heir and, remembering his own rather lousy experience and resulting lapses in knowledge, was intended to avoid the similar problems. His "mentor", with the duty of leading the entire process of upbringing and education and the instruction to draw up a "plan of the exercise" was Vasily Andreevich Zhukovsky.
Zhukovsky was an outstanding poet (especially admired for his first-rate translations of German and English ballads), one of the creators of the modern Russian literary language, a highly educated man and, what was of at least equal importance, a nice and descent person and a dedicated monarchist.
The set of subjects proposed by Zhukovsky included Russian language, history, jurisprudence, finances, military education, geography, statistics, ethnography, logic, philosophy, mathematics, natural science, physics, mineralogy, geology, the law of God, languages: French, German, English and Polish. Much attention was paid to drawing, music, gymnastics, fencing, swimming and in general sports, dancing, handicraft and recitation. Vasily Andreevich himself taught Alexander Russian. As heir to the throne Alexander travelled abroad and visited 29 governorships of the European Russia.
For the Russian trip Nicholas provided his heir with a detailed written instruction in which his behavior during the trip had been specified in the minutiae details all the way to the explanation with whom and which dances he should be dancing during receptions in the provincial capitals. Seemingly, he did not count too much upon hid heir’s ability to make the right judgements on his own.
In 1850 Alexander spent 46 days traveling along the Russian Caucasus border, which was never quite peaceful. Most of the visit consisted of the travel between the border fortresses, the banquets in these fortresses and other suitable locations and the military exercises.
“There was breakfast in tents in Khankala. With the proclamation of a toast to the health of the sovereign heir, the gorge was filled with a loud cheer, and then there were battle shots from guns and battle fire was opened. Everyone rushed out of the tents to see the flight of cannonballs and grenades. Although there was no enemy, the picture was combat, especially for those, however, few who heard for the first time the flight of cannonballs, the rupture of grenades and the whistle of hundreds of bullets. Some thought we were attacked by the enemy, but in Khankala, except for several dozen Chechens, there was not a single non-peaceful person. His Highness admired this view very much. For that, significant equestrian crowds of the enemy drove behind Argun, while they left the gorge for an open place. Even single horsemen were seen outside the cannon shot and on this side of the river. The firing of guns continued, but not against the enemy: his Highness pleased to exercise horse Cossack artillery.”
Of course, to provide security the troops with artillery had to be moved all along the way but nothing was 100% foolproof:
“We drive up to the small river Roshna, and in the place where the forest approached on the left side in the road of a verst by one and a half, a significant crowd of enemy appeared. Before someone could shout: "Chechens!", pointing in the direction from where they seemed, how His Highness, hitting his horse with a whip, rushed in the specified direction. Everyone rushed after the Tsarevich. Elderly Prince M. V. Vorontsov, who was traveling due to ill health in the open carriage, trembled, shuddered and with a fading heart, fearing responsibility in case of misfortune, jumped on a horse and, like a young man, rushed after the heir. But instead of danger, he saw a triumph. The enemy fled, the only body on a ground was of the murdered Chechen, and there were few horses without riders. A grapeshot of two guns and shahki  of the Cossacks inflicted a defeat on the enemy crowd. However, in addition to two horses, we also had a lightly wounded Cossack and a peaceful Chechen.
The courage with which His Highness rushed at the enemy was immediately appreciated, and the Commander-in-Chief, by the right granted to him, congratulated him as a St. George's Cavalier, about which, upon arrival in Sunzhenskaya, he entered with a submission to the sovereign emperor.” 
The young age could not be used to justify stupidity of the whole event, Alexander was already 32 years old and as a heir to the throne had responsibilities well above those of a junior cavalry officer. One (un)lucky shot and the whole grand geopolitical schema of Nicholas would be endangered by a potential dynastic crisis. In the case of Nicholas’ death within the next few years, the throne would go to Alexander’s elder child who still will be a child and, with Constantine (King Szilard I of Hungary) being busy in his own kingdom, the regency would go to still young Nicholas Nicholaevich. Or, depending upon how text of the law is being interpreted, it could turn into a complete mess: “We choose an heir, by right Natural, after my death, our eldest son, and after him his entire male generation
.” But what if the said son dies before his father? Is the principle still applicable or is it open to the interpretations because the eldest son is now the second son (who is a king elsewhere), etc. Who knows how things would work out.
Anyway, the new monarch was definitely better educated and more charming than his father and Nicholas took care about his being deeply involved with the state business (to avoid situation in which he found himself in 1825) but there were two problems:
“His main drawback was poor knowledge of people and inability to use them. Kind in nature, he was soft in personal relationships; but, not trusting himself, he did not trust others; he was secretive, cunning, tried to balance different directions, … but did it in such a way that everyone was paralyzed in their actions and did not feel solid ground under him.”
- He did not possess his father’s strong will and dominating presence .
- His education was very good but Zhukovsky was seriously trying to make out of him a descent man driven by the moral judgements while his future position required a cynical and pragmatic a—hole like his predecessors. As a result, he was often unsure about the proper course of actions.
In his personal communications he often had the fits of rage  and could be quite cruel. Within family he was not really loved or respected and, in practical terms, this meant that the Grand Dukes were out of control in their expenses.
Fortunately, at least for a while there was not too much for him to do except following the routine and the main source of a potential “push to the left”, his brother Constantine, was busy trying to implement his ideas in Hungary. As a result, the activities had been channeled mostly into the military and naval affairs, both of which had to be kept up to the latest technological developments, railroads construction (which was intense but not well thought off in the financial terms) and maintaining the existing geopolitical system. Of course, he was not a fool so his decisions would not necessarily be bad. The open question, so far, will they be timely
or will he procrastinate for too long thus missing an opportunity and ending up with a course of actions that was good initially but not so anymore. Rather unfortunately, his Minister of the Foreign Affairs, Prince Gorchakov, while being a very intelligent person and a good diplomat, was too prone to searching by universal consensus even when it was not necessary. Taking into an account the traditional British policies this tendency may turn out to be a serious problem in the future.
The domestic policy was, so far, reasonably under control even if there were few troubling signs of an extreme radicalism raising its head. AII chose to ignore the issue, which was not necessarily a good course of action because passivity of the state was definitely encouraging the radicals. The good news was that so far, due to a complete absence of any sane political program these people did not have too much of a popular support. The bad news was that, being a bunch of the maniacs dedicated to a single idea of killing everybody they did not approve of, they did not care about the trifles like popularity: when the Tyrant and all his satraps are dead, the people are going to understand how grateful they must be to their saviors. What is going to happen after that was somewhat unclear and did not really matter. Strictly speaking these “narodniks” had been divided into two groups:
- Those who were going to enlighten the peasants (“narod”) expecting that they’ll rebel and overthrow the regime with all following excitement of killing the tyrants. That group tended to dress as their idea of the peasants and to go to the villages to spread propaganda. Most of them, as soon as the peasants managed to figure out what that peculiarly dressed stranger is talking about, had been taken, beaten and delivered to the police. Due to the absence of any instructions and no law explicitly forbidding the talking, they were either released or put on trial for some silly misdemeanor charge and soon released. In the worst case scenario a decisive governor could apply administrative power and expel them from the European Russia.
- Those who did not bother to talk but kept planning the political assassinations, either simple or involving the elaborate plans which could take years. So far, until they really tried to kill somebody, their behavior was not illegal.
It is an open question how these people, most of whom did not work anywhere and non of whom had any wealth of his/her own managed to exist for years but somehow they did, clearly not starving and being able to buy all necessary supplies for their activities.
Other than that, situation did not change too much except that the well-advertised committee was created to discuss possibility of adding trial by jury into the Russian legal system. An idea was making the “educated classes” quite happy with most of the population not giving a damn. Actually, within their jurisdiction the rural communities had something of the kind for the minor crimes.
One more or less brand new area which AII could claim as “his own” was a renewed attention to Dzungaria
. When Russia absorbed it it was done mostly with a simple and straightforward goal to screw the Qing Empire. After this goal was accomplished and favorable trade agreements concluded not too much attention had been paid to the region. Eventually, the local ruling dynasty became fully incorporated into the top Russian aristocracy, the lower personages also had been assimilated, Dzungaria became general-governorship and served mostly as a supplier of meat and horses for the Eastern Siberia and high quality cavalrymen for the Russian army. Well, the region also had a lot of high quality jade, which was always in high demand in China.
Couple very important things happened elsewhere which changed the attitudes:
These two technologies had been mutually complementary. Bessemer process allowed to transform 5 tons of pig iron to steel in 30 minutes. Siemens-Martin process was much slower but it allowed to transform 50, 100, 300 or even 500 tons at once and it also allowed to reuse the scrap iron as a part of the load. Steel became cheap and could be produced in really big volumes simplifying the railroad construction and weapons production. Of course, the authors had their patents but since when the Russian or Prussian government cared about the foreign patents, especially the British ones? The technical information was obtained and, to avoid unnecessary noice, one time payments had been made after which the local modifications made the whole issue a mute point and, anyway, in both cases Siemens-Martin method took precedence as one that allowed to get a lot of steel and one of a higher quality (S-M process was more controllable).
The steel production skyrocketed and this required a lot of iron and coal and, in the case of Russia, in more than one place. The geological review of the previously neglected areas had been ordered and Dzungaria ended up high on the list.
“[Dzungaria] is characterized by an abundance of all kinds of mineral resources. Here we find coal in many places and in huge quantities. There are copper, iron, lead, silver, oil and, finally, several gold deposits are known and developed , some of them are quite reliable. Most of these wealth is not exploited and is waiting for an entrepreneur who would put his work, knowledge and capital to this business."
The good part was that all the listed wealth was found in the inhabitable part of a region and not in the middle of the deserts. Some roads already existed and a speedy construction of a railroad going from the general-governorship of Turkestan to Urumqi and all the way to Kashgar through the economically promising areas had started.
When finished and connected with the existing railroads, this one was goin to provide a reliable supply of coal and anthracite to the Ural’s metallurgical plants.
The increased steel production pretty much guaranteed that the naval question will pop up as one of the high priorities. By now Russian navy had plenty of the steamships of all types but in a light of the most recent French and British naval developments most of these ships became hopelessly obsolete due to the oldish artillery and especially absence of an armor. Which way to go was an open question: both “Glorie” and “Warrior” had been essentially ships of a traditional naval architecture using the new technologies but not an advanced naval architecture. Not that anybody could tell for sure what this architecture should look like.
Was this a right way to go or should something be done based upon the limited but positive experience of using the monitors with the gun turrets?
What about the naval artillery? So far, the reports about the French and British tests of the existing and new cannons against the armor  produced very mixed results with the resulting argument regarding the virtues of the breechloaders vs. muzzleloaders, methods of armor breaking , etc. The Russian Admiralty was hotly debating the best approach but so far hardly moved anywhere. Its former General-Admiral was now a foreign monarch and without at least a formal strong leadership decision was nowhere close and AII was not competent enough to make any meaningful opinion.
Rather fortunately, there was a young (only 40 years old) rear admiral who seemingly made the steamships his area of competence. His name was Grigory Butakov and he already wrote a book “New Principles of Steamboat Tactics” describing the most advantageous evolutions of the steamships during a battle. The book was translated into English
. He served as High Chief of the naval unit in Nikolayev
and also the Naval Governor of Nikolayev and Sevastopol and in 1860 was transferred to the Baltic Flee
t to be able to participate in the ongoing discussions and, if needed, to consult the Emperor on the subject. Both of which he did with the great enthusiasm.
 ‘It happened, he is dead! Revering him,
I don't dare to spell out his name with my sinful mouth.
Witnesses of him are his immortal deeds.’
 In OTL in 1855 but I mentioned him within context of some later events so he got extra 5 years.
 Moscow is still the official capital but St.Petersburg is something of a Versailles on steroids: the emperors spend most of their time there and are buried in the Peter and Paul fortress. However, they are being crowned in Moscow and the state apparatus is split between official and unofficial capital.
 Shahka or shasqua is a type of of sabre; a single-edged, single-handed, and guardless backsword popular on the Caucasus and adopted by the Cossacks.
 General M.J. Olshevsky “CAUCASUS FROM 1841 TO 1866”
 The only such a fit I found about NI was related to the cause when during the artillery salute one cannon was by mistake loaded with a cannonball and it flew close to Nicholas. In a fit of a rage he promised the commanding officer …er… “to enter into the unnatural sexual relations” with him to which got an answer “At Your Majesty’s service” and the whole episode ended with a laugh.
 In OTL in 1865.
 Annual gold extraction volume was in a range 5 - 10 tons.
 It was usually 1-4 inches of steel with something like 20 inches of wood behind it.
 The first shells for this purpose were blunt-headed intended to break through rather that to pierce.