Treaty of San Stefano of 1878 was a treaty between the Russian and Ottoman empires signed at San Stefano, on 3 March 1878.

Treaty of San Stefano of 1878 was a treaty between the Russian and Ottoman empires signed at San Stefano, then a village west of Constantinople (present-day İstanbul), on 3 March 1878 by Count Nicholas Pavlovich Ignatiev and Aleksandr Nelidov on behalf of the Russian Empire and by Foreign Minister Saffet Pasha and Ambassador to Germany Sadullah Bey on behalf of the Ottoman Empire.

According to the official Russian position, by signing the treaty, Russia had never intended anything more than a temporary rough draft, so as to enable a final settlement with the other Great Powers.

The treaty provided for the establishment of an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria following almost 500 years of Ottoman rule in the Bulgarian lands. Bulgarians celebrate the day the treaty was signed, 3 March 1878, as Liberation Day. However, enlarged Bulgaria envisioned by the treaty alarmed neighboring states as well as France and Great Britain. As a result, the enlargement was never implemented, being succeeded by the Treaty of Berlin following the Congress of the same name that took place three months later.

Effects of Treaty of San Stefano

On Bulgaria

The treaty established the autonomous self-governing Principality of Bulgaria, with a Christian government and the right to keep an army. Though still de jure tributary to the Ottomans, the Principality de facto functioned as an independent nation. 

Its territory included the plain between the Danube and the Balkan mountain range (Stara Planina), the region of Sofia, Pirot, and Vranje in the Morava valley, Northern Thrace, parts of Eastern Thrace, and nearly all of Macedonia (Article 6).

Bulgaria would thus have had direct access to the Mediterranean. This carried the potential of Russian ships eventually using Bulgarian Mediterranean ports as naval bases – which the other Great Powers greatly disliked.

A prince elected by the people, approved by Ottoman Empire, and recognized by the Great Powers was to take the helm of the country (Article 7). A council of Bulgarian noblemen was to draft a constitution (also Article 7). 

Ottoman troops were to withdraw from Bulgaria, while Russian troops would remain for two more years (Article 8).

According to Philip Roeder, the Treaty of San Stefano “transformed” Bulgarian nationalism, turning it from a disunited movement into a united one.

Montenegro, Serbia, and Romania

Under the treaty, Montenegro more than doubled its territory, acquiring formerly Ottoman-controlled areas including the cities of Nikšić, Podgorica, and Bar (Article 1), and the Ottoman Empire recognized its independence (Article 2).

Serbia gained the cities of Niš and Leskovac in Moravian Serbia and became independent (Article 3).

Turkey recognized the independence of Romania (Article 5). Romania gained Northern Dobruja from Russia (to which it was transferred from the Ottoman Empire) and ceded Southern Bessarabia in a forced exchange.

On Russia and the Ottoman Empire

In exchange for the war reparations, the Porte ceded Armenian and Georgian territories in the Caucasus to Russia, including Ardahan, Artvin, Batum, Kars, Olti, Beyazit, and Alashkert. Additionally, it ceded Northern Dobruja, which Russia returned to Romania in exchange for Southern Bessarabia (Article 19).

On other regions

The Vilayet of Bosnia (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was thought to become an independent province (Article 14), Crete, Epirus, and Thessaly were to get a limited form of local self-government (Article 15), while the Ottomans declared for their earlier-given promises to handle reforms in Armenia in order to protect the Armenians from abuse (Article 16).

The Straits — the Bosporus and the Dardanelles — were held open to all neutral ships in war and peacetime (Article 24).

Treaty of San Stefano In general

The Circassians of the newly released Balkan territories, which had been established there in 1864 following the Circassian genocide and had committed several atrocities against the Christian population of the region during the war, were to be expelled. This way, the Circassian minority in Dobruja disappeared.

Reaction on Treaty of San Stefano

The Great Powers, especially British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, were unhappy with this extension of Russian power, and Serbia feared the establishment of Greater Bulgaria would harm its interests in former and remaining Ottoman territories. These reasons assisted the Great Powers to get a revision of the treaty at the Congress of Berlin and replace the Treaty of Berlin.

Romania, which had given significantly to the Russian victory in the war, was much disappointed by the treaty, and the Romanian public noticed some of its stipulations as Russia breaking the Russo-Romanian pre-war treaties that guaranteed the integrity of Romanian territory.

Austria-Hungary was dissatisfied with the treaty as it failed to expand its influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Albanians, dwelling in provinces controlled by the Ottoman Empire, objected to what they thought a significant loss of their territory to Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro and understood they would have to organize nationally to attract the assistance of foreign powers seeking to neutralize Russia’s influence in the region. The implications of the treaty led to the formation of the League of Prizren.

In the “Salisbury Circular” of 1 April 1878, the British Foreign Secretary, Salisbury, made clear his and his government’s objections to the Treaty of San Stefano and the favorable position in which it left Russia.

According to British historian A. J. P. Taylor, writing in 1954,

“If the treaty of San Stefano had been maintained, both the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary might have survived to the present day. The British, except for [Disraeli] in his wilder moments, had expected less and were therefore less disappointed. Salisbury wrote at the end of 1878 ‘We shall set up a rickety sort of Turkish rule again south of the Balkans. But it is a mere respite. There is no vitality left in them.'”

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