On the 10th of December 1888 the SS Kornilov sailed from Odessa, she was cheered away from the dock by a few thousand people. On board were 175 men, women and children, 30 of whom were Cossacks, 12 Cherkess, 4 monks and the rest were peasants. The initial aim was to found a colony in Somaliland, and to establish religious links with Ethiopia.
The expedition was lead by two people, a Cossack called Ashinov and a monk called Paissi. Amongst the Cossacks were a few engineers, who would be charged with using the settlers to build an encampment and forts for a later wave of settlement.
On the 18th of January 1889 they landed at Sagallo, an old Egyptian fort not far from Tadjoura on the Gulf of Tadjoura. They were greated cordially by the Ethiopians, and they sent an envoy to the Ethiopian capital. They were greated rather less cordially by the French, who were presumably concerned that the Russian colony would threaten their expansion into Somaliland from Obock at the mouth of the Gulf of Tadjoura. The Russians were obviously aware of this, for in addition to the flag of Russian Somaliland they asked to fly the French flag. They were informed that this would be dangerous because the local Danakil tribesmen hated the French. Only the red cross flag joined the Russian Somaliland flag (the red, white, and blue of Russia with a yellow saltire overlain) on the mast.
Something happened in the intervening month, the history isn't clear, most probably the Russians made some sort of stupid demand on the French. This resulted in the events of February 17th 1889 when Admiral Olry sailed into the Gulf of Tadjoura and demanded that the Russians leave their colony. They didn't leave, and the ships opened fire. After a few salvoes the Russians surrendered and were taken under arrest to Obock.
Now WI the Russian colony had not suffered this ignominy, the French had remained true to their peace with Russia on the European continent. A few days later and the Russian Gunboat Mandjur could have arrived in Tadjoura, it reached Aden on February 18th. It is unlikely that the French would have tried to force out a Russian gunboat.
What might a Russian colony in Ethiopia achieved, could it have managed to forge further into the interior than other European powers. The Russians had unlike any of the other European powers been invited by Yohannes IV the Ethiopian Emperor to form a colony. They had a religion that was closer to the Ethiopians own form of Christianity than any other European power, although it was still quite different. Of course both Yohannes IV and his successor, in March 1889, Menelik II are playing politics with the Russians. They view them as useful allies, and hope to use the Russians against the Italians, of whom they are suspicious.
Perhaps it can sieze the port of Assab, the Red sea end of one of the main roads into the Ethiopian Highlands. With a Russian mission at Dese on the edge of the Ethiopian plateau they would have influence at both ends of that road.
With a more succesful Russian colony, perhaps the Czar can have that elusive bolthole in 1917.Lewis' main page | Alternative history index