Count Sergei Yulyevich Witte|
(1849 - 1915) Russia
The most capable high official in the last decades of Czarist rule, and one of the most controversial, huge, coarse, cynical, devious, ambitious, energetic, farsighted; relatively liberal in outlook for a ranking Imperial official, Witte is justly regarded as one of the greatest Russian statesmen at the turn of the twentieth century.
While a member of the committee of ministers, he served as minister of commerce, industry and finance and later, president of the group. As Minister of Finance between 1892 and 1903 Witte consistently pursued a policy of accelerated development for the nation's industry with the help of foreign capital, and consolidating the Russian budget.
He advocated the construction of the Trans Siberian Rail Road and expansion of the railway system in general, encouraged the development of national industries. Among the highly important measures associated with his name were the introduction of an alcohol monopoly in 1895 and the gold rouble in 1897.
Because of the strong opposition in court circles, Nicholas II came to dislike him, and in 1903 abruptly demoted him to a meaningless post. But the upheavals of 1905 brought him back to the political stage. Witte was largely responsible for the concession made by the czar as well as the Duma plan.
It was Witte who signed the peace treaty with Japan at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, resulting in more favorable terms to Russia then expected, and was rewarded with the title of count. Witte acted as chief initiator of the Manifesto of 17 October, effectively ending the Imperial autocracy and establishing constitutional rule, and first Chairman of the united Council of Ministers.
Witte was immediately named Premier. He was in a difficult position: liberals refused to work with him, violent unrest was rapidly spreading, and the Czar's hostility was reviving. The exhausted Witte resigned in April 1906. After his resignation, when the most critical moment of the revolution had already passed, Witte spent his remaining years in enforced idleness, although he continued to follow current affairs.
The memorial to this period in his life are the three-volume Memoirs that give an extremely interesting picture of government and court circles in Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.