On Friday, I started reading The Crimean War, by Orlando Figes. It seemed timely.
In the first chapter, where the author is providing historical background to set the stage, the following passage jumped out at me (pp. 11-12) (emphasis added):
After their decisive defeat of the Ottomans in the war of 1768-74, during which they had reoccupied the principalities [of Moldavia and Wallachia], the Russians demanded relatively little from the Turks in terms of territory, before withdrawing from the principalities. The resulting Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji granted them only a small stretch of the Black Sea coastline between the Dnieper and Bug rivers (including the port of Kherson), the Kabarda region of the Caucasus, and the Crimean ports of Kerch and Enikale, where the Sea of Azov joins the Black Sea, although the treaty forced the Ottomans to surrender their sovereignty over the Crimean khanate and give independence to the Tatars. The treaty also gave Russian shipping free passage through the Dardanelles, the narrow Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. But if the Russians did not gain a lot of territory, they gained substantial rights to interfere in Ottoman affairs for the protection of the Orthodox. Kuchuk Kainarji restored the principalities to their former status under Ottoman sovereignty, but the Russians assumed the right of protection over the Orthodox population. The treaty also granted Russia permission to build an Orthodox church in Constantinople — a treaty right the Russians took to mean a broader right to represent the sultan’s Orthodox subjects. It allowed the Christian merchants of the Ottoman Empire (Greeks, Armenians, Moldavians, and Wallachains) to sail their ships in Turkish waters with a Russian flag, an important concession that allowed the Russians to advance their commercial and religious interests at the same time. These religious claims had some interesting pragmatic ramifications. Since the Russians could not annex the Danubian principalities without incurring the opposition of the great powers, they looked instead to win concessions from the Porte [i.e., the Ottoman Empire] that would turn the principalities into semi-autonomous regions under Russian influence. Shared religious loyalties would, in time, they hoped, lead to alliances with the Moldavians and Wallachians which would weaken Ottoman authority and ensure Russian domination over south-east Europe should the Ottoman Empire collapse.