Effects of World War 1 on Tsarist Russia

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The Effect of the First World War on Tsarist Russia.

When historians examine the effects of the First World War on Russia they think of four key questions:

1. Why did Russia get involved?
2. How did the Russian people react to the outbreak of war? 3. Why did Russia do so badly during the war?
4. What impact did involvement in World War One have on Tsarist Russia?

Why did Russia get involved in the First World War?

The ultimate cause of the First World War began in the Balkan region of South-Eastern Europe. The Balkans had been part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. However as the twentieth century dawned the Ottoman Empire was in trouble. Known as “the sick man of Europe” the Ottomans were confronted by internal and external problems. Internally the growth of nationalism caused its subject peoples, Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians and many others to seek independence and break away from the Ottoman Empire. With the Ottoman Empire in retreat a power vacuum was created. This vacuum was seen as an opportunity for the dominant Great Powers of South East Europe to expand their influence. Both Austria-Hungary and Russia looked to take advantage. Austria saw herself as the protector of the Catholic peoples of the Balkans and the Russians as protectors of the Orthodox peoples. This would bring both countries into conflict.

The seeds for this conflict began when in 1908 Austria annexed the Ottoman province of Bosnia. Bosnia contained a large minority of Orthodox Serbs. Serbia saw these Austrian moves as a threat and so looked to Russia to protect them. Russia having been humiliated by the Japanese in 1905 was determined not to lose prestige and be humiliated again. The Austrian / Russian rivalry made the Balkans a potential powder keg ready to explode.

The spark to this powder keg occurred on 28 June 1914 when a Serbian terrorist group known as the Black Hand Gang supplied by Serbian Military Intelligence assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia. The Austrians blamed Serbia issued an ultimatum and threatened war on Serbia in revenge. Serbia then asked Russia for protection. The Tsar, against the advice of Rasputin, and after many changes of his mind, was determined not to lose prestige again and further believed that a war and a victory would unite the people of Russia behind him. The Russian army mobilized for war. However instead of mobilizing for war just against Austria the Tsar mobilized the entire Russian Army – including the Armies on the frontier with Germany. The Germans, who had previously told the Austrians that they would support them were now faced with Russia mobilizing on her frontiers. The Germans therefore decided for war. Knowing that if they went to war with Russia then this would force Russia’s ally, France to got to war against Germany, Germany therefore invaded France thus starting the First World War. In an attempt to outflank the French army and capture Paris the Germans invaded Belgium. Belgium was a neutral country protected by England. In order to protect Belgium England declared war on Germany. Thus Russia, France and England became involved in a war against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Gavilio Princip leader of the Black Hand and assassin of
Archduke is arrested.

Gavilio Princip leader of the Black Hand and assassin of
Archduke is arrested.

How did the Russian people react to the outbreak of war?

The Tsar was delighted with the war. He declared he would not make peace until the last enemy had been driven from the Russian soil. He hoped that a war would unite the divided people behind the traditional institutions of church and monarchy and distract them from their problems. The elites were ashamed by the recent Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, and by the Austrian takeover of Slavic people in the Balkans. They wanted war to restore Russia’s pride. The Duma immediately approved war loans to the government...
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