Internal Divisions and Crises

Russia's Involvement in WWI

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Ben Whitten

Learning Objectives


Russia's Involvement in WWI

Reasons for involvement

○ 1914, Russia was bordered by germany and austria-hungary who formed a defensive alliance called the dual alliance; if attacked by russia, they’d come to each other’s defence

○ Russia and Serbia also had an alliance (unofficial), showing that russia was trying to assert its influence abroad

○ Outbreak of WWII; Austria-Hungary invades Serbia, Russia joins and declares war on Austria-Hungary, and Germany then declared war on Russia — surprised Tsar Nicholas II as he believed his family ties with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany would supersede international treaties (cousins)

Early stages of war

○ WWI offered a bit of respite for the Russian royal family

○ Russians were patriotic to the war; Russians were keen to see their leadership defend them against foreign attackera and thousands gathered outside the winter palace to show support for the Tsar; 95% of men conscripted into the army turned up willingly for duty

○ Weak mobilisation; the army was mobilised extremely quickly but were unprepared, some soldiers fighting without boots and rifles

○ Slow industrialisation meant not enough production of weapons or ammunition to supply the troops

○ Poor strategy; military strategy was weak and outdated, Russia only had a defensive war plan so when Russia was on the offensive, military commanders were clueless

Russia’s changing experiences of the war

○ Early battle failures; Aug 1914, invasion of German East Prussia, Russia was defeated at Battle of Tannenberg

○ Sept 1914, another defeat at Battle of Masurian Lakes

○ May 1915, Russians forced into retreat; middle of 1915, 800,000 Russians died

○ Tsar Nicholas commands the army; Tsar fires army commander-in-chief and stepped in due to defeats and lack of progress

○ Tsar abandoned Russian homefront at a time of crisis and left Russia’s leadership to Tsarina Alexandra, and the Tsar took on responsibility for the war failings personally and lost support

Impacts of WWI

Russian Economy

○ Russian workers and peasants in 1905 revolution were unhappy; late industrialisation, outdated agricultural techniques and transport, rigid social structure

○ WWI economic issues; two years of war brought all issues back to the surface and deepened economic issues

○ Labour shortage on peasant land

○ Reduced food production

○ Near total collapse of industry

○ Lack of weapons, ammunition and supplies to frontlines

○ Breakdown of transport infrastructure, limiting troop movement and supply movement between cities and battlefields

○ Government response; printed more money leading to hyperinflation, leaving money worse

Russian Society

○ Society became disillusioned with a war they were losing

○ Peasants couldn’t produce enough food for themselves or Russia, workers launched massive strikes and soldiers were tired of sacrificing land and lives for nothing

○ Resulting anti-war sentiment threatened social stability and fighting capacity

Russian Politics

○ The Tsar’s decision to control the army in 1915 caused the political sphere to suffer

○ The Tsar abandoning his homefront for the war meant that Tsarina Alexandra stood in

○ Tsarina Alexandra grew close with the mystic Rasputin who was believed to be manioulating the government; the royal family quickly lost its credibility

○ Tsar seen as directly responsible for Russia’s failing military and his poor leadership and strategy became attached to his reputation

○ Soldiers lost faith in the commanders leading to mass mutiny and desertion

○ WWI exacerbated the issues that existed in Russia prior to the 1905 Revolution