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  • The Russian Officer Corps and Military Efficiency, 1800–1914
  • Ekaterina Boltunova
Dmitrii Nikolaevich Kopelev, Na sluzhbe Imperii: Nemtsy i Rossiiskii flot v pervoi polovine XIX veka (Serving the Empire: Germans and the Russian Fleet in the First Half of the 19th Century). 338 pp. St. Petersburg: Evropeiskii universitet v Sankt-Peterburge, 2010. ISBN-13 978-5943800962.
Gudrun Persson, Learning from Foreign Wars: Russian Military Thinking, 1859–1873. iv + 208 pp. Solihull, UK: Helion, 2010. ISBN-13 978-1906033613. £25.00.
John W. Steinberg, All the Tsar’s Men: Russia’s General Staff and the Fate of the Empire, 1898–1914. xvii + 384 pp. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2010. ISBN-13 978-0801895456. $60.00.

It is widely acknowledged that “war is a continuation of politics by other means,” to borrow one of Carl Clausewitz’s well-known sayings. Recent developments, such as changes in the Russian political environment, together with anniversaries and commemorations of past great wars, including the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, have helped revive interest in such politics “by other means.” Still, Russian military history—when judged against the overwhelming proportion of the research devoted to varied political, social, and cultural issues—has been extremely unfashionable among Russian and Western scholars for decades.1 Now it is regaining its positions. The three [End Page 413] books under review here mark this emerging shift in historiography. The authors examine the Russian army—and furthermore address the issue of military professionalism, more specifically its origin and functioning.

The book by Dmitrii Kopelev, a scholar known for his works on pirates of the 16th–18th centuries, takes on a rather conventional topic for early modern Russian military history: the German officer corps in the early 19th-century Russian navy.2 However, this is not yet another attempt to rethink the degree of foreign influence on Russia’s domestic development. Nor is it just an echo of the old debates about foreign domination (zasil´e) in Russian governmental structures. Rather, Kopelev’s book reaches toward modern cultural anthropology in an attempt to gain an understanding of the Russian “self” by observing the “other.”

Kopelev focuses on German professional and family clans in the Russian navy and demonstrates that the idea of German domination was not a stereotype. According to his analysis, German origin truly did provide certain social and career advantages for naval officers who achieved the highest ranks more often and faster than Russians through nepotism and a patronage system that Kopelev defines as “networks of trust” (seti doveriia). It was a well-built scheme of integration based on sophisticated family networks, the widespread support of the German community and particular marital strategies. The system ultimately created influential circles that involved navy commanders and members of the imperial court. Kopelev draws on specific cases such as the admirals Ivan Krusenstern and Fedor Litke to show that even such outstanding naval careers were not based entirely on exceptional merits and personal abilities.

Kopelev places great emphasis on the methods of social integration, such as education at the Naval Cadet Corps (Morskoi kadetskii korpus) in Kronstadt. He explores patterns of assimilation, such as name changes, Russian-language usage, and conversion to Orthodoxy. It was common for people of German origin to alter their names according to Russian standards. [End Page 414] In Russian service, Adam Johann von Krusenstern became Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenstern, Friedrich Benjamin Lütke adopted the name Fedor Petrovich Litke, and Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen came to be known as Faddei Faddeevich Bellinsgauzen. The religious identities of these naval officers of German origin varied; for example, in 1828 nearly a third of ethnic German officers were Orthodox.

Despite their social and professional unity, German seamen in Russian service were not a fully homogeneous group but formed a complex intermixing community. While cataloging its distinctive features, Kopelev gets too sophisticated at times: for example, when he invents terms like impasse dynasty (tupikovaia dinastiinost´) or vanishing dynasty (rastvoriaushchaiasia dinastiinost´). In other respects, Kopelev’s classification of subgroups within the German community of officers adheres to accepted categories, such as the Baltic Germans (Ostzeiskie nemtsy), whose influence has been widely studied. Significant in number both in St. Petersburg and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 413-422
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-29
Open Access
No
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