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The dominant picture of World War I in the West is, quite naturally, the trenches of the Western Front: immobile, pointless, static. Expanding our focus to the war on the Eastern Front, and particularly to Russia’s role in that war, changes the picture fundamentally. The front lines in the east advanced and retreated for hundreds of miles, putting over one hundred thousand square miles of territory under foreign occupation. For all its slaughter, the war altered the landscape of Eastern Europe irrevocably. In the West, those who went through the war could legitimately say that millions had died, but that nothing had changed. In the East, no one could make that claim. Millions had perished, but everything had changed. The war on the Eastern Front, and particularly Russia’s experience, is the focus of this book. By the end of 1914, four empires were at war in Eastern Europe: the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman, the German, and the Russian. AustriaHungary , the Ottoman Empire, and Germany made up the Central Powers ; Russia alongside Britain, France, and much smaller Belgium and Serbia made up the Allies. Though distinct in many ways, those four eastern empires had much in common. None was fully democratic. Though electoral institutions existed, enormous power still lay in the hands of hereditary monarchs and the men they personally chose to administer their realms. All had been built up over centuries by a lengthy process of conquest , and that accretion left its marks on their internal structure. Each had groups or regions within it that enjoyed different legal standing than oth1 Introduction Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 1 ers, and were marked by ethnic and religious divisions. Germany was the most homogenous of the four, but it had substantial confessional tensions between Protestants and Catholics, sharp social conflicts, and a significant Polish minority in its eastern territories. Austria-Hungary was proverbial for its polyglot society of a dozen national groups and sharp division between its Austrian and Hungarian halves. The Habsburg monarch ruled Austria as emperor and Hungary as king, and the combined army was accordingly referred to as “imperial and royal.” The Ottoman Empire was divided by ethnicity and religion, and those divisions exploded into violence during the war. As for Russia itself, it possessed all the characteristics of empire under its ruling Romanov dynasty: authoritarian government, varied political structures, and a heterogeneous population. Russia enjoyed an elected legislature , the Duma, as result of its 1905 revolution, but electoral rules guaranteed that the Duma was dominated by conservative social elites, and enormous powers were still reserved to the tsar himself. Nicholas II regarded himself as an autocrat, answering to God for the exercise of his powers, and never fully accepted the constitutional restrictions that had been forced on him in 1905. The Russian state divided its citizens any number of ways, and included substantially different legal regimes. Finland, for example, was largely autonomous, and Central Asian Muslims were exempt from conscription into the army. Only about 40 percent of Russia’s population was ethnically Russian. Even if closely related Belarusians and Ukrainians are included, these East Slavic peoples still only made up 70 percent of the population. In addition to the numerically dominant Orthodox Christians, Russia included important populations of Catholics on its western frontier, Lutherans around the Baltic Sea, Jews scattered throughout Russia, and Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Of those four empires, none survived. The four emperors ruling in 1914 were out of power by the time World War I ended on 11 November 1918, and only one lived to see the end of the conflict. Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph died on 21 November 1916 after nearly sixty-eight years on the throne. Ottoman sultan Mehmed V had taken the throne in 1909 but never enjoyed real power, since the sultanate had been stripped of authority by the Young Turk revolution of 1908. He died on 3 July 1918. Two weeks after that, on the night of 16–17 July, Tsar Nicholas II was murdered along with his entire family by his former subjects. Germany’s Kaiser Wil2 INTRODUCTION Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 2 helm II lasted the longest, but the end of the war found him fleeing into the neutral Netherlands to escape the victor’s justice and the wrath of his own newly revolutionary people. The empires those men ruled did...


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