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After the battles in the north in East Prussia and in the south in Galicia, the fighting on the Eastern Front shifted to Poland, which was a political as much as a military battlefield. With Poland divided between Prussia, Russia , and the Austrian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century, the Polish people were a potentially useful force if their collective loyalty could be won to one of the warring parties. The ferocious battles of the first weeks of war had raged before the tortuous process of inter-Allied negotiations could begin. Quickly, though, the Entente powers worked out plans for what the world would look like once the war was won. Russia had a series of priorities, including the fate of the Turkish straits. As of the late summer and early fall of 1914, however, the Ottoman Empire had not yet joined the war, so the key question for Russia to negotiate with its allies was the fate of Poland. As early as August 1914, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich had issued a manifesto promising a unified Poland that upon victory would be “free in faith, speech, and self-government” but “under the scepter of the Russian tsar.” While the promise of autonomy and full rights for the Polish language and the Catholic Church was an improvement on prewar Russian practice, it was far from full independence, promising instead something like Finland’s status: self-government within the Russian Empire . Russian officials undermined the Grand Duke’s proclamation as soon as he made it. While Northwestern Front commander, Zhilinskii prohibited Polish flags and the Polish national anthem, and Governor-General A. O. Essen told Polish elites that the grand duke’s manifesto clearly could not 5 The Struggle for Poland, Autumn 1914 101 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 101 mean what it said. Indeed, Tsar Nicholas’s inner circle regarded the manifesto as a transparent ploy by the grand duke to raise his own standing. The Allies were also disquieted. By envisaging a Poland including territory from Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Russian declaration complicated any hope of a separate peace that might detach the Habsburgs from Germany . The same was true of Russia’s offer to Bucharest later that autumn that Habsburg Transylvania would be a fair price for Romania’s joining the allies. But Britain and France had far greater priorities than the fate of Poland, and so deferred to Russia on Eastern European questions. On 5 September 1914, Britain, France, and Russia signed the Pact of London, committing themselves to cooperating in the determination of war aims and peace terms and to rejecting any separate peace. Though often hardpressed , the Russian Empire would hold to this commitment through its final collapse.1 The Central Powers were formulating war aims as well. The German government’s September Program, a think-piece discussing potential goals, envisaged Russia stripped of its non-Russian periphery and opened to German economic exploitation. Austria-Hungary had little interest in Russian territory and looked elsewhere for its rewards, including the annexation of Serbia (thus worsening its minorities problem). To match the Russian bid for Polish loyalty, the Austrians proposed in 1915 an autonomous Poland with a Habsburg monarch. As junior partners to the Germans, though, the Austrians had to defer to Berlin’s desires for Poland as a political and economic satellite. Over the course of the war, the Austrian bargaining position grew steadily worse, and by 1917 Germany envisaged a Poland fully integrated into a German economic empire, and Austria-Hungary with only slightly more independence. FOCUS SHIFTS TO CENTRAL POLAND Despite the seeming threat that the enormous Polish salient seemed to present to Germany, both warring sides left that sector relatively unmanned during the late summer of 1914. The geography of the Polish salient created an odd no-man’s land. The border between Russia and Germany marked a vast arc stretching west. The Vistula was a rough mirror image 102 CHAPTER FIVE Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 102 of that: the river flowed east through Krakow, turned north at Sandomierz toward Warsaw, turned west again north of Warsaw where it met the Narew, then flowed northwest into the Baltic. The territory between the western curve of the Russo-German border and the eastern curve of the Vistula was largely devoid of troops. The Russians feared that any strike west out of the...


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