The Emergence of the Modern Russian State, 1855-81

The Emergence of the Modern Russian State, 1855-81

The Emergence of the Modern Russian State, 1855-81

The Emergence of the Modern Russian State, 1855-81

Excerpt

In February 1855 Tsar Nicholas I died, dispirited by Russian reverses in the Crimean war. For a generation Russia had been recognised as a leading European power whilst at home Nicholas resisted change and presided over a society which was showing increasing signs of tension. The following quarter century, however, saw major shifts in Russia's situation: her international status was severely reduced whilst reform at home became a recognised instrument of policy.

The most immediate problem which faced the new Tsar, Alexander II, was the defeat which Russian forces were suffering in the war in the Crimea. France and Britain had declared war on Russia in March 1854, ostensibly to prevent Turkey from becoming a Russian satellite, but also with the intention of restoring the balance of power in Europe by dealing a blow to an over-mighty Russia. War against Russia was also seen as a means of combating tyranny and asserting the virtues of Western liberalism. Although Russia possessed the largest army in Europe and despite the fact that she was fighting a war on her own door-step, she underwent successive defeats. The death of Nicholas I did nothing to halt this trend. Sevastopol fell in September 1855, and by the beginning of 1856 Russia was ready to negotiate for peace. The first year of the new Tsar's reign thus saw a humiliating defeat inflicted upon Russia: her military commanders had been shown to be incompetent, her troops illtrained and poorly equipped and her system of supply inadequate. It had been Russia's military might which had raised her standing amongst European powers and her defeat meant a substantial reduction in her prestige and weight. High on the agenda for the new ruler, therefore, was the need to reconstruct the armed forces so that they could cope successfully with war and provide a reliable guarantee of Russia's status as a Great Power.

Many contemporaries saw Russia's dismal military performance as a direct result of her economic and social structure. Although there had been an increase in economic activity during the reign of Nicholas I, Russia still lagged far behind Western Europe. Heavy industrial production in particular remained stagnant, with the coal and iron industries developing slowly. Transport was difficult inside Russia: by 1860 there were only 1600 km of railway in the country. Russia remained dependent on imports for the materials necessary for railway construction and this obstacle to the provision of better transport facilities was in . . .

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