Russia in World War I (1914-1917)
RUSSIA'S PARTICIPATION in a major European conflict was assured, first and foremost, by her adherence to the Triple Entente and secondly by virtue of her being a first-rate Power. The course of action was generally outlined by the chain of events long preceding the Sarajevo episode. For some time a storm had been predicted by those who were not totally blind to diplomatic developments in the Far and Near East or to the gigantic test for world power which was in preparation on the high seas. In the Balkans stood Austria-Hungary and Russia face to face and ready to defend their claims to spheres of influence. Russia's traditional ties to the Balkan nations, motivated by strategic and economic interests and ethnic kinship, came into sharp conflict with an Austria driven southeastward by the multinational nature of her empire and by Germany's 'new course' --the Drang nach Osten. On the eve of the fateful month of June 1914, the shape of things was such as to allow prediction of the line-up of the enemies: the European Continent was virtually cut into two parts by a German-Austro-Hungarian-Bulgarian-Turkish alliance facing a triple front of Britain, France, and Russia.
In their endeavor to explain how Russia came into the war in 1914, many historians cite profusely the diplomatic correspondence, chiefly of Count Benckendorff, former Russian Ambassador to London, of Izvolsky, who held a similar position in Paris, or of Sazonov, the Russian Foreign Minister at the outbreak of the war. The result of this labor is a picture of a country eager to enter the war and therefore largely to blame for provoking the conflict. Yet there is sufficient evidence that many influential men feared the oncoming war and made every endeavor to prevent the nation from participating. There were some who by intuitive compulsion made a desperate appeal to stay out of war. Such was the notorious Rasputin, who by the end of July insisted that 'the war must be stopped --war must not be declared; it will be the end of all things'. There were others, who even earlier than the very eve of the war calculated the dangers which a world conflict might bring to Russia. Foremost among these was the former Minister of the Interior and member of the Council of State, P. N. Durnovo, who as early as in February 1914, troubled by the gathering storm, presented Nicholas II with a lengthy memorandum.