The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
THE ROLE OF WAR IN RUSSIAN HISTORY
Marshall Poe and Eric Lohr

It is customary in introductions to collections of articles for the editors to offer brief summaries of the published pieces, explaining how they relate to one another and fit into historiographical context. In the case of the present volume, however, this tedious ritual is unnecessary: the titles of the articles themselves relate their content with sufficient fidelity, and the authors have taken pains to situate their contributions amidst the literature on Russian history. This being so, we thought we would take the opportunity to offer a few words on the general theme of the impact of war on Russian history in the longue duree. Our intent is not to provide a detailed account of the history of Russia's geopolitical context, military forces, or armed conflicts. The articles in this volume accomplish this. Rather, we believed it would be useful to step away from the details and consider the grand narrative of Russian military history—the story of a backward quasi-European empire that survived against considerable odds by transforming itself into a “garrison state.”


The ABCs of Russia's Strategic Position

History has never been kind to Russia, but she was a particularly harsh mistress in Russia's infancy. Modern Russia's true predecessor, Muscovy, was born in a remarkably poor strategic position, one that virtually ensured that the Russian people would have to make incredible sacrifices in the name of self-preservation. That strategic situation was marked by four salient features, each the result of historical accident: open borders, hostile neighbors, technological backwardness, and poverty. Other major early modern states faced either some or even all of these obstacles, each to differing degrees. But it is at least arguable that no early modern state occupied a strategic position as unenviable as that facing the Muscovites.

Fate did not endow Russia with mighty walls to defend herself. A simple glance at any map of Eurasia demonstrates that the East

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