Fresh research at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow (since closed) yields an insightful new look at Russia’s pivotal role in the making of World War I.
In this massive yet palatable work of research, scholar Lieven (Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace, 2010, etc.), a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the British Academy, concentrates on Russian foreign policy as it maneuvered through shifting currents of “modern empire” and nationalism in the years leading up to Russia’s entry in the war. The author emphasizes how the notion of imperialism was as pertinent within Europe as outside of it, namely in Austria’s regard of Serbia as existing within its own orbit. Similarly, Russia was casting envious glances at Constantinople and the straits as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. Moreover, the fate of Ukraine—its population, industry, and agriculture—would tip the balance of European power as decisively then as it has today. Lieven engagingly sets out his history on two levels: the “God’s-eye view,” encompassing the big themes of geopolitics and balance of power; and the “worm’s-eye view,” which depicts how a handful of male leaders made the crucial decisions within a two-week period in July 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that would affect millions of people. Factors that fed international tensions included Germany’s paranoia regarding Russia and the sense of an inevitable war between “the Teuton and the Slav,” the role of the press as it “rattled and bedeviled policy makers,” the lack of trust in Czar Nicholas II, and the rise of ethnic nationalism. The Russian empire’s internal makeup was enormously complicated, and Lieven painstakingly walks readers through the important precursors—e.g., the revolution of 1905 and the Anglo-Russian entente of 1907—while introducing the key decision-makers.
A Russian scholar opens up new, even startling historical connections.