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Essay: Actions of Russia during the July Crisis of 1914

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  • Actions of Russia during the July Crisis of 1914
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A.Plan of investigation

This investigation assesses to what extent the actions taken by Russia during the July Crisis of 1914 were responsible for sparking the outbreak of the First World War. Russian actions will only include events that occurred during the July Crisis. These actions encompass the initial support Russia gave to its ally Serbia, Russia’s partial and general mobilization, and Russia’s response to the German ultimatum. The scope of the Russian actions is June 28-August 4, 1914. Historians analyses and German and French perspectives will be used to assess how how significant the actions taken by Russia during the July Crisis were in the outbreak of World War One. The sources,The Russian Origins of the First World War by Sean McMeekin and The Month That Changed the World : July 1914 by Gordon Martel are evaluated for origin, purpose, values and limitations.

Word Count: 140

B. Summary of Evidence

Prior to the July Crisis, Russia had supported the Slavic nation of Serbia during the Balkan wars, but never provided any sort of military support. If Russia had wanted to ‘truly fight for Serbia” the time would have been in October 1913, in the aftermath of the Second Balkan War, in which Austria demanded Serbian troops withdraw from Albania. Russia’s Sazonov instead kept quiet and went along with Austria’s demands because it had no interest in seeing Serbia so aggrandized. However during the July Crisis of 1914 On July 16, Vienna received a quiet but unmistakable warning from the Russian Foreign Ministry stating that with ‘unquestionable resolution”, Russia would stand by Serbia in the face of Austro-Hungarian aggression. Sazonov informed everyone that France’s foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, had assured him that “France will go as far as Russia wishes”. Russia was willing to protect Serbia for its Slavic and the Serbs, as well as to now be humiliated by Germany and Russia and be treated as a second-rate power. Russia was in fact prepared to use this opportunity to gain control of Constantinople and the Straits, or else the Turkish may close off the “Straits window” from Russia forever. Russia was prepared to provide Serbians with arms and ammunition.

Russia inaugurated the Period Preparatory to War on 25 July in order to prepare for war. The Germans, picking up reports that Russia was indeed preparing for war (while not announcing any such thing to the world), protested strongly over the following days because they thought that Russia was secretly preparing for war. Sazonov himself knew perfectly well what he was doing when he proposed Sukhomlinov’s “partial mobilization” plan to the government—that is, that he was knowingly plunging Russia into war. Sazonov, after all, had been present at the emergency ministerial council held at Tsarskoe Selo on 23 November 1912, when Chairman Kokovtsev had warned everyone that the “partial mobilization” plan, by forcing Austria to order general mobilization, could not but lead to a European war. In order to ensure London’s participation in the war Sazonov had to hide from the British any possible hint that Russia had mobilized first and without prior German or Austrian provocation. Russian plans to launch a war with Germany in which the latter would appear the aggressor.

Sazonov’s reaction upon first learning of the Austrian ultimatum at about 10 am on 24 July 1914 is justly famous: C’est la guerre européene! “It’s the European War!” . “You are setting fire to Europe!” stated Sazonov, as it became evident to him that Austria wanted war with Serbia and believed that London,Paris and other European capitals would view Austrian demands as an unjustified act of aggression. Despite the “shocked, shocked!” tone of the official response, no one in Petersburg was surprised in the least by the terms given Serbia, the Russians knew what the Austrians would do, and exactly when they would do it.

Word Count:502

C.Evaluation of Sources

The Source The Russian Origins of the First World War, is written by American historian Sean McMeekin and was published by the Harvard University Press in 2011, and discusses the actions and involvement in events taken by Russia before and during the First World War. The source’s purpose is to reject the general notion which places the blame of the outbreak of World War on Germany-Austria, and instead displays an alternative view through the actions taken by Russia, and places Russia as the culprit for the violence which would occur in 1945. The Source is valuable since it is written by historian Sean McMeekin whom’s primary area of focus is the First World War,and specifically talks about Russia’s actions in causing the First World War. The source’s purpose is valuable for the investigation because it analyses Russia’s action before the Great War, allowing for investigation of actions taken during the July Crisis. The source’s purpose is limited because it follows Russia both before and during the war, and fails to focus on the July Crisis of 1914. The source is also limited due to that inferences are made during some situations when talking about the July Crisis, due to the lack of recorded documents to study the actions.

On the other hand After Sarajevo: The Origins of the World War was written by American historian Sidney F. Bay and was originally published in 1928, and revised and published by The Free Press in 1966. The purpose of the source is to show that Germany was forced to attack France under the circumstances it was, and that Austria Serbia and Russia were to blame for the outbreak. The source’s purpose is valuable because it has been researched thoroughly on events that occurred immediately after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which led to the July Crisis. The source is valuable because it provides hindsight of the events that occurred during that time period, which is around 50 years after it happen. The source is limited because it was published in the West in 1966, which is before the opening of Soviet Archives in 1991 which would allow for access to before hidden sources. The source’s purpose is also limited because it focuses on the action taken by Austria and Serbia as well, and not just Russia’s actions.

Word Count:387

Part D: Analysis

The actions taken by Russia during the July Crisis of 1914 can be used to identify Russia as an instigator towards the immediate causes of World War I (WWI). The significance of the actions taken by Russia during the July Crisis may place more blame on Russia, rather than usual culprits who were identified as Germany and Austria, for the outbreak of the First World War.

Russia had always given its support to the Slavic nation of Serbia in the past but it was usually only through words and never backed up with steel. In the instance of the July Crisis however, Russia made it clear she would stand by Serbia if Austria-Hungary were to be aggressive towards her. This decision made by Russia would in turn bring in other major powers into the event of a possible war. Russia was willing to commit an action as risky as this not only to defend the Slavic people of Serbia, but also for the sake of Russia’s own pride. If Russia were to take back its words and not defend Serbia, it would humiliate Russia as well as it being looked down upon as a second-rate power. Russia was also prepared to supply Serbia with the necessary arms and ammunition to fight the war. This shows that Russia was in the mindset of beginning a war, and saw militaristic action as the only solution to the problem, and even goes as far to encourage her allies to have a similar approach to the crisis.

Russia’s desire to protect Serbia and her own dignity was not the only motive for trekking towards a path of war. Russia was also motivated by the opportunity of gaining control of Constantinople and the Straits, which then belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Russia grew anxious as the possibility of Turkey keeping Constantinople grew more plausible over time, so Russia would take the opportunity to go to war and take it for herself. Russia if offered the Triple Entente the chance to split the land amongst each other if they successfully took down the Ottoman Empire.

Russia implemented the Period Preparatory to War on 25 July in order to prepare for a war they considered inevitable . This secretive preparation would angered the Germans who thought they were preparing for war against Germany. Russia was even willing to display it afterwards when Sazonov proposed Sukhomlinov’s “partial mobilization” plan to the government, knowing that such a plan would force Austria into general mobilization, in turn creating a general war across Europe. Russia also attempted to do this in a way to make either Germany or Austria appear as the initial aggressor who mobilized first, in order to gain Britain’s support during the war. This displays that Russia was seeking for assistance in the war the she wanted to take part in, in order to guarantee her success.

Finally Russia’s reaction towards Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum failed to show any sort of surprise towards the demands it presented. In fact they were the most part well aware of what would be in it, as well as when it would be declared. However Russia was in shock toward the certainty that Austria-Hungary would declare war against Serbia, and declared its decision in standing against Austria’s aggression. This action would in turn drag many other big powers into the conflict, creating a European war. Russia’s actions during the July Crisis were directly responsible for the outbreak of World War I.

Word Count:596

E. Conclusion

Although many attempt to place ‘war guilt’ on Germany and Austria-Hungary for the outbreak of World War I, by investigating the reckless and almost selfish actions taken by Russia during the July Crisis it becomes apparent that Russia also plays a big role in immediately starting World War I. Russia’s decisions of support for Serbia during the July Crisis shows her impulse starting a war in order to defend her own pride and Serbia, as well as secretly trying to benefit from the war by gaining Constantinople and Straits. Russia’s secret partial mobilization became daunting for Germany and Austria-Hungary, as it became clear that Russia had the intentions of going to war. Russia attempted to do so in a manner that would make Germany appear as the aggressor, until Russia formally became the first major power to order general mobilization in July 30, making a European war almost inevitable. Finally, Russia’s response to the Austrian ultimatum against Serbia once again depicts war as inevitable, and how other nations will deem Austria’s aggressive actions as unacceptable. The actions ultimately taken allow for Russia to be considered an instigator in the outbreak of the First World War.

Word Count: 195

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