The Russian Origins of the First World War

The Russian Origins of the First World War

by Sean McMeekin


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The catastrophe of the First World War, and the destruction, revolution, and enduring hostilities it wrought, make the issue of its origins a perennial puzzle. Since World War II, Germany has been viewed as the primary culprit. Now, in a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war’s beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a “tragedy of miscalculation.” Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg.

It was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near East. Unlike their civilian counterparts in Berlin, who would have preferred to localize the Austro-Serbian conflict, Russian leaders desired a more general war so long as British participation was assured. The war of 1914 was launched at a propitious moment for harnessing the might of Britain and France to neutralize the German threat to Russia’s goal: partitioning the Ottoman Empire to ensure control of the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Nearly a century has passed since the guns fell silent on the western front. But in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, World War I smolders still. Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, and other regional antagonists continue fighting over the last scraps of the Ottoman inheritance. As we seek to make sense of these conflicts, McMeekin’s powerful exposé of Russia’s aims in the First World War will illuminate our understanding of the twentieth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674072336
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/06/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 1,244,021
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of History at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey.

Table of Contents

Abbreviations ix

Author's Note xi

Introduction: History from the Deep Freeze 1

1 The Strategic Imperative in 1914 6

2 It Takes Two to Tango: The July Crisis 41

3 Russia's War: The Opening Round 76

4 Turkey's Turn 98

5 The Russians and Gallipoli 115

6 Russia and the Armenians 141

7 The Russians in Persia 175

8 Partitioning the Ottoman Empire 194

9 1917: The Tsarist Empire at Its Zenith 214

Conclusion: The October Revolution and Historical Amnesia 234

Notes 245

Bibliography 289

Acknowledgments 303

Index 307

What People are Saying About This

Mustafa Aksakal

A bold reinterpretation of the Russian Empire's entry into the First World War. McMeekin argues that Russia believed a European war to be in its interest, that it sought to humiliate Vienna, and that it hoped to conquer Constantinople and the Ottoman Straits.
Mustafa Aksakal, author of The Ottoman Road to War in 1914

Michael S. Neiberg

This book should forever change the ways we have understood the role of Russia in the First World War.
Michael S. Neiberg, author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I

Michael Reynolds

The Russian Origins of the First World War is a polemic in the best sense. Written in a lively and engaging style, it should provoke a much-needed debate on Russia's role in the Great War.
Michael Reynolds, author of Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908-1918

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The Russian Origins of the First World War 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
SnoopFl More than 1 year ago
A revisionist history of Russian involvement in World War I. The author argues that Russia was much more to blame for the beginning of the war than heretofore acknowledged. Using archives from both Turkish and Soviet files, McMeekin contends that Russia was seeking a war to justify seizing control of the waterways from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea from the crumbling Ottoman Empire. When the assassination at Sarajevo occurred, Russia had the excuse it needed. The book follows Russian diplomatic manipulations through the war, citing British and French complicity with Russian goals. The author also contends that Russia was on the verge of defeating the Turks and obtaining its goal when the Revolution occurred. A very readable work on a subject not often dealt with, but which had lasting effects to this very day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thiis book makes the following arguments: 1.) Tsarist Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe & Ottoman Turkey were the primary reasons the Sarajevo assasination turned into WW1. 2.) Once in the war Tsarist Russia pursued its own strategic agenda with little thought for its allies, either in the Entente or among the Armenian minorities that received the brunt of Ottoman reprisals. 3.) Tsarist Russia was actually winning the war (at least againt Turkey & Austria, and at least according to their own strategic goals) when the ground was cut out from under them by the February & October Revoltions. 4.) For all the historical attention paid to the western front it is events in the east & in Ottoman lands that make the 1st World War so consequential to modern times. Note: some reviewers have come close to calling the author a denier of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This is not accurate. Rather, the author argues that Tsarist Russia bears some burden of guilt in that tragedy, largely through its irresponsible encouragement of Armenian rebel groups in Ottoman lands before & during the war. Well worth a look by anyone interested in World War 1, particularly its less discussed aspects. I must also commend this book on its brevity & clarity.
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