What does the average citizen in the post-Soviet space know about the First World War? Yes, actually nothing. In Soviet times, the history of the “imperialist war”, as they said then, was completely covered by the history of the Civil War.
Virtually nothing about the First World War, or, again, everything within the framework of the Civil War. There was, they say, an "imperialist" war, which spilled over into the Civil War, and everything became fine. Everyone was defeated.
At the same time, this military conflict directly affected the western lands of the then Russian Empire. The fighting took place on the territory of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus. Part of the territories was lost and occupied, which subsequently gave rise to the Soviet-Polish war, but we'll talk about this some other time.
Today I would like to tell you where the legs grow from the event of one of the most terrible events that turned the worldview of people and led to an even more terrible - the Second World War.
Please remember this postulate. It was the results of the First World War that gave rise to the Second.
Let's start, perhaps, with the fact that progressive Europe was constantly at war, not only with the colonies, but also with itself. Here you have the War of the Spanish Succession, and the Seven Years' War, and the Napoleonic Wars, and many other conflicts. The European powers either fought with each other, or entered into alliances, in general, there was a normal “civilized” life.
It should be understood that August 1, 1914, that is, the official start of the Great War, happened for a reason, no one snapped a finger and called a pike or a genie to start it all, this process was quite lengthy. A little over 40 years. Why is that? Everything is simple.
Let's start with the fact that the murder of the Archduke is not a reason for unleashing a world massacre. This is a suggestion. And a very well-formed pretext, for there was no worse place for Franz Ferdinand to visit than Sarajevo. And it couldn't have been worse.
Or - better, if we start from a deliberate provocation and the creation of a pretext. Which, in fact, happened.
But let's turn the wheel of history back a little.
By the time a new state appeared on the map of Europe. German Empire/German Reich/Second German Reich.
Here it is worth explaining that the Germans considered the First Reich to be the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), which included the German lands during the period of its highest prosperity. About the Third Reich, I think it is not necessary to explain.
The new German Empire emerged like a bull in a china shop, defeating the French at Sedan and proclaiming its creation in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
And then not even politics began, although no one expected such agility from the German principalities. But the trump German ace Otto von Bismarck played his part beyond praise.
As a result, the newly appeared German Empire not only won, took away Alsace and Lorraine, but also greatly humiliated France, which until that time had actually been the hegemon in continental Europe. But politics is not the main thing, the main thing is the economically very rich regions inherited by Germany.
It is quite logical that for the next 43 years, France was looking for opportunities for revenge. An important factor was the fact that Germany was late to the redivision of the world and, unlike its future opponents, did not have extensive overseas colonies.
And the colonies at that time were a very decent engine for the economy. The German political and economic elites considered it quite logical to be included in the process of plundering the rest of the world, which Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal had been doing for hundreds of years.
But these guys didn't want to share. What was left for the Germans? Start your expansion, support the opponents of your opponents and stuff like that. For example, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, Germany supported the Boers. The Germans almost immediately began to carry out attempts to penetrate into the "zone of British interests" in East and South-West Africa.
In this regard, the British are moving away from the policy of “brilliant isolation” (the essence of which was the refusal to conclude long-term international military-political alliances in the second half of the 19th century) and begin to form the Entente, an alliance directed exclusively against Germany.
With France, things were actually the same. The Third Republic suffered greatly from the economic expansion of Germany in the territory of its colonies and familiar markets. German goods were simply better at a comparable price to French ones.
And France could not solve this problem in a simple, that is, military way. There was a real threat of a repeat of the Franco-Prussian war, in which the French suffered a painful defeat. In this regard, two once irreconcilable opponents, Great Britain and France, begin to draw closer to each other, seeing Germany as a common enemy.
Especially since Kaiser Wilhelm II did everything and even more to make it happen.
There were contradictions between the Second Reich and the Russian Empire. This is the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad railway line, which, in the opinion of St. Petersburg, threatened the legitimate interests of Russia in the Balkans. Plus, Germany's support for Turkey, from which both the Russians and the British have been trying to wrest Constantinople and take control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles for hundreds of years.
In the Balkans, due to the weakening of Turkey, Serbia and Bulgaria began to butt heads. Both countries had significant political ambitions and sought to take a leading position in the region. And the Bulgarians also managed to be defeated by the Serbs and Greeks a year before the First World War, and this wound was quite fresh. In general, wherever you poke, at that time in Europe there were only continuous contradictions and claims.
Meanwhile, at the very beginning of the century there were a number of military and political conflicts. This is the above-mentioned Anglo-Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War, in which Great Britain actively helped Japan in order to weaken Russia, which, in turn, threatened British interests in Central Asia and the Far East. Two Balkan wars of 1912-1913 and two Moroccan crises, where France and Germany clashed over control of Morocco.
And the knot of contradictions that had developed by July 1914 in Europe could actually be cut only with a blade called “war”.
Everyone wanted war. Germany needed new lands. France and Great Britain had to short-circuit Germany, which too zealously undertook empire-building. Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria were also absolutely not opposed to "returning their own", lost earlier. The Ottoman Empire, having suffered heavy losses as a result of the Russian-Turkish wars, pursued a revanchist policy.
There were too many mutual claims and, most importantly, political and economic desires. The war for the redivision of the world was simply inevitable, the question was only behind the pretext.
And what about Russia?
The paradox is that Russia had no territorial claims in terms of colonies or in Europe. The Russian Empire did not have colonies at all, and did not really need them. Hence, the political and economic interests of Russia lay in the south and east.
Russian interests in the Far East were badly undermined by the Russo-Japanese War, but the question remained open. In the south, the “icing on the cake” was the Turkish straits, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, for the sake of which Russia could get involved in a world war. Moreover, such plans took place, and they were implemented two months after Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.
It is impossible to say that Russia really wanted to participate in that war. Nicholas II, we must give him his due, for his part did everything to prevent the war. Nevertheless, Kaiser Wilhelm II did not even respond to the Russian emperor's proposal to transfer the investigation into the events in Sarajevo to the Hague Conference.
Everyone needed this war too much.
But the Russian autocracy also needed it. And of course, a victorious war. It was the victory in the war that could really strengthen the power, which was somewhat shaken as a result of the failures of the Russo-Japanese War and the events of 1905.
Plus, the casus belli was superbly executed. It would be possible for some time to play up in front of the allies, delaying Russia's entry into the war. But Serbia, as an excuse, is just elegantly played. An attack on an old ally of Russia, for whose help the grandfather of Nicholas II, Alexander II, received the honorary nickname "Liberator" (yes, for the abolition of serfdom, but this is an internal matter, and in Serbia, following the results of the Russian-Turkish war of 1878, his name was precisely so), - this was the reason that it was impossible to be silent.
The whole problem of the then Russia was that the empire clearly followed its allied obligations.
If Russia did not enter the European theater of operations on the side of the Entente, the outcome of the war could be completely different. Russia and (possibly) Serbia and Bulgaria would have the straits, and the Germans would once again get drunk in Paris. The British would have sat out across the English Channel, and what kind of allies and warriors from the Italians, it’s not even worth talking about.
But this is from the realm of alternative fiction, and in August 1914 the Russian army began its war. While on one front, the second was opened only in November.
Author: Roman Skomorokhov, Alexander Prokurat