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Old 02-03-2019, 07:10 PM
 
Location: Turn right at the stop sign
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As others have stated, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand did not, in and of itself, cause the war in Europe or make it inevitable. Nor did the issuance on July 5, 1914 of the infamous "blank cheque" of unconditional German support for Austrian action against Serbia increase the likelihood of war either. Instead, it was the decision on July 7th by the Russian government, via their Foreign Minister Sergei Sazanov, to threaten war against Austria should they undertake military action against Serbia. This single event took things from what could have (and probably should have) been a limited, localized war and pushed it toward a full scale war in Europe.

There were multiple reasons why Russia decided to take such a bold step. First and foremost was national pride. Their disastrous showing against the Japanese in 1905 had made their military capabilities suspect and Russia was eager to show that the bear still had teeth. Then there was the issue of Russia having set itself up as the great protector of the Slavic people of Europe. Nevermind this was largely just lip service to cover for their use of Serbia as both a military pawn and extension of Russian influence in the Balkans. There was also a "personal" element involved dating back to the formal annexation of Bosnia by Austria on October 6, 1908. In September, the Austrian and Russian Foreign Ministers had met to discuss the issue of Bosnia. The Russians left the meeting believing they had the following deal in place: Russia would support Austria's annexation of Bosnia. In exchange, Austria would fully back Russia's bid to rescind an agreement from 1841 which forbade foreign warships from sailing through the Turkish straits. This was critical for Russia because it would at last allow their Black Sea Fleet to freely pass, thus giving Russia the ability to extend their power into the Mediterranean. When Austria publicly announced the Bosnian annexation before Russia had the opportunity to sound out the French and British on the subject of the Straits, the Russians felt betrayed and threatened war. However Russia, still struggling to rebuild after the 1905 war, was forced to back off after Germany threw her support behind Austria. This permanently soured Russian-Austrian relations as well as negatively impacting Russia's relationship with Germany.

And it is the latter point regarding the Straits, or more specifically the Ottoman Empire itself, that best explains Russia's decision to suddenly talk tough. As is well known, the Ottoman Empire had been in a state of serious decline for decades and the Great Powers had all done their part to either keep the tottering relic from catastrophic collapse or hasten its demise. When the Ottomans barely survived destruction during the First Balkan War of 1912, Russia viewed this as an opportunity to realize a foreign policy dream that dated back to the last century; the capture of Constantinople (or Tsargrad as they referred to it) and control of the Turkish Straits. Once these two prizes were in hand, Russia would, by default, become the preeminent power in the Balkans. But there had always been a problem with this scenario. As Russian general Rostislav Fedeyev famously wrote in 1870, "the road to Constantinople lies through Vienna", meaning, in simple terms, that the Balkans were just as strategically and economically important to Austria as to Russia, so to think Austria would sit by and let Russia have its way and not put up a fight was unrealistic. And with Germany and Austria having grown even closer after the Bosnian annexation, the road to Constantinople could now be said to run through Vienna and Berlin.

Yet this reality didn't concern Sazanov or the Russian General Staff because of something that DIDN'T happen during the First Balkan War. Everyone in Europe had expected (and even Germany encouraged) Austria to decisively intervene in the conflict in tacit support of the Ottomans but primarily for her own strategic interests. When Germany made it clear that she would not provide military support for Austria should she find herself in trouble, Austria chose to sit on the sidelines. This failure to act allowed Serbia to establish itself as a mini-superpower in the Balkans and led most of Europe to suspect that Austria was little more than a paper tiger. So the calculation was made that if Austria was truly as weak as she appeared, then it should only take one quick, knock out blow to finish her off should she fail to heed Russia's warning. Having a full set of Austria's defense plans in their possession also bolstered Russian confidence that they could prevail. With respect to Germany, the Russians figured if they could finish Austria fast enough, Germany, having no allies in Europe, would have no option other than to submit or be annihilated. Then lastly, the Russians had a final ace up their sleeve; France. Since 1913, France had been urging Russia to join them in a preemptive strike against Germany, and this idea had gained considerable traction in the Russian General Staff. All things considered, for the Russians, it appeared they had a winning hand no matter how things played out.

But as happens with most grand plans such as this, they look good on paper, but they only work if everyone acts exactly as you expect them to. Though Germany had backed down several times over the intervening years to avoid a general war, she wasn't going to this time around. The stakes were simply too high and more to the point, if there was going to be a full scale war, this was the best time for Germany for it to happen. Austria needed this war as well, if only to try to remain a relevant force in the Great Power game. France, for her part, was leading Russia down the primose path. What the Russians thought would be an equal partnership in war against Germany was anything but. Unbeknownst to the Russians, France's war plans were very basic; wait for the great "Russian steamroller" to slam into Germany and once the Germans threw everything they had against the Russians, France would mince across the border and deliver the death blow with a knife in the back. The other component to France's strategy was to keep their active agitation for war a secret from Britain, in hopes that once war broke out, Britain would have no choice other than to support her French and Russian allies. The last laugh ended up being on France because, not only did the Russian steamroller not materialize, the steamroller that did was being driven by a German.

Now given everything, could a war have still been avoided? Sure, if everyone had simply stood back and let Austria and Serbia go at it, and let the end result be whatever it was going to be. Another way would have been for the Russians to not mobilize their armed forces, a move which they knew full well would lead to war with Germany. As a matter of fact, the Tsar attempted to do this on July 29th, saying "everything must be done to save the peace. I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter". Unfortunately, his generals, appealing to his vanity and pride convinced him that it was too late, that it was a matter of national honor and backing down now would cost him the support of the Russian people. The last chance came on the same day when Germany attempted to withdraw its unconditional support of Austria. But that turned out to be too little too late, and thus, the rest is history.
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:26 AM
 
19,055 posts, read 12,483,428 times
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Originally Posted by TonyT View Post
As others have stated, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand did not, in and of itself, cause the war in Europe or make it inevitable. Nor did the issuance on July 5, 1914 of the infamous "blank cheque" of unconditional German support for Austrian action against Serbia increase the likelihood of war either. Instead, it was the decision on July 7th by the Russian government, via their Foreign Minister Sergei Sazanov, to threaten war against Austria should they undertake military action against Serbia. This single event took things from what could have (and probably should have) been a limited, localized war and pushed it toward a full scale war in Europe.

There were multiple reasons why Russia decided to take such a bold step. First and foremost was national pride. Their disastrous showing against the Japanese in 1905 had made their military capabilities suspect and Russia was eager to show that the bear still had teeth. Then there was the issue of Russia having set itself up as the great protector of the Slavic people of Europe. Nevermind this was largely just lip service to cover for their use of Serbia as both a military pawn and extension of Russian influence in the Balkans. There was also a "personal" element involved dating back to the formal annexation of Bosnia by Austria on October 6, 1908. In September, the Austrian and Russian Foreign Ministers had met to discuss the issue of Bosnia. The Russians left the meeting believing they had the following deal in place: Russia would support Austria's annexation of Bosnia. In exchange, Austria would fully back Russia's bid to rescind an agreement from 1841 which forbade foreign warships from sailing through the Turkish straits. This was critical for Russia because it would at last allow their Black Sea Fleet to freely pass, thus giving Russia the ability to extend their power into the Mediterranean. When Austria publicly announced the Bosnian annexation before Russia had the opportunity to sound out the French and British on the subject of the Straits, the Russians felt betrayed and threatened war. However Russia, still struggling to rebuild after the 1905 war, was forced to back off after Germany threw her support behind Austria. This permanently soured Russian-Austrian relations as well as negatively impacting Russia's relationship with Germany.

And it is the latter point regarding the Straits, or more specifically the Ottoman Empire itself, that best explains Russia's decision to suddenly talk tough. As is well known, the Ottoman Empire had been in a state of serious decline for decades and the Great Powers had all done their part to either keep the tottering relic from catastrophic collapse or hasten its demise. When the Ottomans barely survived destruction during the First Balkan War of 1912, Russia viewed this as an opportunity to realize a foreign policy dream that dated back to the last century; the capture of Constantinople (or Tsargrad as they referred to it) and control of the Turkish Straits. Once these two prizes were in hand, Russia would, by default, become the preeminent power in the Balkans. But there had always been a problem with this scenario. As Russian general Rostislav Fedeyev famously wrote in 1870, "the road to Constantinople lies through Vienna", meaning, in simple terms, that the Balkans were just as strategically and economically important to Austria as to Russia, so to think Austria would sit by and let Russia have its way and not put up a fight was unrealistic. And with Germany and Austria having grown even closer after the Bosnian annexation, the road to Constantinople could now be said to run through Vienna and Berlin.

Yet this reality didn't concern Sazanov or the Russian General Staff because of something that DIDN'T happen during the First Balkan War. Everyone in Europe had expected (and even Germany encouraged) Austria to decisively intervene in the conflict in tacit support of the Ottomans but primarily for her own strategic interests. When Germany made it clear that she would not provide military support for Austria should she find herself in trouble, Austria chose to sit on the sidelines. This failure to act allowed Serbia to establish itself as a mini-superpower in the Balkans and led most of Europe to suspect that Austria was little more than a paper tiger. So the calculation was made that if Austria was truly as weak as she appeared, then it should only take one quick, knock out blow to finish her off should she fail to heed Russia's warning. Having a full set of Austria's defense plans in their possession also bolstered Russian confidence that they could prevail. With respect to Germany, the Russians figured if they could finish Austria fast enough, Germany, having no allies in Europe, would have no option other than to submit or be annihilated. Then lastly, the Russians had a final ace up their sleeve; France. Since 1913, France had been urging Russia to join them in a preemptive strike against Germany, and this idea had gained considerable traction in the Russian General Staff. All things considered, for the Russians, it appeared they had a winning hand no matter how things played out.

But as happens with most grand plans such as this, they look good on paper, but they only work if everyone acts exactly as you expect them to. Though Germany had backed down several times over the intervening years to avoid a general war, she wasn't going to this time around. The stakes were simply too high and more to the point, if there was going to be a full scale war, this was the best time for Germany for it to happen. Austria needed this war as well, if only to try to remain a relevant force in the Great Power game. France, for her part, was leading Russia down the primose path. What the Russians thought would be an equal partnership in war against Germany was anything but. Unbeknownst to the Russians, France's war plans were very basic; wait for the great "Russian steamroller" to slam into Germany and once the Germans threw everything they had against the Russians, France would mince across the border and deliver the death blow with a knife in the back. The other component to France's strategy was to keep their active agitation for war a secret from Britain, in hopes that once war broke out, Britain would have no choice other than to support her French and Russian allies. The last laugh ended up being on France because, not only did the Russian steamroller not materialize, the steamroller that did was being driven by a German.

Now given everything, could a war have still been avoided? Sure, if everyone had simply stood back and let Austria and Serbia go at it, and let the end result be whatever it was going to be. Another way would have been for the Russians to not mobilize their armed forces, a move which they knew full well would lead to war with Germany. As a matter of fact, the Tsar attempted to do this on July 29th, saying "everything must be done to save the peace. I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter". Unfortunately, his generals, appealing to his vanity and pride convinced him that it was too late, that it was a matter of national honor and backing down now would cost him the support of the Russian people. The last chance came on the same day when Germany attempted to withdraw its unconditional support of Austria. But that turned out to be too little too late, and thus, the rest is history.

Gave reps! Thank you for a great post.


Poor inept Nicholas II; the man just didn't have a clue. For an autocrat of "All The Russias", the Czar was weak as water and often spineless. If it wasn't bending over backwards to please his wife; he backed down from rather sound advice from both within the Romanov family and some very capable ministers.


There is a great scene in the BBC drama "The Lost Prince" where Lord Stamfordham speaking to young Prince George tells him that there won't be a war unless someone does something "foolish". That is it was summer and in Germany, Russia, Great Britain along with rest of Europe the generals were on holiday. Thus things would remain at the diplomatic stage long as no one mobilized their military. Cut to Nicholas II (who was also on holiday with his family) interrupting his swimming to sign order authorizing the mobilization of Russia's military. The rest as they say is history.


Pity of the thing is Russia overall still suffers from those tragic decisions. Russians have never known the "liberty" or whatever freedoms that were promised with the ousting of the Romanovs. Instead basically they exchanged one system headed by a bloody tyrant for another. Lenin and Stalin butchered more Russians than the entire history of rule under the Romanovs. The riches that once were in the hands of nobles and royalty now are in the hands of a new "oligarchy" headed by Putin and his cronies.
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Old 02-04-2019, 04:14 AM
 
Location: London
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Germany was belligerent, the 1st Reich was only in the 1870s, Germany was anew country, with imperial ambitions. The High Seas Fleet, in a country which is largely landlocked only facing seas not oceans, was clearly to counter the Royal Navy. Many historians point to Germany as being the aggressor and instigator of the war. That is about right.
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Old 02-04-2019, 06:02 AM
 
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Originally Posted by LINative View Post
In a nutshell, that "mid sized" kingdom (the Austria-Hungarian Empire) was Russia's next target for expansion. And France helped enable the Russians because their entire foreign policy was aimed at getting Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans, Austria's main ally.

I know I am greatly simplifying it and the Germans deserve some blame as well (such as stupidly building a huge navy to fight against the British). But it was the Franco-Russian alliance of 1891 that surrounded Central Europe with a hostile France on one side and the expansionist Russian Empire on the other.
The Russians were not the instigators here. Bad theory.
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Old 02-04-2019, 09:21 AM
 
Location: London
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Originally Posted by BugsyPal View Post
Instead basically they exchanged one system headed by a bloody tyrant for another.
The Russians went from private capitalism to state capitalism. Everything was run the same, except the owners were different.
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Old 02-04-2019, 07:12 PM
 
Location: Kennedy Heights, Ohio. USA
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Originally Posted by shanv3 View Post
I still cannot comprehend the reason for world war 1. Some mid sized kingdom ruler got killed by someone from serbia which was not even a small dot in europe that time..Was Germany getting too big for the traditional powers?
Here is an analogy that might help explain it. Lets say Cleveland , Columbus, and Cincinnati are nation states. These powers each feel the other power is unfairly keeping them down economically. Each power is trying to muscle in on the other's sphere on influence. The only way each power think they can right these wrongs is by having a military showdown. Each power feel it can only reach its true potential , destiny and greatness only by subjugating the other. In the last war Columbus quickly and decisively beat Cleveland in a war 30 years ago thoroughly humiliating Cleveland. As a result of the war Columbus annexed Canton into its nation from Cleveland.

For the past 30 years Cleveland leaders has been waiting for the right opportunity to even the score and retake Canton. It has been heavily building up it military. Cleveland enters into a mutual defense pact with the leaders of Cincinnati so that in the event of war with Columbus the armed forces of Cincinnati will enter the war on the side of Cleveland. The leaders of Columbus becomes alarmed at all these events especially at the specter of being encircled by these two powers in the event of war. To counter this alliance they enter into a military alliance with Pittsburgh.

Columbus greatly beefs up it armed forces. Columbus is of the mindset that it needs to quickly take out Cleveland first before Cleveland's military gets too powerful. Once it knocks Cleveland out it can turn and take on Cincinnati. Each power has been preparing for war for years and feels confident in its ability to quickly knock the other out.

One summer day the Archduke of Canton (Columbus's military ally) is assassinated by a Akron native ( Cleveland's military ally). Canton's leaders give an ultimatum that the Canton police be given complete jurisdiction over Akron to summarily execute who ever they want. They also demand 10 billion dollars in reparations from Akron or face war. Akron refuses so Canton declares war on Akron. Cleveland calls up it military in preparation to defend its ally Akron. Columbus see this and declares war on Cleveland. Cincinnati honors its pact with Cleveland and declares war on Columbus. Pittsburgh see this and honors it pact with Columbus and declares war on Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Instead of a quick war of mobility, a long slow war occurs in which trench warfare is the norm where whole attacking armies are mowed down by the defending armies with machine guns.

Last edited by Coseau; 02-04-2019 at 07:24 PM..
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Old 02-05-2019, 05:21 PM
 
Location: Turn right at the stop sign
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Originally Posted by John-UK View Post
Many historians point to Germany as being the aggressor and instigator of the war. That is about right.
The "accepted fact" of Germany being the "aggressor" and "instigator" of the war comes from where? Oh, that's right, the victorious Allies saying it was so and then codifying it in the Treaty of Versailles. Forget the fact they knew it wasn't the whole truth. But who cares, when you're the winner, you can make the truth out to be whatever you want it to be. Then when the history of the event is written, this "truth" becomes the very foundation of all scholarly work on the subject. It's like the lazy man's approach to detective work. Start with what you "know" happened, then take facts and make them support what you know instead of letting the facts lead you to a conclusion.

Case in point. When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, they made available to anyone who wished to review them, documents from the old Imperial Government. These documents showed just how badly the Russian General Staff wanted war with Germany, how far they were willing to go to get it, what Russia would gain from it, and France's part in these plans. Yet, then and even now, few historians know of these documents, have bothered to look at or even reference them. Why? Because they don't fit the post-Versailles narrative of Germany being to blame for everything.

Since simple seems to rule the day with respect to this war, then let's try this approach. The truth of the matter is this: all the main players in this game (France, Russia, Britain, Germany, Austria) had multiple, and in their eyes, legitimate reasons to fight this fight. And any one of them could have stopped this war. Russia could have stopped mobilizing or the Tsar could have finally gotten a spine and said "Enough". Germany could have withdrawn her support of Austria sooner, which would have chilled the war fever racing through Vienna. Austria could have moved faster and attacked Serbia sooner, making it a done deal before anyone could react, which is the approach Germany thought Austria intended to take from the beginning. Britain could have listened to the Germans when they said Russia was mobilizing for war, instead of dismissing it as nonsense. More to the point, when Britain finally realized what Germany said was true, she could have put Russia and France on notice that if war broke out, Britain would not be a party to it. This would have stopped the French dead in their tracks. Russia might have still gone ahead and fought, but then all you would have had was a war raging in Eastern Europe, not almost the entire continent. But that isn't what happened, so to my simple eyes, seems to me that more than enough evidence exists that responsibility for this war was a shared one. No ones hands were clean or blood free and to maintain otherwise is laughable.

History, like life, isn't always black and white and packed neatly into little boxes with bows on top. Yet it does not seem to stop "historians" from treating a subject as complex as this in exactly that manner. And if that is the approach you wish to take, so be it.
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Old 02-05-2019, 06:31 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
38,513 posts, read 17,914,269 times
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Originally Posted by TonyT View Post
Russia could have stopped mobilizing or the Tsar could have finally gotten a spine and said "Enough"
Why would he do that when there were so many compelling reasons to indulge in war? Serbia represented a gateway to Russia gobbling up some of the old Ottoman fragments created by the Balkan Wars. Failure to intervene on Serbia's behalf would have meant a great loss of face, this during a time Russia was desperately trying to establish itself as an equal European power. Their previous military adventure had been the humiliating loss to Japan in 1905, redemption was only possible via a military triumph.

And of course the internal problems of the empire had been getting steadily worse, respect for the monarchy had been reduced by the loss to Japan and the influential presence of Rasputin. Labor unrest was increasing, assorted revolutionary cells sprouted inside and outside Russia. Going to war solved all of those problems, at least temporarily. The appeal to patriotism, Mother Russia and all that, united the people behind the Tsar, and gave employment to people who otherwise would have been part of street mobs.

I would imagine that a man like Nicholas, who sincerely believed that he owed his lofty position to divine selection, would have welcomed the war, confident of a positive outcome.
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Old 02-05-2019, 09:56 PM
 
8,705 posts, read 8,880,791 times
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Originally Posted by TonyT View Post
The "accepted fact" of Germany being the "aggressor" and "instigator" of the war comes from where? Oh, that's right, the victorious Allies saying it was so and then codifying it in the Treaty of Versailles. Forget the fact they knew it wasn't the whole truth. But who cares, when you're the winner, you can make the truth out to be whatever you want it to be. Then when the history of the event is written, this "truth" becomes the very foundation of all scholarly work on the subject. It's like the lazy man's approach to detective work. Start with what you "know" happened, then take facts and make them support what you know instead of letting the facts lead you to a conclusion.

Case in point. When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, they made available to anyone who wished to review them, documents from the old Imperial Government. These documents showed just how badly the Russian General Staff wanted war with Germany, how far they were willing to go to get it, what Russia would gain from it, and France's part in these plans. Yet, then and even now, few historians know of these documents, have bothered to look at or even reference them. Why? Because they don't fit the post-Versailles narrative of Germany being to blame for everything.

Since simple seems to rule the day with respect to this war, then let's try this approach. The truth of the matter is this: all the main players in this game (France, Russia, Britain, Germany, Austria) had multiple, and in their eyes, legitimate reasons to fight this fight. And any one of them could have stopped this war. Russia could have stopped mobilizing or the Tsar could have finally gotten a spine and said "Enough". Germany could have withdrawn her support of Austria sooner, which would have chilled the war fever racing through Vienna. Austria could have moved faster and attacked Serbia sooner, making it a done deal before anyone could react, which is the approach Germany thought Austria intended to take from the beginning. Britain could have listened to the Germans when they said Russia was mobilizing for war, instead of dismissing it as nonsense. More to the point, when Britain finally realized what Germany said was true, she could have put Russia and France on notice that if war broke out, Britain would not be a party to it. This would have stopped the French dead in their tracks. Russia might have still gone ahead and fought, but then all you would have had was a war raging in Eastern Europe, not almost the entire continent. But that isn't what happened, so to my simple eyes, seems to me that more than enough evidence exists that responsibility for this war was a shared one. No ones hands were clean or blood free and to maintain otherwise is laughable.

History, like life, isn't always black and white and packed neatly into little boxes with bows on top. Yet it does not seem to stop "historians" from treating a subject as complex as this in exactly that manner. And if that is the approach you wish to take, so be it.
Interesting Tony. However, I can't let Germany off the hook so easily.

Germany made a decision to invade France. I am not aware of any plans by the French general staff to invade Germany. Before Germany could invade France it had to invade Belgium first. I am not aware of Belgium having any guilt in this whole thing. Its geography was unfortunate and it did not stop the Germans from invading and brutally suppressing the Belgian people. I find myself scratching my head a bit when I contemplate the notion that a war in the Balkans resulted in Germany attacking France.

In her book The Guns of August, historian Barbara Tuchman put most of the blame on Germany for the war. Germany was a modern nation. However, democracy did not exist there. Decisions were made by the Kaiser and his general staff. The Kaiser wanted war. He believed naively that Germany could and would win quickly. When the Germany Army failed to march to Paris and the troops settled into the trenches his failure was evident. The general staff through Hindenburg and Ludendorf basically took over the job of running the war and Germany from the Kaiser.
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Old 02-05-2019, 11:32 PM
 
Location: On the Great South Bay
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Originally Posted by gmagoo View Post
The Russians were not the instigators here. Bad theory.
I strongly disagree. The Russians had a major role.

The Russians were ever expanding outward. In fact, there are still trying to expand to this very day.
Back in the 19th century the excuse was Pan-Slavism. Russia had long been expanding for defensive reasons but Pan-Slavism allowed the Russian government to promote Slavic nationalism in order to get the public to concentrate on external enemies instead of the Czar's regime itself.

The Austrians were just the next potential victim of Russian expansionism. Before that it was the Turks, the Poles, the Chinese, the Persians, the Swedes, the Baltic States and the Central Asian Khanates, among others.
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