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Autocracy Defeats Military Reform on Eve of First World War

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image of Russian History

Steinberg reconstructs the history of the Russian Imperial General Staff during the final decades of the autocracy and highlights the reformist vision of War Minister Alexei Kuropatkin. The aim of the reformers was to create a general staff on the Prussian/German model that would allow Russia to fight the new wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, wars marked by increasingly large conscript armies and the application of ever more lethal weaponry made possible by Europe's industrial revolutions. The reforms also focused on officer education and aimed at creating leadership for the management and coordination of the troops in wartime. Unfortunately for Russia, these reforms foundered on the resistance of the autocrat himself and the structure of privilege that gave family connections and noble privilege power over merit and competence. They also met resistance from an older tradition of military leadership and education that favored elan over technical expertise with modern weaponry. The first test against a modern enemy during the Russo-Japanese War ended in humiliating defeat and the marginalization of the General Staff Academy by Nicholas II and his entourage, save for his uncle, the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich. Even with the Grand Duke's encouragement of the reformers, what they could accomplish was too little and too late for the next large confrontation that sealed the fate of the Russian Empire, World War I.


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