Crises' in the Empire: The Difficulties of Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914

Michael G. Stroud

Crises' in the Empire: The Difficulties of Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914

Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914 faced a multitude of problems, some bred of commonality and others unique onto themselves. These regional tribulations would spiral out of control, sweeping up others in the process until an out-of-control whirlwind of war had taken over. The shared difficulty for both powers, which would serve as the catalyst for the outbreak of the wider war, was that of the Balkans. It was here, after the Russians had beaten the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and had imposed the Treaty of San Stefano that created the newly independent Balkan states of Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, and the principality of Bulgaria, where the flame of war was lit. After this treaty and the subsequent Concert of Europe, the Balkan states were basically removed from the control of the failing Ottoman Empire and relegated to oversight by Austria-Hungary and Russia. The expectation was that the two powers would work together to maintain the stability of the Balkans as a measure of self-interest for the greater good. That would begin to unravel in 1908.
Crises’ in the Empire: The Difficulties of Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914
Russian artillery from the 41st Artillery Brigade during the Russo-Turkish War.

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Crises’ in the Empire: The Difficulties of Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914
Various types of Bulgarian soldiers during the Balkan Wars, 1913.
The Austro-Hungarians went on to annex the coveted land of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 which did not sit well with the Russian’s and now put them at political odds with one another. Additionally, the addition of this diverse territory of Bosnians, Croats, and Servs only served to further acerbate an already strenuous internal situation within the empire that was trying to content with nearly a dozen unique nationalities and strongly budding senses of nationalism. This national fervor would lead to two Balkan wars by 1913 that would double Serbia’s size and population, greatly disrupting Austro-Hungary’s borders and proving that the European powers were either unable or unwilling to broker a viable peace let alone protect Austria-Hungary’s interests. The “’south Slav problem’” as the Austria-Hungarians saw it, would culminate with the assassination of the heir apparent and his wife by a member of the Slav liberation group the “Young Turks” in Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 28, 1914, which would motivate the Austro-Hungarian empire to mobilize and go to war against Serbia.
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Russia in 1914 besides the Balkan crisis and entanglement, was wracked by the beginnings of the Russian Revolution. It was in this light, and especially that of political turmoil which had truly begun with the assassination of their prime minister Pytor Solypin in 1911, that found Russia reeling. Having previously conceded various civil rights and the creation of a parliament to the populous in 1905 due to the political turmoil of the time, Tsar Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty was just as ineffective and in over his head with those of 1914. Riots and strikes had broken out in St. Petersburg by workers demanding better conditions for themselves. These would soon be followed by the unrest of striking oil workers, also in St. Petersburg, that would harshly be put down by government forces and last nearly a week. These escalating anti-tsarist sentiments continued to spread as sentiments of nationalism took hold with many feeling that a substantial political change was coming, one way or another. These political realities in Russia only compounded its military situation as it was woefully unprepared for the coming war. Though having grown its population and industrial production over the previous ten years, Russia was still smarting from its embarrassing defeat at the hands of Japan from the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Having achieved little in military reforms before 1914, the Russian military was ill equipped utilizing mostly outdated weaponry and perhaps more importantly, was littered with incompetent leadership at nearly every level. This ineptitude and partially reformed military, in conjunction with its political and societal turmoil, left the Russian bear with generally more bark than bite once open hostilities broke out. Bibliography Strachan, Hew. The First World War. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2005. Rogger, H. “Russia in 1914.” Journal of Contemporary History 1, no. 4 (1966): 95-119. Willmott, H. P. First World War. New York, NY: DK Publishing, 2003.
Crises’ in the Empire: The Difficulties of Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914
Czar Nicholas II and his Russian military were woefully unprepared for the realities of evolved warfare at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
Crises’ in the Empire: The Difficulties of Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1914

Michael G. Stroud

Michael G. Stroud is a U.S. based Military Historian that has published many military history articles in various mediums from print magazines to academic journals, and military history websites in both the UK and the U.S. Michael has been an invited guest on various history themed podcasts from the UK and the US, has conducted several conference presentations and maintains a strong presence on LinkedIn and Twitter where he can be reached and followed at www.linkedin.com/in/michaelgstroud and @StroudMichaelG.
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