20 years under Putin: a timeline

I know of no serious historian, whether Russian or Western, who would doubt that Russia’s fate would have been utterly different if Russia had not entered the world war in August 1914. This rare instance of consensus among historians is, however, easily explained. Imagine twentieth-century Russia without all that this fateful war brought to it: Russia without the Bolshevik Revolution, without the civil war, without the Stalinist terror — quite possibly a Russia without the devastating German invasion. (Hitler’s triumphal seizure of power in Berlin was provoked, to a crucial degree, by the Bolshevik Revolution). Imagine all this, and there’s nothing left to debate.



It’s all the more strange that, against the backdrop of such a consensus, no historians have asked themselves the question: Why did Russia get involved in that war? The deadly risk associated with that war was obvious to many of its contemporaries. Nevertheless, the warnings of visionary statesmen, including Russia’s own prime ministers, fell on deaf ears. So why did Russia rush into the war, if, as the Americans say, she didn’t have a dog in this fight — that the she had nothing to fight for?

Not only was no-one threatening Russia at the time, but it was also clear that a war would put an end to the remarkable economic growth that had begun after the 1905 revolution, and would bring down the first fundamental rebuilding project, developed by Witte and Stolypin, that the country had undertaken in decades. The project, which promised Russia a crucial economic breakthrough, was truly a unique opportunity: to go from outsiders to leaders of then-Europe. Stolypin, who was prime minister until 1911, was so confident his plan would succeed that he once said, “Give me 20 years of peace, and I will reform Russia.” Instead there was useless, catastrophic war. So it had to have been an important reason that compelled the Russian elite of that time to ignore both the bright economic prospects and the political risks. But what could that reason have been?


The full text of the interview is available on our website in Russian only.
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