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01 августа / 2019

A column by Russian Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev on the occasion of 105th anniversary of the beginning of the World War I

Today, on its 105th anniversary, the world remembers the beginning of the World War I, which led to implosion of great empires: the Russian, the German, the Ottoman, and the Austro-Hungarian, devastated the European continent, drastically reshaped theerstwhile global order and ushered in aperiod of instability, which finally resulted in the outbreak of the World War II.

Russia was not prepared or eager to enter the war. Nevertheless, when Saint Petersburg’ssincere diplomatic efforts to prevent the conflict failed, Russia fully carried out her commitments to the allies – Serbia, France and Great Britain.

On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. Within the next few days, France and Great Britain were drawn into the warfare. In no time, the Reichsheer was beating against the gates of Paris. Saint Petersburg took up the ally’s call to attack the Germans immediately, and thus began the fateful offensive in Prussia. The subsequent crush of the advancing army, led by General Samsonov, was the price that Russia paid for saving the French capital – the sacrifice that Supreme Allied Commander Foch himself had admitted.

That was the first, but not the last instance when Russia came to the allies’ rescue.In 1916, after suffering a number of setbacks, shelaunched a large-scale assault, led by General Brusilov, supporting French efforts. Soon Russia reacted to a French request for help by sending 45 thousand troops to the Western Front, where they stood against the Germans alongside with the Indian Cavalry Corps.

Overall, the Russian entry into the war prevented the early rout of the Western allies, thus forcing Germany and Austro-Hungary into trench warfare they were doomed to loose.

The Russian contribution to the victory was tremendous. In 1914, German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish armies lost more than 10 lakh troops at the Russian front, while at the Western and Serbian fronts– 9.8 lakh. In the course of the war, the Germans and the Austrians deployed almost half of their troops against Russia.

Russian diplomacy played a major role in the World War I. After the break out of hostilities, Saint Petersburg concentrated on strengthening the bonds within the Entente, isolating the Triple Alliance, searched for new allies, worked on future settlement, but was unable to reap any of the benefits. Two-and-half-year war period led to the overstrain of Russia’s economy, breakdown of the army, political turmoil, collapse of the monarchy, the October revolution and the bloody civil war.

The history of the World War I teaches many universal lessons, which are relevant today. One of the most important – inadmissibility of imposing one’s own sense of exceptionalism upon others with blind use of force. It reminds us of tragic consequences of excessive ambitions of political leaders as well as of importance to firmly uphold the hard-won principles of sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairsand collective methods for settling crises by political and diplomatic means.

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