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The Russian Origins of the First World War Paperback – 3 May 2013
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"Going against a century of received wisdom, Bilkent University professor McMeekin offers a dramatic new interpretation of WWI...Rifling the archives, analyzing battle plans, and sifting through the machinations of high diplomacy, McMeekin reveals the grand ambitions of czarist Russia, which wanted control of the Black Sea straits to guarantee all-weather access to foreign markets. Maneuvering France and England into a war against Germany presented the best chance to acquire this longed-for prize. No empire had more to gain from the coming conflict, and none pushed harder to ensure its arrival. Once unleashed, however, the conflagration leapt out of control, and imperial Russia herself ranked among its countless victims." --Publishers Weekly, 26th Sept 2011
" Casting a contrarian eye on the first major conflict of the twentieth century, Sean McMeekin finds the roots of WWI inside Russia, whose leaders deliberately sought--for their own ends--to expand a brawl that the Germans wanted to keep local. The author tracks the fallout of these antique plots right down to the present geopolitical landscape. Barnes & Noble Review 20120113 An entirely new take on the origins of World War I comes as a surprise. If war guilt is to be assigned, this book argues, it should go not only (or even primarily) to Germany--the long-accepted culprit--but also to Russia...Bold reading between the lines of history." -- Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs, 1st Jan 2012
" As Sean McMeekin argues in this bold and brilliant revisionist study, Russia was as much to blame as Germany for the outbreak of the war. Using a wide range of archival sources, including long-neglected tsarist documents, he argues that the Russians had ambitions of their own (the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, no less) and that they were ready for a war once they had secured a favorable alliance with the British and the French." -- Orlando Figes, Sunday Times, 1st Jan 2012
"The book is a refreshing challenge to longstanding assumptions and shifted perspectives are always good." --Miriam Cosic, The Australian, 3rd March 2012
About the Author
Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University in Turkey.
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One issue that is certain to touch many a raw nerve is Dr. McMeekin's treatment of the Armenian massacres of 1915, which he strictly puts into the perspective of the Armenian uprising (aided and abetted, but finally betrayed by Czarist Russia) against Turkey. While it studiously avoids the question whether this was a "genocide" or not (Dr. McMeeking is teaching at a Turkish university), this part at least contributes to a better understanding of both sides of the current controversy by elucidating the historical context of the massacres.
Most WW1 historians have presented Russia as a backward, lumbering player on the Allied side: its advantages of huge scale were lost to an autocratic regime and bureacracy. It was slow to mobilise, compliant, victim of an early crushing defeat and huge losses on the Eastern Front and subject to the earthquake of Bolshevik revolution in 1917. McMeekin presents a different view, of a Russia that was modernising fast and growing economically at the rate of China today; that it managed superb diplomatic manouevres to bring Europe to a general war while making Russia's role look confined to support of Serbia; and that it did so to support its own mission to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and annex much of Asia Minor, including the great strategic prize of Constantinople (which it already planned to rename as Tsargrad). Not only was Russia not slow to mobilise, it did so in secrecy days before the other belligerents and put itself into an advantageous position for a strike into Galicia. (The latter being of precious little help to its ally France, who desperately needed large scale engagement of the German armies, not the Austrians). Furthermore, as the war developed Russia made show of agreeing to Allied strategies but in fact did little or nothing to pursue or support them, instead carrying out its own programme. Even beyond that, it encouraged the Allies to enter into operations at Gallipoli and in Persia which would, if successful, result in enormous benefits for Russia - yet contributed nothing to them. In other words, lumbering Russia played a much smarter, more nimble diplomatic and political game than its Allies and one that has been ignored in post-war clamour to bring blame squarely onto German shoulders.
The conclusions drawn are big ones and certainly intriguing. The presentation of the facts is clear, well written and well evidenced. It is right that with the centenary approaching we should examine again how the world came to enter into cataclysm, and "The Russian origins of the First World War" provides a valuable and challenging set of views. Well worth reading.
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