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The Russian Origins of the First World War

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Overview

The catastrophe of the First World War, and the destruction, revolution, and enduring hostilities it wrought, make the issue of its origins a perennial puzzle. Since World War II, Germany has been viewed as the primary culprit. Now, in a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war’s beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a “tragedy of miscalculation.” Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg.

It was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near East. Unlike their civilian counterparts in Berlin, who would have preferred to localize the Austro-Serbian conflict, Russian leaders desired a more general war so long as British participation was assured. The war of 1914 was launched at a propitious moment for harnessing the might of Britain and France to neutralize the German threat to Russia’s goal: partitioning the Ottoman Empire to ensure control of the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Nearly a century has passed since the guns fell silent on the western front. But in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, World War I smolders still. Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, and other regional antagonists continue fighting over the last scraps of the Ottoman inheritance. As we seek to make sense of these conflicts, McMeekin’s powerful exposé of Russia’s aims in the First World War will illuminate our understanding of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Review
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.
Sunday Times

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

The Australian

The book is a refreshing challenge to longstanding assumptions and shifted perspectives are always good.
— Miriam Cosic

Foreign Affairs

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

Michael S. Neiberg
This book should forever change the ways we have understood the role of Russia in the First World War.
Mustafa Aksakal
A bold reinterpretation of the Russian Empire's entry into the First World War. McMeekin argues that Russia believed a European war to be in its interest, that it sought to humiliate Vienna, and that it hoped to conquer Constantinople and the Ottoman Straits.
Michael Reynolds
The Russian Origins of the First World War is a polemic in the best sense. Written in a lively and engaging style, it should provoke a much-needed debate on Russia's role in the Great War.
Foreign Affairs - Robert Legvold
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.
Sunday Times - Orlando Figes
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.
The Australian - Miriam Cosic
The book is a refreshing challenge to longstanding assumptions and shifted perspectives are always good.
Michael Reynolds
The Russian Origins of the First World War is a polemic in the best sense. Written in a lively and engaging style, it should provoke a much-needed debate on Russia's role in the Great War.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674062108
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2011
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 293,289
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University in Turkey.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations ix

Author's Note xi

Introduction: History from the Deep Freeze 1

1 The Strategic Imperative in 1914 6

2 It Takes Two to Tango: The July Crisis 41

3 Russia's War: The Opening Round 76

4 Turkey's Turn 98

5 The Russians and Gallipoli 115

6 Russia and the Armenians 141

7 The Russians in Persia 175

8 Partitioning the Ottoman Empire 194

9 1917: The Tsarist Empire at Its Zenith 214

Conclusion: The October Revolution and Historical Amnesia 234

Notes 245

Bibliography 289

Acknowledgments 303

Index 307

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 4 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2013

    A fresh look at a much argued topic.

    Thiis book makes the following arguments:
    1.) Tsarist Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe & Ottoman Turkey were the primary reasons the Sarajevo assasination turned into WW1.
    2.) Once in the war Tsarist Russia pursued its own strategic agenda with little thought for its allies, either in the Entente or among the Armenian minorities that received the brunt of Ottoman reprisals.
    3.) Tsarist Russia was actually winning the war (at least againt Turkey & Austria, and at least according to their own strategic goals) when the ground was cut out from under them by the February & October Revoltions.
    4.) For all the historical attention paid to the western front it is events in the east & in Ottoman lands that make the 1st World War so consequential to modern times.
    Note: some reviewers have come close to calling the author a denier of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This is not accurate. Rather, the author argues that Tsarist Russia bears some burden of guilt in that tragedy, largely through its irresponsible encouragement of Armenian rebel groups in Ottoman lands before & during the war. Well worth a look by anyone interested in World War 1, particularly its less discussed aspects. I must also commend this book on its brevity & clarity.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    A revisionist history of Russian involvement in World War I. The author argues that Russia was much more to blame for the beginning of the war than heretofore acknowledged. Using archives from both Turkish and Soviet files, McMeekin contends that Russia was seeking a war to justify seizing control of the waterways from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea from the crumbling Ottoman Empire. When the assassination at Sarajevo occurred, Russia had the excuse it needed.
    The book follows Russian diplomatic manipulations through the war,
    citing British and French complicity with Russian goals. The author also contends that Russia was on the verge of defeating the Turks and
    obtaining its goal when the Revolution occurred.
    A very readable work on a subject not often dealt with, but which had lasting effects to this very day.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2012

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    Posted May 13, 2013

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 4 of 5 Customer Reviews

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