Nikolay Kudashev, Russian Ambassador to India, says that the history of World War I teaches us many universal lessons, which are still relevant
As the world marks the 105th anniversary of World War I (1914) and remembers the beginning of the war, we recall how it led to an implosion of great empires — Russian, German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian — devastated the European continent, drastically reshaped the erstwhile global order and ushered in a period of instability, which finally resulted in the outbreak of the second World War in 1939.
Russia, during the time, was not prepared to enter the war. Nevertheless, when Saint Petersburg’s sincere diplomatic efforts to prevent the conflict failed, Russia completely carried out its commitments to the allies — Serbia, France and Great Britain.
On August 1, 1914, Germany had declared war on Russia. Within the next few days, France and Great Britain were drawn into the warfare. In no time, the Reichswehr was beating against the gates of Paris. St Petersburg took up the ally’s call to attack the opponents 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 had paid for saving the French capital — the sacrifice that Supreme Allied Commander, Ferdinand Foch himself had admitted.
That was indeed the first but not the last instance when Russia had come to the allies’ rescue. In 1916, after suffering a number of setbacks, it launched a large-scale assault, led by General Aleksei Brusilov, supporting French efforts. Soon Russia had reacted to a request from the French for help by sending in 45,000 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 a warfare they were doomed to loose.
In 1914, German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish armies lost more than 10 lakh troops at the Russian front while lost 9.8 lakh at the Western and Serbian fronts. In the course of the war, the Germans and the Austrians deployed almost half of their troops against Russia.
After the break out of hostilities, St Petersburg concentrated on strengthening the bonds within the Entente, isolating the Triple Alliance, searched for new allies, worked on future settlements, but was unable to reap any of the benefits. A war period of two and a half years led to an overstrain of Russia’s economy, breakdown of its army, a series of political turmoils, collapse of its monarchy, the 1917 October Revolution and the civil war.
The history of the World War I teaches many universal lessons, which are relevant even today. One of the most important is that of 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 affairs and collective methods for settling crises by political and diplomatic means.
(The writer is a senior journalist)
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer