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Asked by James

How was Russia's role in the events leading to World War I different from that Austria-Hungary?

Russia and Austria-Hungary are arguably two of the main actors in triggering World War I in the early 20th century. Both Russia and Austria-Hungary were autocracies, with Russia led by Tsar Nicholas II and Austria-Hungary led by Emperor Franz Josef. Russia was perceived as "backward" by other European Great Powers, as it was industrialising at a slower rate than the likes of Germany and Great Britain. Although Sergei Witte had embarked on a programme to modernise Russia with the Trans Siberian Railway and many rural Russian peasants had moved to urban areas, Russia still had a lower standard of living than its other Great Power counterparts. Many lived in poverty and health conditions in St Petersburg and Moscow were extremely poor. Russia had also been humiliated militarily in the 1904/05 Russo-Japanese war and had many domestic problems. Austria-Hungary also had many internal problems, with many different factions creating instability. Austria-Hungary was an Empire made up of many different ethnicities who spoke different languages and had a system of dual monarchy, meaning that the system of government was convoluted and unstable. Rising nationalism amongst different ethnic groups was a major problem. The Balkan region was extremely unstable as a result of this nationalism, and Austria-Hungary had already annexed Bosnia in 1908. On 28th June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne) was assassinated by a Serbian terrorist group 'The Black Hand' in Sarajevo. This triggered the July Crisis. Austria-Hungary's reaction was initially muted. The Austrian Emperor did not have a good personal relationship with Franz Ferdinand. However, once Germany gave Austria-Hungary the so-called "Blank Cheque" on 6th July (meaning that Germany would unconditionally support Austria-Hungary in any action they chose to take against Serbia), Austria-Hungary submitted an ultimatum to the Serbian government. This ultimatum contained unreasonable demands and the Serbian government simply could not accept them all. The Austrians, therefore, invaded Serbia. Meanwhile, Russia viewed itself as the protector of the Slavic peoples and was allied with Serbia against Austria-Hungary. Following the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, Russia was the first country to order partial mobilisation of its troops on 26th July. Austria-Hungary then declares war on Serbia (28th July) and Russia orders full mobilisation of its troops (30th July). The alliance system leads Germany, France and then Britain into WW1.

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Ethan Chandler
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