To what extent were the actions of Tsar Nicholas II during the First World War responsible for his own downfall in February 1917?
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To what extent were the actions of Tsar Nicholas II during the First World War responsible for his own downfall in February 1917? In this essay I will discuss the impact of Nicholas' actions on his fate and assess their importance in relation to other factors which led to the fall of the Romanov dynasty. I will argue that whilst the actions of Nicholas himself indeed played a part in his downfall, the major reason for his downfall the was WWI and its effects on the Russian people. The actions of Nicholas were important in causing his downfall. His major mistake was the decision to leave Petrograd in August 1915 and go to the front at Mogilev in order to become Commander-in-chief of the Imperial army. This was a mistake as the Tsar was now personally blamed for the defeats the army suffered instead of his ministers, such as the failure of the Brusilov Offensive, which resulted in one million Russian soldiers being killed. This mistake was compounded by the fact that he left the Tsarina Alexandra in charge of the government. She was unpopular because of her German nationality and was influenced by Rasputin, who had a terrible reputation. This, and her terrible political judgement, tarnished the Tsar's reputation and weakened his popularity. She sacked able ministers and replaced them with her and Rasputin's friends - 35 were sacked between 1915 and 1916.
There were few field hospitals, as well as a shortage of bandages and medical supplies. Communications were poor, meaning that messages were easily intercepted by their enemies and the coordination of supplies was poor. There was a breakdown in the railway system, with blocked lines and broken down trains - there was a lack of fuel and food, and weapons weren't distributed. These problems were made worse by the low quality of the generals, who had little understanding of modern warfare and the poor leadership shown by the Tsar. As the war progressed the quality of the soldiers began to decrease as most of the officers were killed and replaced by conscripts with little military training, know pejoratively as "peasants in uniform". All of this contributed to low morale amongst the soldiers and a high level of desertion. The Tsar was blamed for these problems and became more unpopular. Like the Russo-Japanese War, WWI put a strain on the economy, meaning that people's quality of life was lowered. This, together with Russia's military defeats under the Tsar began to change people's attitudes towards him in a strongly negative way. In this way the war had a bigger impact on the fall of the Tsar than the actions of the Tsar himself. There is a parallel between the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution and WWI and the 1917 Revolution.
These problems culminated in a change in attitude in the capital towards the Tsar which made it possible for Revolution to happen. Although the problems with Alexandra were largely of the Tsar's own making, the economic issues were almost wholly caused by the war, and the fact that the people were freezing and starving was a bigger cause of hostility towards the government than the Tsarina's incompetence. Therefore, I would say that the war played a larger part in the Tsar's downfall than his own actions. The war was the trigger which provided the conditions for the revolution to happen; the workers at the Putilov Steel Works were striking because of working conditions and food shortages; the women who joined the strikes on International Women's Day did so because of bread queues and food shortages. These were economic problems which, although incompetence played a part, were mainly caused by the war. The Tsar's own actions did play a part at the end of the Revolution, when his hesitant personality led to him abdicating without much of a fight. There was also a loss of confidence in his ability to lead among the army, which resulted in the Petrograd garrison refusing to fire on demonstrators and Nicholas being stopped at Pskov by disloyal troops. This was largely the Tsar's own doing. However, the events that led to his abdication would not have happened without the impact of WWI on the Russian economy and people. Gráinne Baker
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