A Russian Assessment of German Policy, 1912-1914


(From Ne podlezhit oglasheniyu [Not For Public Release], by Ye. Yu. Sergeev and Ar. A. Ulunyan. Moscow, 1999. Pages 267-68.)


            If in 1911-1912 only that part of the German press that was—in the words of general-staff officers—“of the corresponding orientation” insisted on strengthening the army and continuing the arms race,[1] in the spring of 1914 the picture was completely opposite: “In any case, with the exception of extreme left-wing journalism, in the German press one almost never finds anyone against surplus income being used for a onetime military tax to meet the needs of the military establishment.”[2]

            In reports and analyses of Russian military intelligence and diplomatic representatives in Berlin, Germanys internal political situation was closely connected with assessments of her place in the geopolitical division of power. In this regard, special attention was given to scenarios of the German empire’s future actions in the international arena. During the first half of 1912, military espionage as well as operational channels were used in attempts to obtain information that could be a basis for constructing a prognosis on this theme. Examples are Bazarov’s[3] report dated 17 February 1912 and a resume of Special Correspondence of the Main Directorate of the General Staff [Glavnoe Upravlenie General’nogo Shtaba – GUGSh] from 20 June of the same year. The source utilized for the first document was a conversation of the Russian military attaché with his French colleague, and for the second—information received from a confidential agent. In both documents there was an examination of the European situation as it developed after the second Morocco crisis and possible scenarios for Berlin’s further international actions with geographical factors taken into account. According to Bazarov’s analysis:


The political coalitions that have arisen in Europe and the desire to complete the organization of her land forces and achieve the most advantageous ratio in naval strength has forced Germany almost to the end of possible concessions. Meanwhile the political situation, regardless of Germany’s attempts to come to some sort of agreement with England (in the course of Lord Haldane’s mission – author), has changed but little as yet. Therefore, fearing the defeat of her fleet and perhaps its complete destruction in a clash with England that is becoming more and more probable, Germany is forced to seek compensation in a victorious war with France, with whose resources (as tribute) she hopes to build a new fleet. …There is undoubted interest in Germany’s advantages in beginning a war before winter or during a war scare in Russia’s border regions. Since the German is more used to the cold than the Frenchman, and on the other hand the French are better able to endure hot weather, it would be better for the Germans to begin a campaign during the winter, and all the more so since on their western front they will not meet any particular difficulties regarding the roads even in the worst time of year. In addition, given that their main blow is delivered against France and their operations on the Russian front are defensive, it follows that an especially advantageous moment for the Germans to open the campaign would be recognized as the time before the start of the thaw and mud within the northern part of the Warsaw Military District. Finally, regarding weather conditions and the condition of ground routes there must also be taken into account the presumed means of movement by the Austrians, especially in this last-named theater. Putting together the signs available at the present time leads to the conclusion that Germany is vigorously preparing for war in the near future.


The author of the report concluded with a judgment that there was a high probability of such events developing, in which “the beginning of military operations would namely originate with Germany” (underlined in the original – author), insofar as “only by sudden action can they expect anything like an even chance of success in battle with the English fleet and secure superiority in the initial situation for a fight against France.[4]


            In this way, Russian military analysts were convinced that Germany’s main blow would be directed against the west, and at the same time London’s diplomatic maneuvers would force Berlin to make a sudden attack on French positions regardless of the time of year. However, defensive operations by the German empire in the east would only be possible with active participation by Austria-Hungary capable of drawing off Russian divisions. In fact, this circumstance makes it possible to understand Wilhelm’s temptation to take advantage of the propitious moment that occurred after the shootings in Sarajevo.


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Translated by Mark Conrad, 2002.

[1] For example, see RGVIA, F. 2000, Op. 1. D. 2465. L. 4-4ob. Voenno-staticheskaya svodka GUGSh, St. Petersburg, 10 February 1912.

[2] Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya v epokhu imperializma, Ser. III. T. I. S. 060107. Bazarov to GUGSh, Berlin, 25 April 1914.

[3] Colonel Pavel Aleksandrovich Bazarov, Russian military attaché in Berlin from 4 February 1911 to 28 June 1914.

[4] RGVIA. F. 2000. Op. 1. D. 2009. L. 9-10; D. 7255. L. 54-55ob. Bazarov to GUGSh, Berlin, 17 February 1912.