At the outbreak of the Great War, Russia had the world’s largest army at almost one and a half million soldiers. With reserves activated and fully mobilized, this number expanded to five million. At first, the Russians made large, quick gains by striking first into East Prussia (modern day Kaliningrad Oblast) and Galicia. By the end of 1914, Russia controlled almost all of this territory. The Russians would push the Austrians back and hand them a crushing defeat at Przemyśl. 1914 was a good year for the Russian military, but it wouldn’t last.
Russia, a year after the start of the war, had received huge losses (to the tune of over 500,000 casualties). Tsar Nicholas II, in an effort to boost morale took direct control of the armed forces. He left his wife, Alexandra to run the country in his stead. Maybe things would’ve run smoothly if she actually ran the empire, but instead a strange man named Rasputin (or as some of the nobility liked to call him: the Mad Monk) had an unhealthy amount of influence over the Tsaritsa.
One of the reasons Rasputin had sway over Alexandra was that her son, and only male heir, Alexei suffered from hemophilia which prevented his blood from clotting. At this point Rasputin had already built a reputation with the royal family, and was invited by Alexandra to have a look at the boy. While little Alexei showed no signs of improvement under the care of doctors, Rasputin used his magical and holy powers. The following day the child showed great improvement. In actuality, one of the things that Rasputin did was insist that doctors stop giving Alexei aspirin, which thinned the blood as a side effect.
Before World War I began, Rasputin advised Tsar Nicholas II not to get involved, claiming that he had a vision that a war would mean the end of the Romanovs as well as Imperial Russia. However, when the Tsar made the decision to go to the front, both Alexandra and Rasputin praised his choice (although Alexandra probably was influenced by Rasputin, and Rasputin knew he would have even more influence if Nicholas was not in Russia).
It seemed that everyone else in positions of political power wanted Nicholas to stay because they also knew that Rasputin would have even more sway. Because the last word rested with Alexandra, Rasputin was untouchable. Many members of the Duma were forced out or left, disgusted. Because Alexei’s illness was kept from the public, rumors that Rasputin was sleeping with the Tsaritsa had made their way to the general public and the monarchy was seen as a joke without credibility.
Many felt that Rasputin was hijacking the Russian monarchy and did much to destroy the legitimacy of the royal rule. With bickering between the crown and the Duma, both of their political power cracked under pressure from a failing war on foreign soil and popular protests at home. Members of the Russian nobility had assassinated Rasputin to end his influence, but perhaps because of him the government of Russia was weakened to the point that its end was inevitable.
Pares, Bernard. The Fall of the Russian Monarchy: A Study of the Evidence. London: Cape, 1939. Print.