World War I
After its ambitions in the Far East were checked by Japan, Russia turned its attention to the Balkans. Nicholas sympathised with the national aspirations of the Slavs and was anxious to win control of the Turkish straits but tempered his expansionist inclinations with a sincere desire to preserve peace among the Great Powers.
After the assassination of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo, he tried hard to avert the impending war by diplomatic action and resisted, until July 30, 1914, the pressure of the military for general, rather than partial, mobilisation.
The outbreak of World War I temporarily strengthened the monarchy, but Nicholas did little to maintain his people's confidence. The Duma was slighted, and voluntary patriotic organisations were hampered in their efforts; the gulf between the ruling group and public opinion grew steadily wider.
Alexandra turned Nicholas's mind against the popular commander in chief, his father's cousin the grand duke Nicholas, and on September 5, 1915, he dismissed him, assuming supreme command himself. Since the emperor had no experience of war, almost all his ministers protested against this step as likely to impair the army's morale. They were overruled, however, and soon dismissed.
Nicholas II did not, in fact, interfere unduly in operational decisions, but his departure for headquarters had serious political consequences. In his absence, supreme power in effect passed, with his approval and encouragement, to the empress.
A grotesque situation resulted: in the midst of a desperate struggle for national survival, competent ministers and officials were dismissed and replaced by worthless nominees of Rasputin. The court was widely suspected of treachery, and anti-dynastic feeling grew apace. Conservatives plotted Nicholas's deposition in the hope of saving the monarchy.
Even the murder of Rasputin failed to dispel Nicholas's illusions: he blindly disregarded this ominous warning, as he did those by other highly placed personages, including members of his own family. His isolation was virtually complete.
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