Nikolay STARIKOV (Russia)
These days 96 years ago the world was shocked with the first outbursts of the World War 1 – the global bloodbath betokening unbelievable tragedies of the XXth century. Why did it happen? What inhuman power was coolly pushing the world to catastrophe at the hot summer of 1914? The ORIENTAL REVIEW posts exclusive translation of a revelatory study by the Russian historian Nikolay Starikov who is the author of numerous books on the Russian and international history and contemporary geopolitics. The text below is the abstracts from his first book ‘Who finished off the Russian Empire?”, published in Russia in 2006.
If Pricip had not made the attempt on the life of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, the advocates of war around the world would have found another reason.
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich Romanov
This is how England’s old pirate government managed to once again bring carnage to Europe …
Alfred von Tirpitz, German Grand Admiral
Later, politicians of various countries were asked how it was possible that the bloodiest war in human history suddenly came out of nowhere. Most helplessly raised their hands, some blamed the catastrophe on their country’s adversaries, but one man who was front and center on Europe’s political scene stayed modestly silent. He did not join the discussion or write memoirs. This man was Lord Edward Grey, Viscount of Falladon. This distinguished gentleman served as foreign minister of Great Britain from 1906-1916. He was not the war’s inventor, but the monstrous plans were realized as a direct result of his efforts. Thanks to Sir Grey’s efforts, millions of adults and children were sent to their graves, hundreds of thousands of prosperous cities and villages were destroyed, and the Russian Empire was erased from the political map of the world.
But let us return to that sultry July in 1914. The investigation launched by the Austria-Hungarian Empire had unambiguously answered the eternal question “who is to blame?” The archduke’s murders not only received weapons and training in Serbia, but were also transported into Bosnian territory shortly before the attack. It was the long-awaited opportunity the Austrians needed to strike its hated enemy in Belgrade. Serbian extremists had thrown down the gauntlet and killed the heir to the throne. Their actions clearly threatened the very foundation of the multi-ethnic Hapsburg Empire.
But, before deciding to punish Belgrade, Germany and Austria needed time to sort out one issue: to understand how Russia would act in this situation. Three times before, in 1908, 1912, and 1913, Vienna had backed away from its desire to crush Serbia, three times Russia had declined the idea of defending the Slavic government. Now that the future emperor had been assassinated, the Germans believed Nicholas II could not prevent the punishment of the murderers. German Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz wrote in his memoirs that Kaiser Wilhelm “saw the intervention of Russia in Serbia’s favor unlikely, as the Tsar, in his opinion, would not support royal assassins … “
In his righteous anger, the German Kaiser did not heed the inconspicuous, but important evidence that a great war was approaching. The German naval attaché in Japan wrote Berlin even before the assassination on June 10, 1914 “What impresses me is the confidence with which everyone here expects a war with Germany in the near future … a subtle, yet clearly perceptible “something” that hangs in the air like sympathy for a prisoner awaiting execution.” Wilhelm II had not yet made his disastrous decision to go to war, and this Reich was already being viewed as a passing soul on its way to meet its Maker. It makes you wonder why the Japanese politicians and diplomats of the Entente powers were so confident a military conflict was about to start.
The answer is simple – there was a script for the coming destruction. The directors knew the true purpose of the war, but many others were privy to the individual details. A script for the war truly existed; no one saw it on paper with tables and paragraphs, but much evidence testifies that it was real. Chernov, the head of the Russian Socialist Party – the Revolutionary Party – wrote about it in his memoirs. He wrote of a lecture by Josef Pilsudski, Polish socialist and future leader of the independent Polish state, in Paris in early 1914.
“Pilsudski confidently predicted the Balkans sparking an Austrian-Russian war in the near future,” Chernov wrote and further quoted the Polish socialist, who perfectly guessed the trigger of the First World War! Pilsudski confidently and accurately told which power would stand up for whom and who else would be dragged into the armed conflict. But that’s not the important part!
“… Pilsudski then set the question squarely: how would the war go down and who would triumph? His response reads as follows: Russia will be defeated by Austria and Germany who will in turn fall to the English and French (or English, Americans and French)”
The prescience of the future Polish dictator was extraordinary! Nicholas II, Wilhelm II and Franz Joseph didn’t even suspect that a war was brewing. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was tranquilly playing with his children in Belvedere Palace, Gavril Princip was a university student, Mlada Bosna had not yet even thought to kill the heir to the Austrian throne and the general staffs of the future adversaries had no plans for the coming war. Joseph Pilsudeski not only had intimate knowledge of the war’s script, he even knew how it would end!
The script for triggering WWI was incredibly complicated to organize, but very simple in its essence. With Germany’s support, Austro-Hungary lays a claim on Serbia. Belgrade resists, backed by guarantees from Russia. At the same time, the Austrians and Germans, seeing force was the optimal solution to the Serbian problem, needed to be convinced that St. Petersburg would not intervene on the side of the Serbs and would limit its reaction to diplomatic condemnation. Only this version would light the fuse of war. If Austria and Germany knew that action against Belgrade would cause a clash with Russia, they would not have not have crossed that line for they knew doing so meant war with France and eventually with England due to the Franco-Russian alliance.
The obviousness of this potential chain of events was the main guarantee against armed conflict. The First World War would have been easy to prevent. All Great Britain had to do was to tell Germany that it would not remain neutral in the case of war in Europe and would side with its Entente allies. That is precisely how Britain prevented a Franco-German war a few years earlier during the Moroccan crisis. Such action was what was needed then and now if the London gentlemen wanted to preserve peace. But back in Morocco it was for show, a lure to attract Russia into the Entente net. Now, it was totally different: the preparations were set to destroy Russia and Germany through the most terrible military conflict imaginable. Britain needed war, but it had to pose as the peace-keeper to ignite it.
This is where Lord Edward Grey arrived on the political scene in all his glory. The honorable lord held the office of Her Majesty’s government on which the fate of all mankind depended that hot summer in 1914. Like any diplomat, the head of the British Foreign Office had the gift of talking a lot without saying anything. This gift he later brilliantly demonstrated in his memoirs. Rather than give a clear answer and take a clear position, the words of Sir Grey that critical summer were full of allusions and omissions. It was no accident.
After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand June 29, 1914, the head of British diplomacy publicly offered his deep condolences to Vienna before the parliament and then went silent. On July 6, after the Kaiser had conferred with the Austrians, the German ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowsky went to Grey to probe the Britain’s attitude towards the developing situation. The British of late had been demonstrating their love of peace as if to show off. Beyond diplomatic equivocations, there were other tangible symbols of Britain’s inclination towards the Germans. The primary root of the British-German rivalry was naval – instigated by the Reich’s large shipbuilding program. London viewed the growing German fleet with undisguised hostility, but suddenly its position changed! Admiral Tirpitz described it as such: “… Relations between the two countries looked so good that for the first time in many years, a British naval squadron arrived in Germany for the Kiel Week celebrations. The squadron left after the assassination in Sarajevo.”
And so, the German ambassador began his discussion with Grey with that. Lichnowsky conveyed the Emperor Wilhelm’s deep satisfaction on the visit of the British squadron to Germany’s harbor and then gently began to feel out the British position on the upcoming international complications. To that end, he said that the Austrians would take action against Serbia. After that, he candidly explained the German position: Berlin could not refuse to help its ally, but proceeding would mean possible complications with St. Petersburg. The Germans were well aware that in addition to ethnic sympathies, the two monarchies were also linked by family ties: the mother of the heir to the Serbian throne was also the sister of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich Romanov, the future chief of the Russian army in the impending war. The Russian monarch himself was the uncle of Serbian Prince Alexander. Only a few months earlier, Nicholas II had personally promised Serbia “full military aid” and even any “support, which it needed.”
And so, having launched the “trial balloon”, the German ambassador asked the critical question he had come for. The Germans knew that some sort of negotiations were ongoing between England and Russia on the sea convention and that such arrangements might encourage Russia to resist Austria. A stern declaration by London diplomats would mean the Germans would immediately look for a way out of the crisis. If Russia had Britain’s backing, conflict with them would be unacceptable to Germany. It was an excellent chance to show the German ambassador Britain’s vaunted stiff upper lip, but instead Sir Grey said that Britain “cannot tolerate the destruction of France.” Diplomats always speak in a special language, not always comprehensible to mere mortals, but diplomats perfectly understand each other. In many respects their work consists of interpreting each other’s insinuations and ability to speak without saying anything. Translated into “human” language, Britain’s phrase “cannot tolerate the destruction of France” means the following:
— St. Petersburg has conducted some negotiations with London;
— Britain gives Russia no security guarantee;
— In the case of military conflict between Germany and Russia, the British would remain outside the conflict;
— The only thing that worries the British — and against which they will act definitively – is the military defeat of France.
That’s how much information you can put into a small phrase. Thus, not biting at the German probe, Sir Grey alludes to the Germans that the destruction of Russia does not distress Great Britain.
The strength of those who wanted to foment war lied in the way that they played on both sides of the fence, for both teams. This was a British invention – facing war they were the Germans’ friends and the Russians’ “allies.” When revolution began to spread through Russia, the same gentlemen would embrace Nicholas II and at the same time allocate money for his overthrow. Then they would send a congratulatory telegram to Kerensky, and promise to support General Kornilov to overthrow him. Then the Bolsheviks come to power, and the “allies” continue to consult with them and their adversaries. At the outbreak of the Russian Civil War, the British would both help the Whites and also keep an eye on them, ensuring they would not ultimately triumph. This is not some sort of otherworldly British insidiousness and mendacity, it is easy to their interests and their plan. Playing both black and white on the same chessboard, one can always deliver a checkmate to the side no longer in need.
All of that would come later, but in order for the “alliance” plan to destroy Russia be realized, Sir Grey cordially hosted Russian Ambassador Benckendorf after his meeting with the German ambassador. And there, he struck a different tune. On July 8th, the head of the British Foreign Office described the seriousness of the situation facing Russia. He had no doubt that Austria would attack, and even expressed the view that Russia should come to Serbia’s defense. In addition, he overemphasized Germany’s hostility towards Russia. He hinted that, to his knowledge, Germany’s focus of military operations would quickly move from West to East in the case of conflict. Edward Grey put on a brilliant performance, speaking with the German ambassador he was an optimist, with the Russian – a tortured pessimist. When Benckendorf tried to portray the situation in a brighter light, Grey strongly objected and said that “he didn’t like the information he had obtained from Vienna.” “The situation is very serious.”
Having sown the seed of doubt in the Russian government, on July 9, British Foreign Secretary Sir Grey met once again with German Ambassador Lichnowsky. As recently as three days earlier, Grey had hinted to him that Britain would not intervene in events on the mainland unless there was a risk of “the destruction of France.” To be sure that they understood the position of the British government, the Germans once again tried to verify the accuracy of their “deciphering” of the foreign secretary’s hints. Just like before, the position of England could still stop the slide of the European continent into the abyss. What would the most respected head of British diplomacy say? Probably something about the importance of preserving peace and the need to resolve conflicts with peaceful means, right?
Nope. First, Grey spoke at length about the peace-loving mood in Russia. The wary German ambassador, in accordance with his instructions, asked whether Britain would agree to act as a calming agent on Russia in the case of an Austria-Serbian conflict. The lord assured Lichnowsky that he would do “everything possible to prevent a war between great powers.”
“I said,” Grey wrote in his memoirs, “that if the Austrian action against Serbia will be held within certain limits, it will, of course, be relatively easy to convince St. Petersburg to tolerate it.” At the same time, the ambassador messaged Berlin that “Sir Grey radiated optimism.” Grey spoke so radiantly and glowing that such words were all the Germans wanted to hear. This is what the ambassador wrote in his telegram to Berlin:
“He (Sir Grey) affirmed that he had nothing to add to what he said on the 6th, and can only repeat that, on one hand, agreements had been made between Great Britain, France and Russia – but on the other hand, Great Britain has not entered into any secret binding agreements concerning war in Europe.”
Further, Grey said, “that England wants to keep its hands totally free.” Translated from diplomatic language, it means the neutrality of England in the event of war!
But how can Sir Grey say that no binding agreements apply to England in the event of war? Didn’t, Russia, England, and France together form the Entente alliance?!
Interestingly, Sir Grey told the truth. Historians have never written about this in an attempt to avoid this strange issue. The fact is that:
Up to the beginning of the WWI, the Entente alliance was not framed by treaty!
In fact, there were three entirely separate documents. The first, between England and France, initiated the Entente block. Truthfully, it was about Newfoundland, West Africa, Siam and Egypt! There’s not a word about military commitments in the event of a war. The second, a convention between Russia and Britain in 1907, divided spheres of influence in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet – nothing more beyond that, not a word about military commitments! The third agreement, on which Entente alliance was based, was between France and Russia and was signed by Alexander III. This was the only real document! According to it, the French or Russians were obliged to immediately declare war on any power that attacked either Russia or France. But these commitments to one another were only held to … Paris and St. Petersburg.
The Real alliance treaty would be signed by the Entente countries only after the beginning for WWI. What’s the difference? Big difference! The absence of a normal treaty allowed the British to avow neutrality to provoke Germany into war and at the same time promise help to Russia. If the Entente alliance had been officially formed, the Germans would have behaved quite differently because the uncertainty of London’s position was the hook that caught the German diplomats.
French Ambassador to Russia Maurice Paleologue said as much to his British colleague Sir George Buchanan: “I insist on the crucial role that Britain can play to ease the belligerence of Germany, I refer to that opinion four days ago, when Emperor Nicholas told me, ‘Germany would never dare to attack a united Russia, France and England, unless he has totally lost his mind.’ “
Of course Germany would not attack three superpowers. This is why England persuaded the Germans that they would not be opposing three powers! In so doing, the Germans and Austrians were not afraid to be firm.
In so doing, the long-awaited war began…