Military successes against the Turks and the Austrians barely budged the scale of public opinion, and the prestige of the government sank steadily. Nicholas made the questionable decision to take direct command of the army after the summer 1915 retreat. This left Alexandra in charge in the capital, Petrograd. Suspected by many of being a traitor due to her birth and upbringing in Germany, she and the entire monarchy were even more discredited by rumors about her liaison with Rasputin. This self-proclaimed holy man and notorious libertine had gained entry into Alexandra's circle around 1907 due to his apparent ability to treat her son's (the tsarevich Alexis) hemophilia. Even before the war he had meddled in political affairs. After the tsar's departure for the front, Rasputin's psychological hold on the empress gave him crucial influence in appointing his incompetent cronies to lead key government ministries. Such a dismal picture led the tsar's cousin to note, "The government itself is the organ that is preparing the revolution." In June 1 9 1 6 the army showed its mettle in the early stages ofthe Brusilov offensive. General Alexis Brusilov, the dynamic commander of the southwestern front, led four field armies in crushing the Austro-Hungarian forces in this sector. But a more important factor was the overall decline in military discipline as seen in an exploding desertion rate. The situation was particu larly dangerous in Petrograd, which was not only the capital and a major industrial center, but also a major military center containing large numbers of troops scheduled for shipment to the grim prospects of the fighting front. Imperial Russia's ties to its allies in western Europe brought few benefits. Turkey's entry into the war prevented Britain and France from supplying Russia's beleaguered military system via the Mediterranean. Even if the route to the Black Sea had been open, the shortage of ships and the distance involved would have limited direct aid. There was never any prospect that large numbers of French or British troops could be sent to Russia as they were to Italy to bolster that weak ally after its defeat at the Battle of Caporetto in October 1917.