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11-08-2015, 17:48

Nicholas II (1868-1918)

Nicholas II was the tsar (emperor) of the Russian Empire from 1 894 until he was forced to abdicate in 1917. A personally charming individual, he lacked the intelligence and force of character to influence events effectively. Given the immense power that rested in the tsar's hands, Nicholas's personality flaws, inactivity, and irresponsible decisions contributed first to military, then political catastrophe. In Germany, the comparable inadequacies of the monarch put power into the hands of military leaders. In Russia, where there were no candidates for the role of a General Erich Ludendorff, Nicholas's failings contributed to a more chaotic scene. At best, only the Empress Alexandra and her personal favorite, Rasputin, ruled, giving misdirection to the engines of national policy. Nicholas was bom at the imperial palace of Tsarskoe Selo, outside St. Petersburg, May 18, 1868. He was the grandson of the reigning tsar, Alexander II, and the son of Alexander III, who ruled from 1881 to 1894. Educated by private tutors, he then served happily as an officer in the Imperial Guards. The inexperienced young man took the throne suddenly in 1894 when his father, then only fifty, died after a brief illness. The first twenty years of the new tsar's reign were tumultuous. Russia went through the first throes of industrialization and urbanization, and the country fought a disastrous war with Japan in 1904-1905. In the wake of the Revolution of 1905, which stemmed partly from wartime defeats, Nicholas allowed the political form of his age-old monarchy to be modified. A Duma (parliament) with limited power was established. Under the political surface, however, a variety of revolutionary groups worked to overthrow the existing system. Nicholas remained a deep-dyed conservative determined to preserve Russia's social and political order, uncomfortable with any reforms. Even the changes of 1905 he hoped to reverse at some future date. Nicholas played the role of privileged bystander during the summer crisis of 1914. Stronger personalities like Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov and Minister of War Vladimir Sukhomlinov determined the Russian government's responses as war neared. The tsar signed the mobilization orders that his ministers demanded, appointed his uncle. Grand Duke Nicholas, to direct military operations, then faded from the scene. When he reemerged, in the summer of 1915, it was to make a fatal decision. The tsar reheved his uncle, who had presided over the disastrous spring and summer retreat as a German offensive conquered Russia's western provinces, and took over the high command himself. But the country's social and economic fabric was already straining, and opposition in the Duma to the conduct of the war was becoming more vocal. Ironically, Nicholas presided over no further military disasters. He left the actual decision making to his diligent chief of staff, Mikhail Alekseev. And the campaign of 1916 featured the successful offensive led by General Alexis Brusilov. Only in the area of military appointments, where the tsar had promoted the careers of incompetent court favorites since 1914, did Nicholas cause immediate harm. Nonetheless, Nicholas's absence from the capital at St. Petersburg (renamed Petrograd at the war's start) added to the woes of the monarchy and the general instability of the nation and its government. With the tsar gone—he took up residence at military headquarters in Mogilev, over four hundred miles from the capital—only Empress Alexandra stood at the center of national decision making. Her liaison with Rasputin, the disreputable holy man, tainted the reputation of the monarchy. But equally harmful were the bootlicking ministers whom Rasputin put into office, often in place of men immeasurably more competent. Thus, the energetic Alexis Polivanov, the most effective Russian war minister during the conflict, found himself pushed from office in March 1916. Nicholas was at Mogilev in March 1917 as Russia's armed forces prepared for the new year's campaign. When a women's demonstration in the capital escalated, first into bread riots, then into military mutiny, he could barely follow the situation. His efforts to return to Petrograd to regain control of the country's affairs failed. Striking railroad workers blocked his route, and he was forced to detour to the headquarters of the northern front, where the armies defending Petrograd were located. There, a coterie of his generals convinced him to abdicate. The former tsar and his family were confined, first at their palace near Petrograd, then in the remote city of Ekaterinburg in the Urals. Sadly for them, the tsar and his family were still a political factor elsewhere in Europe in this troubled era. The British government, for example, might have assured their safety by demanding their safe passage from Russia. But for Prime Minister David Lloyd George to do so would have endangered London's ties with the postrevolutionary government. For Britain's King George V, efforts in behalf of his Russian relatives might endanger his own throne. In consequence, concern for the lives of Nicholas and his family was pushed aside. With the Revolution of November 1917, the Bolsheviks took power. Russia's population polarized and drifted toward civil war. When White forces, the opponents of the Communists, neared the place of confinement for the former reigning family, Nicholas, his wife, and their five children were executed during the night of July 16/17, 1918. Their remains were only recently discovered and identified.