- Russian diplomacy in the early 1850s played a critical role in isolating Russia in the first general European war since Waterloo. Disputes over European issues and the question of which country controlled sites in the Holy Land precipitated a war that left Russia alone against an Anglo-French entente assisted by Sardinia. Even Russia’s friend Austria stayed neutral. The struggle between Russian and Anglo-French forces on the Crimean peninsula—the war’s main front—between 1854 and 1856 demonstrated the woeful state of the Russian army. In the four decades since the Napoleonic Wars, the Russian army had been the “gendarme of Europe,” crushing national revolts in Poland and Hungary. The army had not been modernized and was used to fighting wars against Muslim rebels in the Caucasus and poorly armed Polish and Hungarian rebels. Russian military intelligence was ill prepared to fight a war against major European powers. There was, for example, no system for interrogating prisoners of war or deserters. (A few Irish and Corsican prisoners apparently deserted to the Russians during the course of the war.) Nevertheless, military intelligence did provide accurate information about the British and French armies, tactics, and leadership. Military intelligence information on the enemy may also have played a role in the inventive way the Russian army, under the direction of E. I. Totleben, built fortifications at Sevastopol to cope with the Anglo-French forces.The Crimean war cost Russia 600,000 casualties. It also demonstrated to the new tsar, Aleksandr II, that social and political reform was needed if Russia were to remain a great European power. Many believe that the disastrous performance of the Russian forces in the Crimean War caused Aleksandr to emancipate the Russian serfs. The war also led to major reforms in the Russian army and general staff. The tsar realized that the fabled army that had terrorized liberal Europe after Waterloo was a paper tiger.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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