Why did the Russian Empire fall?

House of Romanov fell victim to its own incompetence. In the early 1917, Czar Nicholas II found himself without allies.

The Russian Empire fell because the ruling Czarist aristocracy during the WWI lost the support of the urban middle class. The chaos created by the war resulted in a surge of peasant revolution. A disruption of state administration made possible the power grab by a small group of radical Socialists, the Bolsheviks, who were backed by the military in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).

Which led to a tripartite Civil War between: (1) the old elite, (2) the Communists, supported by ethnic minorities and a large part of the military, (3) peasant gangs and armies. The support of peasants throughout 1919 secured the victory of Bolsheviks who established a kind of truce with them in 1922 in the form of a peasant-friendly New Economic Policy (NEP).

Stalin’s collectivization of 1928–1933, when private farmers were made de-facto state serfs, marked the ultimate defeat of the Russian peasant revolution and the final triumph of Communist revolutionaries.

The book “The Russian Revolution”, by Richard Pipes is probably the most succinct and accessible about the matter. Albeit it’s viewed by many in Russia and among leftist liberals in the West as biased against the revolutionaries, its factual base and the competence of the author are irrefutable.

Revolutionary troops take the Winter Palace by Ivan Vladimirov.
Picture: “Revolutionary troops take the Winter Palace”, by Ivan Vladimirov.

Six visuals that illustrate Russia’s history

Outstanding pictures illustrate the key points of Russia’s civilization


Trade in the land of East Slavs by Sergey Ivanov
Picture: “Trade in the land of East Slavs”, by Sergey Ivanov. 1909. The era’s main commodity, slaves, is given the center stage.


  • During the XVIII century, Russia became transformed into the largest continuous land empire through a massive infusion of Western technologies and German administrative talent. In the painting below, Russia’s coming imperial destiny is represented by the kid in European clothes to the right, the Prussia-style troops in the background and jesters challenging the natives with their Western-style entertainment. Old Slav and Turkic aristocracy to the right, along with Ivan V in the center, are not amused, while Peter the Great in his practical Russian kaftan is boisterous and excited. Peter’s German entourage are skeptically contemplating the scene.
Arrival of the Tzars Peter I and Ivan V for entertainment in Semenovo by Ilya Repin
Picture: Arrival of the Tzars Peter I and Ivan V for entertainment in Semenovo”, by Ilya Repin.

Power as a national idea

  • The supreme national idea of Russia is power, embodied in the great Russian state (derzháva). Everything in our history is pinned on it. As a Russian subject, your worth is determined by how much you contribute to the wealth, might, and glory of our state, because it is the sole organizing force on the frozen, wind-blown, endless expanses of Eurasian plains. In the picture below, the clothing is Mediterranean, but the story is essentially Russian, archetypal for our civilization, where countless bright talents have been weighed and measured by servants of our Empire—and found wanting, or worse.
Picture: What is the truth? Christ and Pilate”, by Nikolai Ge.

Revolutions and wars

  • The Black Square”, by Kazimir Malevich. The year is 1913, but the painter already senses how the Great War is going soon to crack open in Russia a fathomless wellspring of human evil, that would reverberate through the rest of the century by unimaginable atrocities across half the world.
The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich.
The Black Square”, by Kazimir Malevich.


  • Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan”, by Alexander Deineka. Rugged workers of mixed Soviet ethnicities walk through something reminding of the Pearly Gates. Their steps are weightless, faces overwhelmed, their path floodlit by a heavenly brilliance and blessed by the pagan goddess of victory. Millions of souls were spent in the XX century for the sake of the greatest project of social re-engineering, the Communist revolution.
Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan by Alexander Deineka
Painting: Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan”, by Alexander Deineka.


  • The victory over Nazi Germany was the pinnacle of Russian history, an epic saga of self-sacrifice and human suffering. Like much else in our history, the fruits of the victory were appropriated by people who neither suffered or sacrificed anything.
Soviet infantryman on the march WWII
Picture: Soviet infantryman on the march, WWII.”

One thing the West doesn’t want you to know about Russia

Progressivism and modernization are dicredited concepts for the mass of Russians throughout history

What politicians and media in the West consistently refuse to recognize — and don’t want you to know — is the truth about progress.

The path of progress and modernization obliterates most of the world and their cultures. Karl Marx was very outspoken in describing how it happens. The growing realization of this is behind the wave of nationalism across the Western world, with Brexit and the rise of the far-right in Eastern and Southern Europe as fresh examples.

The US and several other Western nations achieved their global standing thanks to trade, innovation, and the rule of law protecting private property.

This impacts how Americans and Europeans view other nations around the world in a very, very progressivist manner. Even their conservatives are too progressive! Their advice on how other countries can achieve the Western level of prosperity and power has long been very consistent:

  • Exchange ideas, protect free speech, innovate
  • Protect individual rights, ensure the rule of law and independent courts
  • Keep the rulers accountable
  • Give everyone education, clean water, enough food, protection from diseases
  • Protect and emancipate women and the minorities
  • Trade

Now, to Russia. The Russian State has consistently been the main and almost always the only modernizing force in the country. Every time it undertook a major energetic push for modernity, it resulted in misery and death for the mass of Russians.

  1. Ivan the Terrible’s first known attempt to modernize the state administration and the army. Nationwide devastation follows, resulting in the Time of Troubles.
  2. Czar Alexey’s and Patriarch Nikon’s modernization of Russian Orthodoxy results in Raskol. Hundreds of thousands of faithful Starovers go into a prolonged internal exile. The sustained hostility of Starovers to the House of Romanovs was possibly the tipping factor in the demise of the Russian empire in 1917.
  3. Peter the Great’s Westernization push reduces the population of the Russian heartland by 1/4. He leaves the country in a state of exhaustion. It takes an entire generation before empresses Elizabeth and Ekaterina the Great start capitalizing on the results of Peter’s achievements.
  4. The Communist modernization. A civil war, millions to exile, three major famines during peacetime, Gulag.

No wonder “revolution”, “reform”, “modernization”, “turnaround”, “breakthrough” are dirty words for most in Russia. The sustained popularity of President Putin comes from him rarely, if ever, saying these words. His interest in keeping the Kremlin coincides with the instincts of the majority who know all too well that a government dead bent on major changes is indeed a very bad omen for the mass of Russians.

This is how Putinist Russia became the face of anti-modernism across the world. A great irony is that many Western conservatives view Putin as their friend. They have no idea how obnoxiously progressivist the likes of them are for the man in the street in Russia.

russian commoners prepared to face down modernizers
A group of Russian seniors preparing to greet modernizers and progressivists in the government service.

Why did Russia have so many foreign rulers?

The colonization vector of Russia’s history made it natural for the rulers to surround themselves with foreigners and seek familial bonds with foreign royals

Actually, there were not too many “pure” foreigners among Russia’s rulers. Apart from a few Vikings as heads of the Kievan Rus, a Tatar Simeon Bekbulatovich, a few Poles in the beginning of XVII century, and Ekaterina II with her husband Peter III, the rest of our rulers were Russia-born and Russian-speaking. Not an overkill for soon 1,200 years of known royal history.

Colonization project

Yet, Russia started out as a Varangian colonial project. The framework of the established legacy required:

  • Foreign provenance of the ruling monarch. Up to the end of the XVI century our Czars were descendants of the Scandinavian chieftain Hroerik.
  • Imported religion: Greek Orthodoxy
  • Imported script: Greek/Bulgarian with elements of Hebrew/Khazarian
  • Imported state ideology: “Moscow is the Third Rome”, “Czar” as a derivative from Caesar.
  • Imported national symbols: St. George and the Byzantine two-headed eagle

Russian names, foreign blood

Characteristically, when a new dynasty was picked for the throne in the XVII century, their family name was Romanovy (“Romans”). When the Russian empire was proclaimed by Peter the Great, its new capital city got a German name St. Petersburg. In the middle of the XVIII century, ethnic Russians in the dynasty were supplanted by their German relatives.

Elite status

Due to the colonial nature of the Russian imperial rule, the class distinction of the ruling elite were Western clothes, lifestyle and education. Along with it came the propensity to select foreign nationals for the highest echelons of power. Even though Catherine the Great was the last foreign-born individual on the Russian throne, the subsequent Czars retained the tradition to marry daughters of German aristocrats with royal credentials.

Below, a Soviet movie poster “The Youth of Peter the Great“. The Czar’s European hairstyle and clothing are contrasted with the ethnic Oriental clothing of his boyars (top aristocracy) and his sister Sofia.

Soviet movie poster The Youth of Peter the Great
Soviet movie poster “The Youth of Peter the Great“. The movie was released in 1980.

What is Russian culture like?

Soviet legacy on the foundation of the aristocratic culture from the era of Romanovs defined the face of modern Russian civilization.

The modern Russian culture has its roots in the meteoric rise of imperial Russia in the 18th century. The Romanovs’ monarchy absorbed imported European (mainly German, but also French) elements on the substrate of Slav-Turkic-Ugric ethnicities in the Russian heartland. In the next, 19th century, the resulting mix gave rise in Moscow and St Petersburg to what we know now as the classic Russian culture.

Our culture has a pronounced aristocratic bend. It appeared among the educated Russian gentry as a counterpoint to the subjugated peasant masses. Even the “nativist” Slavophiliac tradition (now transformed into “Eurasianism”) has pronounced statist, imperial overtones. The romantic nationalism of the German/Scandinavian variation, with its 19th-century “soil and blood” legacy, has never got a foothold in our country.

This was only reinforced by the Communist rule. The progressivist, modernizing pathos of the Soviet rule was a marked counterpoint to the “backward” legacy of Slavic and Turkic traditional peasant communities. The rests of old peasant Russia were obliterated first by Stalin’s collectivization, then by WWII and later by the uniformity of Soviet urbanization.

Our culture thrives in its juxtaposition to the materialistic, gratification-seeking Western cultures. We also like to contrast it against the traditionalist, sedate, insulated stasis of Oriental countries.

In the pictures below, you can see how the modern Russian culture incorporates (1) military equipment as a symbol of the mighty Russian state, (2) technology as a symbol of modernity, (3) XIX-century Russian folk art as our national signifier.

ethnic tank
ethnic cannon
two ethnic tanks
ethnic cannon

The borders of Russian World

The “Russian world” is what at some point in time was controlled by the House of Romanov, or considered to be under their spiritual protection, or frequented by Russian colonizers.

In March 2014, at the pinnacle of nationalist sentiment leading to the annexation of Crimea, President Putin called Russia “one of the biggest, if not the biggest, divided nation in the world”. Loyalist experts explained to the puzzled world that “countries with large Russian populations can only survive if they take the needs of those people into account… [it] doesn’t mean that they have to join the Russian Federation, but it means that they should never think of opposing the Russian Federation.

In plain terms, Russia’s neighbors where Russian-speaking minorities experienced injustice ran the risk of losing the territories where these minorities lived. Just like this happened to Ukraine. On March 7, 2014, President Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov, announced that Putin was the guarantor of security in the Russian World

Where exactly are the borders of the Russian world? Pretty much where Russia’s territory goes now, with some additions:

  • Estonia and Latvia (large Russian minorities there)
  • Belarus (we consider them to be Russians that need to be rescued from under an unfortunate Polish influence)
  • Ukraine, with the possible exception of its fiercely nationalistic westernmost part. We see them as slightly retarded Russians that speak a weird archaic dialect.
  • Transdnestria, the Russian-speaking enclave in Moldova.
  • Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia with pro-Russian minorities.
  • The whole of Kazakhstan, or the northern part of it. Russians used to make up at least half of its population.
  • Alaska. It used to be Russian, before we made fools of ourselves selling it to Americans in the middle of 18th century.
  • Port-Artur and Dalian in China used to be our naval bases before the Japanese messed up with us a hundred years ago. We also built a railroad connecting Vladivostok with Siberia directly over the Chinese territory. Would be nice having these back.
  • Svalbard archipelago in Norway. We mean to be the first settlers there, not the Norwegians.
  • The entire Arctic Ocean in the triangle between the Bering Strait, the North Pole and the Russian border with Norway. If Alaska returns to Russia, we would like that additional slice of Arctic sector too.
  • Serbia + Montenegro + a selection of Orthodox monasteries in Greece would be an excellent addition to heartland Russia. Our brethren in the Balkans may have some doubts about losing their statehood, but we’ll explain how it is much better than being part of Godless, gay-loving, Muslim-infested Europe.
  • Armenia. The little nation’s only chance to withstand enmity from their Muslim neighbors.
  • Istanbul/Constantinople, with a sizable addition of adjoining territories. The Promised Land of Russian Orthodox church. Superior location for coronation of Russian presidents, winter Olympics and Mr Putin’s second winter residence.

The logic behind this is rather straightforward. The Russian world is the territories that at some point in time were controlled by the House of Romanov, or considered to be under their spiritual protection, or frequented by Russian colonizers.

Why all the wars in the west, when Russia has so much space in the east?

Russia has a vast territory. But there is not too much arable land. In order to get more of it, the Russian empire struggled to expand south and west.

Below is a map of the arable land of the former Soviet Union. As you can see, there are not many places to the north and east where you may want to live–unless you have any particular reasons to sustain climatic hardship. Such as manning military infrastructure, working oil fields, mining gold or generating power. Hence the unrelenting push westward of the Russian Empire, initiated by Peter the Great.

An ancillary reason was the obsession with strategic depth. As everyone has heard, both Napoleon’s and Nazi invasions into Russia failed primarily because of the great distances the invading force had to cover before decisive battles. Getting too far from home, their logistics collapsed, resources were drained, and it all ended as a catastrophe.

Any loss of territory in the west and south affects our food production and security much more than in the east. No wonder Russians, liberal or not, go ballistic at the mere thought of NATO troops stationed along the Ukrainian-Russian border.

arable land Russia and former soviet
Arable land on the territory of the former USSR

Chemical weapons on the Eastern front in WW1

Russia used chemical weapons in WW1 for its decisive operation, the Brusilov offensive

Russia was slow to adopt poison gases during WW1. The first episodic uses were reported in the second half of 1915 using imported French chlorine. During the summer of that year, large-scale production of chlorine started in Donetsk area and some other places. The production of phosgene and chloropicrin started as late as the end of 1916, in the Poltava governorship.

The Russia-produced chlorine was first deployed on March 21, 1916 in the vicinity of Minsk. Up to 10,000 shells were fired, but the gas concentration was too low to incur considerable damage on the enemy,

Gas mask

In August 1915, a university professor in Moscow Dmitri Zelinski and engineer from St Petersburg (Petrograd) Mikhail Kummant, created the first universal gas mask with the use of carbon filters. It was what later became a classic composite of rubber and glass. They proved very effective. By spring 1917 the front lines of Russian troops in the east were fully saturated with the masks. Total losses from poisonous gases on the Russian side during WW1 were estimated up to 56,000 dead and 420,000 incapacitated.

Successful use

One of the most successful uses was during the last victorious battle of the Russian Empire, Brusilov Offensive., It became one of the most lethal offensives in history with 2.000.000 troops lost on both sides. On June 4, 1916, artillery shells with chlorine were fired towards the positions of the Central Powers. Then, Russian infantry attacked their positions wearing gas masks. According to the Russian HQ, the attack was a success.

According to HQ Commander of the 7th Army General Nikolai Golovin, only during May 22th and 23rd, 1916 the Second Army Corps delivered 3,500 chemical munitions to Austrian positions. There is also documented use of chemical shells by the 9th Army of Infantry General Lechitsky during the Chernovtsy offensive.

Russian soldiers in WW1 wearing gas masks
The Zelinski-Kummant gas mask from the Imperial War Museums

Putin, the best ruler in Russian history

Putin is a much better ruler than Peter the Great.

President Putin is the best ruler Russia has had, so far. I compare the standard of living of myself, my family and friends to how my Dad and Mom had it at my age. It’s heaven and earth.

Russia has never in its history been better off.

The windfall from sky-high oil prices has of course much more significance for this than Putin’s merits as statesman. Yes, most of the oil wealth was siphoned off to the West by Putin’s friends or wasted on their palaces and yachts.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, this is an immensely more sensible use of money than trying to take Bosporus from Muslims or decimating Russians for the sake of the Communist utopia. Such waste would often be the top choice for many previous rulers.

Peter the Great, by the way, is a poor match for Putin. Peter built an empire by sacrificing at least a fifth of the population in the heartland of Muscovy and impoverishing the rest. Along the way, he stripped Old Russia of its medieval identity. Two centuries followed for millions of Slav, Turkic and Ugro-Finnish peasants, herdsmen, fishermen, and hunters under a quasi-colonial rule of bureaucracy and the military aristocracy. It all ended up in the bloodiest century of all.

Putin’s era brought much better outcomes at immensely smaller costs. Let’s hope Putin keeps it this way.