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Tsar Nicholas II and the Sebian "Blank Check"

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Current prevailing wisdom is that Germany bears most of the responsibility for World War I due in no small part to the so-called “blank check” to Austria-Hungary, discussed in my prior post, as well as its expansionist designs. Perhaps this view is most cogently propagated by Max Hastings in a recent (outstanding) BBC documentary, A Necessary War.

Yet, Tsar Nicholas II issued a very similar “blank check” to Serbia in February of 1914, and in 1914 Serbia was a lawless state with a sordid record of assassinations, attempted assassinations and regicide. Indeed, there is powerful evidence that Russia actually funded the terrorist activities of Serbia, and at least was willfully blind to Serbian complicity in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. And, there is little doubt Russia had its own expansionary designs, with its sights set on a warm water port in the Balkans. (Wawro, 51).

Therefore I contend that Tsar Nicholas and Russia bear more responsibility for World War I and its tragic consequences than the Kaiser and Germany.

This contention rests first on the nature of Serbia in 1914 as an outlaw state. Serbia’s Head of Military Intelligence, Apis (a.k.a. Dragutin Dimitrijevic) and his activities (including a confession of leading the conspiracy to assassinate Franz Ferdinand) prove the point. This man was a one man assassination machine. He was leader in the military coup that unseated and murdered King Alexander in 1903. In 1911, he plotted to assassinate Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Apis was a founder of the Black Hand, a terrorist organization that sought Serbian expansion. He led the plot to kill Franz Ferdinand and his links to the Serbian Government implicated Serbia at the highest level. (Clark, 48).

Indeed, four days before the assassination in Sarajevo, Prime Minister Nicholas Pasic stated: “All our allies and friends, if they knew what our officers and Sargents are doing, would not only abandon us, they would stand on the side of Austria-Hungary.” (Clark, 58-59). Simply put, the prime minister knew that “assassinations” were brewing in Serbia. (Id.).

More importantly, according to the Apis confession not only did he orchestrate the assassination but he did it with Russian complicity. (Taylor, 196-201). And, the Russian agent, Col. Artamonov the military attache in Belgrade, admitted in 1930 that Russia funded the Black Hand, even while denying foreknowledge of the Assassination. (Clark, 411-412).

So, fundamentally, Tsarist Russia backed a terrorist state–a far greater sin than Germany’s blank check to Austria-Hungary. And, consider the nature of support. On Feruary 2, 1914, the Tsar told Prime Minister Pasic: “For Serbia we shall do everything.” On July 27, 1914, the Tsar personally reaffirmed the blank check to Serbia stating: “but if, despite everything, there is war you can rest assured that Russia will never abandon Serbia to her fate.”

On July 27, the only demand of Austria on Serbia that Serbia could not accept was for a joint investigation of the Sarajevo Assassination. Russia rejected Austria-Hungary’s right to any such investigation and would not require Serbia to undertake such an investigation. Russia wanted war instead of an investigation.

More specifically, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov told Austrian diplomats on July 8, 1914, that any demand for Serbian government support for an investigation was unacceptable, and that “no proof” of Serbian complicity would ever emerge. (Clark, 408-409). Further, Sazonov urged Serbia to reject outright any joint inquiry with Austria into the Sarajevo Assassination. (Id. at 455 and 465).

The bottom line is either Tsarist Russia knew of Serbian (as well as its own) complicity and desperately wanted it covered-up, or it was willfully blind to the truth and would rather plunge the world into war than learn the truth.

The Russian Empire under Tsar Nicholas was grossly negligent if not affirmatively lawless in its support of Serbia. The Russian disinclination to permit an investigation into the assassination is simply inexplicable.


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