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Page 10 – The Russian Empire


Russian flag

1914 Map

Map of the Russian Empire

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General facts

  • Population: 167 million (1914)
  • Capital: St Petersburg (1914 population 2.2 million)

Because St Petersburg sounded ‘too German’, the city's name was officially changed to Petrograd on 31 August 1914.


  • Head of State: Tsar Nicholas II (20 October 1894 – 15 March 1917)
  • Head of Government:
    • Prime Minister Ivan Goremykin (12 February 1914 – 2 February 1916)
    • Prime Minister Boris Stürmer (2 February 1916 – 23 November 1916)
    • Prime Minister Alexander Trepov (23 November 1916 – 9 January 1917)
    • Prime Minister Prince Nikolai Galitsyn (9 January 1917 – 12 March 1917)

Under the Tsarist system the Tsar appointed both the prime minister and his cabinet. The elected State Duma (Parliament) had no say in either this process or the governing of the empire in general.

February Revolution 1917

  • Chairman of the Provisional Government Prince Georgy Lvov (15 March – 21 July 1917)
  • Chairman of the Provisional Government Alexander Kerensky (21 July 1917 – 8 November 1917)

In the face of widespread civil unrest and outbreaks of mutiny in the armed forces the Tsar’s government collapsed and the Tsar himself abdicated on 15 March 1917. A Provisional Government was formed by members of the existing Duma, while a more radical Petrograd Soviet emerged as an alternative centre of power. Initially the Petrograd Soviet co-operated with and deferred to the Provisional Government in what became known as the ‘Dual Authority’. The Bolsheviks focused on strengthening their position within the Soviet and increasing their support amongst workers and soldiers. Despite opposition from the Bolsheviks (and others), the Provisional Government kept Russia in the war and tried to maintain good relations with the other Allies.

October Revolution 1917

  • Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Vladimir Lenin (8 November 1917 – 21 January 1924)

The uneasy and tense relationship between the Bolsheviks and the Provisional Government ended when the Bolsheviks forcibly seized power in Petrograd and other key Russian cities on 7 November 1917 (25 October by the Julian calendar then used in Russia). The Bolshevik leadership had promised to withdraw from the war and quickly entered into negotiations with the Germans and Austrians. An armistice was agreed in December and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed in the new year.

Participation in the War

  • Entered the war: 1 August 1914 (Germany declared war on Russia)
  • Ceased hostilities: 15 December 1917 (armistice with Central Powers)
  • Ended belligerent status: 3 March 1918 (Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed with Central Powers  

Both the armistice and the subsequent peace treaty between Russia and the Central Powers were negotiated by the Russian Soviet Republic led by Lenin. The Russian Empire ceased to exist as a result of the cumulative effects of the February and October revolutions.

In the years following the revolutions, ethnic minorities and outer regions of the old empire asserted their independence. Some, such as Finland, were successful, while others, such as Ukraine, ultimately were not. Meanwhile anti-Bolshevik forces, aided by the Allies, regrouped to challenge the new regime in what became known as the Russian Civil War. 

Military Forces


  • Peacetime strength 1914: 1.4 million (including Guards Corps, Regular Army and Cossacks)
  • Reserves 1914: 5.1 million (including Regular Reserves, Cossack Reserves and the Imperial Militia)
  • Total mobilised 1914: 5.25 million
  • Total mobilised to November 1917: 15 million


  • Peacetime strength 1914: 60,000

Fleet (1914)

  • Battleships (Dreadnoughts): 2
  • Battleships (pre-Dreadnoughts): 11
  • Cruisers: 8
  • Light cruisers: 5
  • Destroyers: 106
  • Submarines: 36



(not including losses in the Russian Civil War)

  • Dead (all causes): 1.7 million
  • Wounded: 3.5 million


  • Alan Clark, Suicide of the Empires: The Battles on the Eastern Front 1914–18, BPC, London, 1971
  • Nik Cornish, The Russian Army 1914–18, Osprey, Oxford, 2001
  • Geoffrey Jukes, The Eastern Front 1914–1918, Osprey, Oxford, 2002

How to cite this page

The Russian Empire, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated