Soviet Union Table of Contents
Russia's large population enabled it to field a greater number of troops than Austria-Hungary and Germany combined, but its underdeveloped industrial base meant that its soldiers were as poorly armed as those of the Austrian army. Russian forces were inferior to Germany's in every respect except numbers. Generally, the larger Russian armies defeated the Austro-Hungarians but suffered reverses against German or combined German-Austrian forces unless the latter were overextended.
In the initial phase of the war, Russia's offensives into East Prussia drew enough German troops from the Western Front to allow the French, Belgians, and British to stabilize it. One of Russia's two invading armies was almost totally destroyed, however. Meanwhile, the Russians turned back an Austrian offensive and pushed into eastern Galicia. The Russians halted a combined GermanAustrian winter counteroffensive into Russian Poland, and in early 1915 they pushed more deeply into Galicia. Then in the spring and summer of that year, a German-Austrian offensive drove the Russians out of Galicia and Poland and destroyed several Russian army corps. In 1916 the Germans planned to drive France out of the war with a large-scale attack in the Verdun area, but a new Russian offensive against Austria-Hungary once again drew German troops from the west. These actions left both major fronts stable and both Russia and Germany despairing of victory: Russia because of exhaustion, Germany because of its opponents' superior resources. Toward the end of 1916, Russia came to the rescue of Romania, which had just entered the war, and extended the Eastern Front south to the Black Sea. Russia had between 4 and 5 million casualties in World War I.
Wartime agreements among the Allies reflected the imperialist aims of the Triple Entente and the Russia Empire's relative weakness outside of eastern Europe. Russia nonetheless expected impressive gains from a victory: territorial acquisitions in eastern Galicia from Austria, in East Prussia from Germany, and in Armenia from the Ottoman Empire; control of Constantinople and the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits; and territorial and political alteration of Austria-Hungary in the interests of Romania and the Slavic peoples of the region. Britain was to acquire the middle zone of Iran and share much of the Arab Middle East with France; Italy--not Russia's ally Serbia--was to acquire Dalmatia; Japan was to control more territory in China; and France was to regain Alsace-Lorraine and to have increased influence in western Germany.
Data as of May 1989