CAIRO – 13 June 2021: World War I saw the collapse of huge empires, including the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas II.
When Nicholas II declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in July 1914, he was the absolute ruler of a kingdom of nearly 150 million people that stretched from central Europe to the Pacific Ocean and from the fringes of Afghanistan to the Arctic.
Less than three years later, in March 1917, after soldiers in Petrograd joined the striking workers to protest Nicholas' rule, he was forced to abdicate.
The following July, Bolshevik revolutionaries took him and his family to a basement and shot them, ending the three-century rule of the Romanov dynasty.
Soon, amid the ruins of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union emerged as a world power, according to the History website.
"The collapse without World War I would have been possible, but in my opinion uncertain," explains Stephen Miner, a professor of history at Ohio University who specializes in Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.
Before the war, Russia was at a critical crossroads, some argue that Russia was slowly developing more modern political and social institutions, that it had a vibrant culture, and highly educated elite. Russia had survived the turmoil of the 1905 revolution, and had the fastest growing economy in the world before 1914.
The Tsarist regime faced many threats to stability, from harsh urban working conditions to labor strife that the Tsar's soldiers tried to put down through the massacres of gold miners in Siberia in 1912.
To make matters worse, Nicholas II had begun to roll back the limited democratic reforms he had agreed to in 1905.
The decrepit Tsarist regime's determination to hold onto power hampered modernization efforts and, as a result, "the Russian Empire lagged behind the rest of Europe in terms of economic and industrial strength."