Brusilov’s offensive against Austria-Hungary looked for a while like it would restore Russia’s fortunes. Austria-Hungary seemed on the brink of collapse, and if it were to fall then Germany would find itself surrounded and cut off from it Turkish ally. But ultimately the offensive failed. The Germans came to the aid of their ally and prevented the downfall of Austria-Hungary. The huge expenditure of Russian blood appears to have been for nothing.
Unrest is beginning to grip Russia. Its leaders have not been prepared for a long war of this destructive magnitude. Despite the country being primarily rural and agricultural, the dislocation of conflict means that food is increasingly scarce in the cities. Workers are seeing the value of their wages eroded by inflation. Strikes are breaking out in the cities as people struggle to improve their situation or prevent its further deterioration. The city workers are defying the authorities in their attempts at repression.
The country is increasingly gripped by a sense that its rulers are not up to the job. This affects all classes of society. The poor may well feel that the aristocrats do not have their interests at heart, but many of those further up the social ladder despair of the Tsar and his ability to rule the country effectively. He appears to be surrounding himself with incompetent toadies whose only attribute is their obsequiousness towards him.
Some see the Tsar and his associates as simply incompetent, but others mutter that perhaps they are deliberately sabotaging Russia’s war effort. The Tsarina is by birth a German, so rumours abound that she leads a clique of traitors. She is also the subject of lurid gossip about the true nature of her relationship with Rasputin, her spiritual advisor. Of peasant background, Rasputin has an earthy quality that lends itself well to suggestions that he does not lead the life of chastity one expects from a true holy man.
Russia’s problems are systemic, but some in the elite wonder if a change of personnel at the top might turn around the country’s fortunes. Ousting the Tsar is unthinkable, but if Rasputin could somehow be removed, perhaps the Tsar could be persuaded to accept more sensible advisors.