Tsar Nicholas abdicatesComments
1917: March 15
On March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicolas II – ruler of Russia since 1894 – was forced to abdicate in favour of his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, due to overwhelming negative public opinion. The Grand Duke refused the throne, leaving an interim government in charge before the revolution in November 1917 which instated Lenin’s Communist government.
The abdication marked the beginning of Russia’s gradual exit from World War I, signing a peace treaty with the Germans in 1918 to concentrate on internal reform.
The losses on the Eastern Front were the last straw against the Tsar for many Russians. Tsar Nicolas was not a popular ruler even in peacetime, due to his autocratic aspirations in a time of change while simultaneously being a weak and ineffectual leader on and off the battlefield.
His military disaster of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5 led to devastating losses and civil unrest, which he had only been able to calm by promising representative government and increased civil liberties in 1905. Yet he reversed these concessions, contrary to the desires of the increasingly powerful radical forces in the country like Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
When Tsar Nicholas once again led Russia into another costly war, tensions rose again, sharply, with workers in the city of Petrograd striking due to chronic food shortages, and desire for representation and socialist reforms. When the war-weary soldiers joined the strike in March 1917 to protest their poor equipment and the Tsar’s general incompetence, the Tsar was forced to step down.
Following the abdication notice, Russian High Command, supported by the revolutionaries, imprisoned the Tsar and his family in Ekaterinburg, where they were executed by the Bolsheviks a year later. The loss of the royal family meant that the weak interim government enabled Lenin’s Bolsheviks to seize power in November and led to the eventual collapse of the Eastern Front. This meant that German forces were no longer fighting the war on three sides, and could focus on making gains on the Western front.