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Rise of Russian Nationalism and Imperialism During the Reign of Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II

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Russia’s nationalism and imperialism stemmed from historical events. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte commanded his strong army to begin attacks against Russia in June 1812. At the time of Russia’s attack, Napoleon was one of Europe’s most powerful political leaders and military commanders. He had become accustomed to defeating states whose rulers opposed his idea of controlling the European continent. His military proficiency created a war concept and period that were named after him. Russia’s Tzar Alexander I resisted Napoleon’s effort to dominate Europe, making him a foe to the French. By invading Russia, Napoleon made a mistake that led to the destruction of his army and the end of his reign as he fled to exile. Russia’s victory against France led to a myth of national patriotism, which influenced the country’s nationalism and imperialism in Europe.

France gained significant control of European territories before planning the invasion in Russia. However, Russia posed a challenge to Napoleon’s plans to increase his influence across the continent. While Russian relations with France were soaring, Alexander I was worried about Napoleon’s insatiable desire for power and feared that France would help Poland achieve independence and isolate Russia from other European countries. Napoleon informed his new ambassador in Moscow that he intended to end Russia’s influence in the region. When Alexander I asked the Polish leadership to crown him as the king, Napoleon maintained his support for Polish independence. While arguing about Poland, Russia’s economy deteriorated as a result of a continental ban on trade with Britain. The worse economic situation deepened Alexander I’s hostility toward France, compelling Napoleon to conclude that military force was the only mechanism of resolving the conflict. Therefore, Napoleon attacked Russia due to political differences.

While crossing into Russia, Napoleon relied on the support of various European powers. French forces collaborated with Austrian, Italian, Polish, and German troops to attack Russia. As a strong military power, France could coerce other states in the region to support its missions to avoid conflicts. While Napoleon’s subordinate commanders were battle-hardened, he granted them substantial autonomy to launch attacks in large parts of Russia. However, Alexander I’s unpredictable plans prevented Napoleon from achieving his objectives. Napoleon’s army of more than 600, 000 troops managed to reach territories as far as six hundred miles away from the Russian border, but the country’s smaller and weaker army retreated deeper as the enemy advanced. In areas where battles ensued, Alexander I avoided sending his entire force into combat or pleading for truce. Napoleon was disappointed that most forces and civilians had fled by the time his troops entered Russia. He was also shocked that Alexander I was not interested in negotiations. His army’s continued stay in the Russian capital was disastrous as winter set in, and troops were inadequately prepared for the cold weather. Besides, Napoleon could not feed the large army he had assembled to attack Russia, which compounded challenges that he faced. By moving deeper into the country, Napoleon omitted the three-month period of good weather that he predicted.

The most significant outcome of the Napoleonic War was the Russians’ interpretation of the victory. The formal 1812 Tsarist myth insisted that the leadership’s call for people to unite to defeat an invader of their land inspired Russians. The country’s leadership stressed the theme of national patriotism at the anniversary of 1812, which influenced citizens’ beliefs in the 1905 Revolution and First World War. The Tsarist myth was not significantly different from other European countries’ principles. For example, German nationalism was developed around a myth of a nation rising to arms in 1813 in response to their leader’s appeal to drive the French from national territory in a series of battles. Despite distortions of the Soviet interpretation of the Napoleonic War, official recognition of the conflict was similar to the views of the most important 19th-century mythmakers. For instance, Tolstoy illustrated Russian patriotism as the most uniting factor in the country’s defense of its territory. Despite attempts to distort the nationalist myth about Russia’s achievements in the Napoleonic War, the country recognized the influence of people’s unity on the victory.

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Russia also became the driving force in negotiations for creating a new European order. At the Congress of Vienna, Alexander I’s intentions were regarded as admirable in the Russian history. The Russian leader wished that all individuals could help one another like brothers to meet mutual needs and promote freed trade to unify the society. Despite a few liberal principles, Russia aimed at restoring peace and creating a new balance of power in Europe, while preventing the French from rising to a powerful position again. As a result of Russia’s new status in Europe, the Congress of Vienna’s discussions were based on Christian values that Alexander I revered. Initiatives promoted by Russia led to the emergence of the Holy Alliance, a cooperation among Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Moreover, the country joined France and the United Kingdom to facilitate an international diplomacy and avert possible crises. In such a way, the changes highlighted Russia’s new status in the region, and other countries had to mind its force.

While entering into treaties with other states, the Russian leadership focused on meeting imperial interests. Nicholas I’s dictatorial rule lasted several decades as the leader wanted to take control of the Ottoman Empire after defeating Turks, helping Greece gain independence and expanding Russia’s regional influence. After supporting Ottoman Sultan to suppress the uprising by Egypt’s Mohammed Ali, the ruler was allowed to use Turkish straits as other states rejected the decision. Russia’s determination to conquer the Ottoman Empire and control its resources intensified, resulting in the First World War. Encouraged by the victory against Napoleon, Russia was emboldened to pursue its imperial interests in Europe as they expanded its control over different territories.

Leadership alterations did not change Russian imperialist tendencies. The death of Nicholas I ushered in the reign of Alexander II who ruled between 1855 and 1881 before he was assassinated. While Alexander II initiated reforms that ended the Crimean War, Russia turned to expansionary plans that led to annexation of territories in the Amur region of China. The state also overpowered various regimes, including Khiva in Turkestan, before defeating the Tashkent and compelling people to abandon their land. Besides, Russia’s imperialism was evident in 1877 when it restarted wars in the Balkans to free Bulgaria from the Turkish colonization before the signing of the1878 Treaty of Berlin. The agreement established different Christian nation-states in the Balkans and forced migration of some populations. Russia’s rapid expansionism inspired other European nations to implement strategies for demonstrating their influence in the region and beyond. For instance, the German Chancellor Bismarck called for the 1884 Conference of Berlin to plan for the scramble of Africa. The conference was perceived as Germany’s strategy for demonstrating to Russia and other European states, such as the Great Britain and France, that it was equally powerful. The Young Turks reform movement in the Ottoman Empire worried about Russian expansionism and regarded Germany as a reliable ally in enhancing protection against Alexander II’s aggression. Therefore, Russia’s belief in expansionism was evident in a wide range of activities in Europe.

The rise in Russian nationalism and imperialism after the Napoleon War resulted in conflicts with other states as the country expanded its leadership in the European region. In the 19th century, Russian imperialism strengthened its authority over different states in the region. While the nation was brutal toward minority groups, its undefined borders helped it in territorial expansion. For instance, the need to convert pasturelands into agricultural and industrial colonies created conflicts between the government and nomadic neighbors. The Great Game involving disagreements between Russian and British colonies in Central Asia was a result of the two countries’ focus on strengthening their leadership in the region. The government was also adept at relying on local elites to promote the imperial agenda and achieve its objectives with minimal resistance. As Russia engaged in expansionary programs, it faced opposition from communities and nations determined to protect their territories.

Russia’s victory in the Napoleonic War led to myths of patriotism, which strengthened the country’s nationalism and imperialism. The formal Tsarist myth indicated that the national call for people to show patriotism by defeating an invader united Russians. The government’s recognition of the myth was instrumental in rallying the public to support future expansionary conquests. As a result of Russia’s rise as a great power in Europe, the nation became a key party to agreements for recreating the balance of power in the region. The state’s influence on the Treaty of Vienna and the Holy Alliance demonstrated its high rank among European nations. Successive Russian leaders relied on the myth of patriotism to pursue imperial interests, which often resulted in conflicts with other countries.

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Rise of Russian Nationalism and Imperialism During the Reign of Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
“Rise of Russian Nationalism and Imperialism During the Reign of Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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