If I had to decide who was the biggest “loser” of WWI, my answer would be this: not Britain, France or Germany, but Russia.
Russia didn’t just lose between 1.8 and 2.2 million dead in the war itself. The (German-supported) Bolshevik coup d’etat meant that the whole former empire was swept up in a vicious and wide-ranging civil war. According to Orlando Figes, anywhere between five and ten million died in that war from warfare, political terrorism and artificial famine.
Yet the Russian effort in the East is almost entirely unreported in all the chatter surrounding the centennial. There are more books and article on small parts of the Somme, 3rd Ypres or the Meusse-Argonne than, say, the Brusilov Offensive or the massive battles around Galicia between 1914-1916. Many know of Vimy Ridge, far less know of the siege of Przemysl. This is not just an insult to the many who fell in these titanic struggles, it also creates an utterly distorted understanding of the war, as though the Western Front was the only major front of the war, rather than the twin of the East.
No doubt further research would show that the Russians were not just the incompetent bunglers of Tannenberg, but even if most were, it would miss the broader point: Just by existing, the Russian army tied down a substantial portion of the German army from 1915-1917, as well as much of the Austro-Hungarian army.
If people who study the British or French war effort think that doesn’t matter, consider this: Imagine if Russia had collapsed a year earlier, in 1917, and the German 1918 offensives happened then, with the French Army in semi-mutiny. Even if the Russian Army wasn’t the learning institution it would become in the second great conflict, their sacrifice helped win the war.
The Russians bled no less, and in the long run far more, than those who fought and died in the trenches in France and Flanders. They deserve far more than cursory mention and reliance on cliches and stereotypes.