The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831

by John P. LeDonne

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At its height, the Russian empire covered eleven time zones and stretched from Scandinavia to the Pacific Ocean. Arguing against the traditional historical view that Russia, surrounded and threatened by enemies, was always on the defensive, John P. LeDonne contends that Russia developed a long-term strategy not in response to immediate threats but in line with its own expansionist urges to control the Eurasian Heartland. LeDonne narrates how the government from Moscow and Petersburg expanded the empire by deploying its army as well as by extending its patronage to frontier societies in return for their serving the interests of the empire. He considers three theaters on which the Russians expanded: the Western (Baltic, Germany, Poland); the Southern (Ottoman and Persian Empires); and the Eastern (China, Siberia, Central Asia). In his analysis of military power, he weighs the role of geography and locale, as well as economic issues, in the evolution of a larger imperial strategy. Rather than viewing Russia as peripheral to European Great Power politics, LeDonne makes a powerful case for Russia as an expansionist, militaristic, and authoritarian regime that challenged the great states and empires of its time.

  • Oxford University Press; December 2003
  • ISBN: 9780195347692
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831
  • Author: John P. LeDonne
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Superb treatment of Russia's strategic geography. In analyzing the implications of terrain features, riverine systems, trade routes, populations densities, and the like, LeDonne is both erudite and impressive, surpassing any other author I have read on these subjects in any language."--Journal of Modern History
"LeDonne's work does provide a useful analytical framework for understanding Russian foreign policy across the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, offering a sufficient level of detail while remaining accessible to the non-specialist. This book would be a welcome addition to a library of works on Russia or strategic thought."--Captain William H. Mengel, Instructor, Department of History, US Military Academy
"[A] provocative book"--Herbert H. Kaplan, The Russian Review
"A valuable work, both for its treatment of historical details and for its thesis that a long-lasting grand strategy existed. Whether other scholars of this period accept or reject this thesis, they would be foolish to ignore it."--Journal of Slavic and Military Studies
"After reading this book no student of Tsarist history will ever be able to think quite the same way about Imperial Russia. This masterful analysis reminds us that the Russian empire was not acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness but rather was conscious work of generations of statesmen and soldiers. Tying together diplomacy, politics, strategy, and economics, LeDonne uncovers the principles that shaped this empire building and their evolution to the high point of Tsarist power in Eurasia and lays bare the inner mainsprings of Russia's abiding imperial vocation."--Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College
"A groundbreaking geopolitical study the book is rich in knowledge and insight-a godsend for lecturers and a gold mine for graduate students in search of dissertation topics."--CHOICE
"LeDonne's compelling book is erudite and powerfully argued. LeDonne argues that Russia has had for centuries a Grand Strategy whose aim has been to control the Eurasian Heartland. This blunt and abstract vision will not please everyone. LeDonne's work is neither traditional diplomatic history nor new international history. But it is a perspective that needs to be debated, assimilated, thought through. The implications may be of great importance and not just to historians."--Daniel Orlovsky, Southern Methodist University
"LeDonne's work constitutes a scholarly tour de force, examining in depth the complex interplay among ends, ways, and means in shaping Russia's transition from insular polity to far-flung empire. The author analyzes the roles played over nearly two centuries by land, resources, ideology, and policy in meeting the requirements of offensive intent and design. In addition to viewing the evolution of the military means within their full grand strategic context, another of LeDonne's major contributions is his treatment of the role that geography and locale played in the evolution of the larger design."--Bruce W. Menning, United States Army Command and General Staff College
"Capping many years of original research, writing, and reflection, this original and challenging interpretation goes a long way in explaining not only the past role but also the present problems of Russia's imperial legacy. Readers will find much useful information and many stimulating ideas that throw a novel light on the history of Eurasia over the last four centuries."--Marc Raeff, Columbia University
"LeDonne's work does provide a useful analytical framework for understanding Russian foreign policy across the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, offering a sufficient level of detail while remaining accessible to the non-specialist. This book would be a welcome addition to a library of works on Russia or strategic thought."--Captain William H. Mengel, Instructor, Department of History, US Military Academy


About The Author

John P. LeDonne is a Senior Research Associate at the Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University. He is the author of The Russian Empire and the World, 1700-1917 (OUP, 1997), Absolutism and Ruling Class: The Formation of the Russian Political Order, 1700-1825 (OUP, 1991), and Ruling Russia: Politics and Administration in the Age of Absolutism, 1762-1796.