251. Life is going on
“What will happen to Russia if the person who reigns over it is not able to control himself and allows his passions to command himself and cannot even resist them?”
Russia from 1860
Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, mother of AII
“We talked about Sasha. He needs to have more strength of character, otherwise he will die... He is too in love and weak-willed and easily influenceable.”
“Revolution is a disastrous attempt to jump from Monday to Wednesday but an attempt to get back from Monday to Sunday will be equally disastrous.”
“...When a sovereign talks to a smart man, he has an expression of a rheumatist standing in a draft.”
Alexander II was somewhat a mystery for pretty much everybody because, to paraphrase expression of the late Fieldmarshal Munnich, nobody could figure out if he a fish or meat. Unlike his father who, for good or bad, had a very strong personality and was an outspoken conservative, Alexander had very little in the terms of the personal convictions or a strong will and, in general, had been driven by a wish to maneuver between the conservatives and liberals. Which, of course, did not prevent him from being extremely cruel, as was the case with his “pacification” of the Caucasus. To be fair, this cruelty was generally well-received by a majority on both sides of the political spectrum: the liberals of that period tended to make a special case for the “barbarians” and “natives” considering cruelty as the regrettable but unfortunately only available method of bringing civilization to them. There were some minor unhappy noises domestically and abroad but, generally, it was accepted as a fact accompli with a part of the blame going to the Ottomans for not organizing their side of a process properly. Domestic excitement about finally closing this chapter greatly overweighted the negative voices.
Like his father, with his famous “basilisk stare”, he tended to play a role of an absolute ruler in public but, unlike his father, not too successfully. As wrote Tutcheva, his wife’s lady-in-waiting “His facial features were correct, but appearance was loose and not clear enough, his eyes were big, blue, but his gaze was not inspired; in short, his face was inexpressive and there was even something unpleasant in cases when he considered himself obliged to take a solemn or majestic look in public ... when he allowed himself to be himself, his whole face was illuminated by a kind smile that made him truly attractive.”
His family life was fitting the general behavioral pattern. Empress Maria Alexandrovna was keenly interested in politics and at the startvof his reign was often present at reading diplomatic dispatches and military reports. It is not surprising that Alexander II willingly consulted with his wife, who was always aware of the reports of his ministers. However, the idyll of joint works for the benefit of the fatherland did not last long, such a pattern would look too good and implausible. The emperor's trust in his wife caused jealousy of his inner circle (in addition, it was too different from the relationship between Nikolai Pavlovich and Alexandra Fedorovna), and the courtiers began to whisper to him that there was a rumor that Maria Alexandrovna was leading him, and therefore is the co-ruler of the state. This whisper fell on the prepared soil, since childhood the assumption that he could be someone's "slave" was the most offensive for Alexander Nikolaevich. The rumor that he is "under his wife's heel" was offensive not only to the monarch, but also to any adult man (it does not matter whether such a rumor was fair or not). It is not surprising that Alexander soon stopped talking to the Empress about the state affairs and generally began to treat her quite coldly. From now on, if she wanted to worry about someone, she had to turn to the ministers, direct applications to her husband's caused only a sharp rebuachment.
A turning point, a certain watershed in their relations was, according to most contemporaries and researchers, the illness and sudden death of the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Nikolai Alexandrovich.
He fell ill either as a result of falling from a horse or from a blow to the corner of a marble table during a joking struggle with the Prince of Leuchtenberg. And at first, relatives did not pay much attention to the bruise of the spine, not noticing that the Tsarevich turned pale, lost weight, sometimes could not straighten his back and walked a little hunched. He only got the reproaches of others for deliberately "walking as an old man." Meanwhile, the disease was progressing and exhausted organism was not strong enough to resist. However, not only the Grand Duke's relatives, but also the medical specialists who observed him were not attentive enough. They treated Nikolai Alexandrovich from rheumatism or some other neuralgic ailment, while the disease began to keep the heir in bed, first for weeks, then for months. Only after that he was advised to go for treatment in Nice, where French doctors made a fatal diagnosis - spinal tuberculosis. In the spring of 1865, the condition of the heir became critical, and the royal couple with their sons Vladimir and Alexei arrived in the south of France. The Tsar's train crossed Europe at an unprecedented speed for those years, in just 85 hours.
It's hard to believe, but even here, during the deadly illness of the beloved eldest son, decency dictated their will to Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna. The Empress visited the Grand Duke every day after a mandatory drive in an open carriage. But one day Nikolai Alexandrovich felt worse and to started going to rest during his mother's usual visit hours. As a result, they did not see each other for several days and Maria Alexandrovna shared with one of the ladies-in-waiting her annoyance at this circumstance. "Why don't you go at another hour?" lady-in-waiting was surprised. "No, it's uncomfortable for me," the Empress replied, unable to disturb the established order even when it came to the life of her beloved son.
Alexander Nikolaevich was haunted by the suspicion that maybe it was he who became the unwitting cause of Tsarevich's disease. As a child, the heir was a fragile, too pampered child, and in order to correct this deficiency, his father ordered him to exercise hard, which led, albeit accidentally, to a sad outcome. Which was actually true. Alexander’s attempt to do the best went along the traditional Russian lines “wanted as better and ended up as always”. The curriculum was extremely taxing including not only the rigorous physical exercises (mandatory military drill which started at the age of 4 and at 6 he was already participating in the military parades, riding, dancing, etc.) but also very broad an intensive academic program which Tsesarevich was taking quite seriously. The personal qualities of Nikolai Alexandrovich began to manifest themselves in the training. It was restless, curious (interested in everything up to soothsayers and turning tables!), fast, hasty - could not even listen to the teacher's question - a cheerful boy who was "polite, friendly and well-mannered, observant and cautious in words and actions." His younger brother was more sustained and not quick in his decisions, having a habit of slowly thinking about the answer from all sides. Somewhat of a dissonance from a general chorus of excitement was opinion of his teacher of Law, Pobedonostsev, who said that he actually is not seriously interested in the studies.  Nicholas was not very strong and, like his father, he had “eager to please” character and never objected or complained. Eventually, his health was deteriorating to a noticeable degree and the program was somewhat scaled down but the damage already had been done. The physical trauma came as a last straw.
On April 11, 1865, Alexander Nikolaevich was woken up at six o'clock in the morning and reported that "tsesarevich is weakening." On the same day, Nikolai Alexandrovich died, and on April 16, the coffin with the body of the heir was transferred to the frigate "Alexander Nevsky", which arrived in St. Petersburg on the 28th of the same month.
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was declared heir to the throne and soon had been forced to marry to his late brother’s fiance, Princess Dagmara of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna). 
The new Tsesarevich, whose education was so far “taken easy”, had been put through the crash course of the studies deemed necessary for his new position and soon enough there was a first signal that he has his own views, which are not necessarily fit into the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. When being lectured by his professor of economics on the virtues of free trade he objected that in its present state Russian manufacturing is not, yet, ready for a free competition and will be destroyed by the foreign imports.
Shrunk as it was into almost statistical insignificance, a serfdom was formally there and there were increasingly louder voices demanding its formal abolition while, OTOH, the landowners who still hanged to it had been equally vocal about retaining it and, while not being numerous, they were not insignificant politically because quote often they were forming the most active and energetic groups in the provincial noble assemblies. Plus, administrative apparatus of the Russian Empire included both supporters and opponents of this reform and bureaucrats were the empire’s true ruling force. And, as an additional factor, there were serfs themselves: some of them held a “legalistic” view regarding the land ownership (I already mentioned this earlier) but some expected that they’ll get all land of their owners for free.
Take, for example, the estate of L. H. Tolstoy  Yasnaya Polyana. It was mortgaged in a bank for 20 thousand rubles a long time ago, and Tolstoy paid a significant part of his income to repay the debt. K. H. Kavelin advised him to gather his peasants and agree with them on the conditions for liberation from serfdom and the further functioning of the estate. In June 1857, Lev Nikolaevich proposed to the village assembly to release its members on the following terms: the landlord provided each family with several acres of arable land, and in payment for land and freedom he received 20 rubles a year from each family for thirty years. Of these, 4 rubles were to go to the bank to pay the debt, and the rest - to the residence of the lord's family. The Serfs did not agree to Tolstoy's proposal, because according to their firm conviction they should have received freedom and land from the Emperor free of charge.
Well, AII wanted the thing done and he proceeded the traditional way that historically rarely produced any results: in 1861 he ordered his Minister of Interior, S.S.Lanskoy, to assemble all materials on the subject. Lanskoy was, in general, supportive of his liberal subordinates but at the same time, he listened attentively to the emperor's opinion, not wanting to get ahead of him or lag behind the monarch's plans. The old dignitary perfectly understood how dangerous both the first and the second could be for the case. Special Secret Committee had been created and Alexander expressed a naive opinion that within six months everything will be done. Taking into an account that his father was actively involving him in the state affairs, this was not a naïveté but plain stupidity . When Lanskoy died in 1862 the work was still “in progress”. Being pissed off with the delays (and also being pushed by his aunt, Grand Duchess Helen Pavlovna, the most progressive member of the imperial family with the exception of Constantine who was away in Hungary), Alexander created a new Editorial Commission with the explicit goal to write a reform. Unlike the Secret Committee, it involved elected representatives of the nobility and had been chaired by Count V. N. Panin, a former Minister of Justice of Nicholas I. Count’s most remarkable feature was a complete absence of a backbone when it was coming to communication with a sovereign. On his own he was a conservative but this did not matter because, as he wrote about himself:
«Whatever my personal beliefs, I consider it my duty first of all to subordinate them to the emperor's will... If in any way, directly or indirectly, appears that the sovereign looks at the matter differently from me, then I have a duty to immediately retreat from my beliefs and act completely contrary to them even with more energy than if I were guided by my own beliefs..
Addresses written by noble deputies can be conditionally divided into three groups. The first stated that the liberation of peasants means the complete ruin of their owners and cannot but affect the very foundations of the state. The authors of another group of addresses agreed to grant peasants freedom, but at the same time proposed to create an economic and administrative department common to all classes and based on elective principles in order to conduct the transition period without shocking the foundations. Still others demanded the convening of commissioners from the nobles, who, under the leadership of the emperor, would create a new reform project.
Besides garbage, the addresses contained reasonable and even prophetic ideas. Some deputies saw in the draft Editorial Commission an open desire of the authorities to remove the nobility from any influence on the peasantry. Anticipating a sharp strengthening of the bureaucracy as a result of the government-style reform, the deputies warned the emperor that the transformations in the village should be accompanied by mandatory changes in the political structure of Russia. Public control over the activities of officials is really necessary, but was Russian society ready to act in the national interest? On the other hand, the abolition of only private serfdom and the preservation of the full dependence of all classes on the throne created a dangerous distortion in relations between society and the state.
The addresses and their conclusions got Alexander extremely irritated. He declared that nothing is going to deter him from the chosen course and that the only question is (such a trifle
) how to complete it. Which meant: should it been done by the state or should the society play certain role as well? Choice of Panin was actually indicative of an answer: he was a bureaucrat and AII had all reasons to think that when push comes to shove he will be able to force bureaucracy to do what he wants. And reactionary part of nobility will be powerless. The final document had been composed with a rather “creative approach” to the proposals and in 1865 the resulting document sent to the State Council, which task had been made clear by the statement made by Alexander on the opening session: “I demand from the State Council that it [peasant business] was over in the first half of February... I repeat, and it's my indispensable will to make it over now...”
The time table was obvious: Alexander wanted to celebrate the 5th anniversary of his reign with some major legislative act.  The voting went paragraph by paragraph with neither side getting obvious advantage but this did not matter because the Emperor had a decisive voice. The “reactionaries” managed to get something by leaving 20% of the agricultural land
 in the hands of landowners, the serfs had been saddled with the release payments and some temporary obligations toward the owners. But the main thing was unchanged - serfdom in Russia formally came to an end. On February 19, 1865, Alexander II wrote on the first page of the adopted law: "To be therefore", and the chairman of the State Council Count D. H. Bludov assured with his signature the authenticity of the highest resolution.
Manifest was written by Metropolitan Philaret and distributed throughout the empire for reading in public. In St.Petersburg Alexander did this personally. The extraordinary security measures in Moscow and St.Petersburg proved to be unnecessary.
Dissatisfied with the reform reproached it for not being radical enough, although it turned out to be very decisive for its time. Critics' reproaches are based on the assertion that the reform did not meet the aspirations of the peasants. But it could not meet them, because the peasants sought utopia, to build a society without superiors at all levels, for pre-state structure, but with the tsar at the head of a society that shares landlords' lands, inventory, bread, etc. among its members. Was it possible to build something real on this basis? Another thing is that the conditions of the reform required corrections prompted by the course of their specific application (which, in general, was embedded in the draft by its authors, but then safely forgotten by the authorities).
Russian army was periodically reorganized and rearmed and so far its performance in the major and minor conflicts was quote good. However, there were hidden problems which, so far did not fully revealed themselves, mostly because the last big war had been fought more than a decade ago (and was not really too big) and since then there were no visible examples of a better organization. Some of the proven practices of the earlier wars had been abandoned based upon the experiences of small-scale Caucasus operations and overly advertised French practices.
System of the military districts, which was supposed to produce the ready armies at the time of war did not quite work out and the reason was predictable. The corps and army level staffs had been eliminated and the highest level military units in the time of peace were infantry and cavalry divisions, artillery and engineers brigades unrelated to each other and directly subordinated to the commanders of military districts. During a war these disjoined units had been united in the ad hoc corps and armies commanded by the former division commanders and their, again, ad hoc assembled staffs composed after mobilization started out of the officers unknown to each other. The system ended up being similar to the French system of the “marshalattes” and was relatively OK for the Caucasus with its ad hoc small units but it did caused certain problems during the Hungarian War even if the Russian army had enough time to accomplish preparations without a rush. The arguments in favor of this system were:
- Saving money.
- Abolishing “extreme centralization” of the military.
- Argument that the corps units were too big to be used in their entirety at the time of war.
This argument was missing two important points:
- Army corps, unlike division or brigade, is a combination of all types of troops (infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers) and its main purpose is to provide a coordinated deployments of all these troops in a battle which can be achieved only by a constant training during the time of peace because learning it at the time of war proves to be truly expensive.
- Besides the small-scale local wars Russia may find it necessary to fight a major war in which experience of the small-scale conflicts will not be applicable.
System of the military districts had a purpose to unburden Ministry of War from the issues of raising the troops, supplies, placement and medical services. Commanders of the districts and their staffs did not have any wartime functions and were not expected to get the frontline appointments during the war, they’d just keep performing their usual duties. As a result, the district commanders were essentially military administrators and there was no mechanism for getting prepared top level wartime commanders.
Then, there was a problem with the General Staff. Or rather its absence as a meaningful organization doing a strategic planning of the future wars and providing strategic leadership during a war. Russian General Staff was organization with not quite clear functions totally subordinated to the Minister of War instead of other way around (as in Prussian army). It was not doing planning of a future war, it was not assessing potential opponents and as a result could not create the proper plans of the Russian mobilization, assess the needed resources and organize the effective deployment. The General Staff, following the French model, was completely separated from the army and consisted exclusively of the officers holding staff and administrative positions. The laudable intention of AII and his Minister of War, Milutin, to promote military science and education ended up as most of other good intentions: majority of the high military positions (from division commander and up) had been held by the well-educated and even academically-distinguished generals with a minimal experience of the independent command of the military units . Some of them could be the good staff officers but a field commander must have different qualities from those of his chief of staff and the Imperial Military Academy was not producing the field commanders.
Then, there was a social problem. While in Prussia a person who did not serve in the army could not held an administrative or elective position, in Russia people with the university education had been exempt from the military service. The intentions, again, were good (faster deployment of the educated people in their professional areas) but the byproduct was army’s separation from a society all the way to a complete alienation and mutual hostility (which could easily result in a sympathy to all types of the anti-government organizations). Another byproduct was a shortage of the reserve officers.
There was also an argument that during a big war Russia is going to end up with a big army of the ill-prepared soldiers and too few experienced ones.
Well, for a while none of the above was an obvious problem because there was no obvious reason to anticipate a major war with any European power and Alexander embarked upon the task he accomplished quite well, modification of the military uniforms. They were made more comfortable and care had been taken of the good winter clothes.
However, the supply organization remained quite terrible. Or rather it was adequate for a time of peace but for a war, except for the rather minor local operations, it was really bad
with its heavy reliance upon the private contractors and the General Staff’s unwillingness or inability to fully figure out importance of the railroads and to create a comprehensive plan for their war time usage.
Development of a modern navy caused a lot of the ideological debates regarding the Russian military doctrine. Should it be more aggressive in the terms of ocean-based operations or should it be more concentrated upon protection of the Russian coasts? Taking into an account that Russian Empire did not have the oversea colonies and was not planning to have ones the second course was chosen as the more prudent (and cheaper) one, at least for a near future. It was decided to build the heavily armored ironclads with a powerful artillery but not necessarily a long operational range for the Baltic, Black and White seas with the supporting lighter ships of all types and to have some fast armored long range steam frigates for operations, if necessary, on the ocean communications. In the case of war, they would be augmented by the armed steamers of the otherwise commercial Dobroflot.
The first ironclad (monitor-cruiser) for the Baltic fleet was completed by 1869 , “Peter the Great”. The armament consisted of four 12-inch (305 mm) guns with a barrel length of 20 calibers, placed two each in the end towers. In addition, six 87-mm (4-pound) guns were installed on the ship, as well as spaces were provided for the installation of two 9-dm (229 mm) mortars. Armored belt in the middle part 365-297 mm, at the ends 254-203 mm, parapet 365 mm, towers 356 mm. Speed up to 14 knots, crew 440.
On the Black Sea, “Chesma”, the 1st of the series of 4 ironclads had been completed in 1872. This was a full steel ship and experience of “Peter the Great” was taken into the account. The armor belt was extended to the whole length of the ship and the main artillery was 6 12 inch guns placed in 3 2-guns barbettes. These guns had barrel length 30 calibers and could penetrate much thicker armor than the guns of “Peter the Great”, There were also 7 152 mm guns, 10 small guns and 7 torpedo tubes. Speed was up to 15 knots and the crew 633. the maximum distance was 1,100 nautical miles.
Pacific was somewhat more complicated because of a need to secure a long defensive perimeter stretching from Vladivostok and Sakhalin to Kuril and Aleutian islands and then to Alaska. The RAC, which was losing money for the last few decades, was abolished and instead of the furs (this task switched to protecting their depleted sources against the poachers) the important factor became the Alaska coal, which will be used to supply the Russian shipping on the Pacific together with the Sakhalin coal which was extracted on the island’s western coast since 1853.
On Alaska it was mined by RAC since 1855 and reasonably easily accessible. Not of the best quality but good enough for the steamships. The center moved from Novo-Archangelsk to the Fort of St. George and Paul’s Harbor (on Kadyak) where the new fortified naval base was created. The fur hunters and merchants had been moved to the sidelines by the naval personnel, miners, and all other types of people including even few farmers who managed to grow potatoes and some vegetables. The grain still had to be shipped mostly from Nickolaevsk-on-Amur augmented by the produce from the Fort Ross farms, which had been permitted to remain in California by the Mexican government: these farms had been producing some
surplus but most of the supplies had been bought from the locals and shipped from San-Francisco with Fort Ross serving mostly as a business center. Mexican government did not mind and why would it? Besides buying the agricultural produce, Fort Ross was also arranging acquisition of the valuable manufactured goods, especially those called “firearms” (after purchasing certain empty territories on the North certain neighbor had been seemingly friendly but who knows for how long).
Back to the point, the Pacific fleet had to be able to protect the settlements on both sides of the Pacific, patrol the “perimeter” and to be able to provide protection, if needed, of the trade routes to Japan, China and Philippines. The task was ambitious but as of now the newly established ports of Nikolaevsk and Vladivostok had been only on the early stages of building up the supporting infrastructure and communications with the manufacturing centers of Eastern Siberia were mostly by the Amur. Construction of the regional railroad looked as a long-term project due to the very difficult terrain. As the first step there was a slowly progressing construction of a reasonably good land road built by the convicts. So for a while the Pacific Fleet was going to consist of the light cruisers and smaller ships plus few monitors of a coastal defense and some river monitors and cannon boats patrolling the Amur.
 … and that he was too liberal. But it is quite possible that Pobedonostsev was considering Nicholas too superficial: by using the phenomenal memory of the Romanov family he could easily memorize the material and fire off the answers without thinking even before the question was completed if the teachers were looking for a knowledge of the material and not an ability to analyze it. Who can tell now?
 He had a different idea but was overruled. Nonetheless, unlike his father who married for love and ended up starting a second family while his wife was still alive, he ended up being a faithful husband.
 Yes, the famous one even if he was not, yet, famous at that time. As you may notice, he was not offering free cookies.
 Actually, Nicholas’ opinion about the mental capacities of his heir was not extremely high.
 The OTL signing happened in 1861 by this exact reason.
 The forests and other potentially usable lands remained in landowners possession.
 In OTL by 1914 out of 5 army commanders promoted from being the General Staff officers only one had a longer experience of the troops commander than some other duties. Well, even that one was Rennenkampf.
 In OTL its construction started in 1869 and completed in 1877. But ITTL we can do better than that.
 1889 and was second of the series. But how ITTL would I get a ship called “Catherine II”?