Kuropatkin, Alexei Nikolayevich

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(18481925), adjutant general, minister of war, commander during the Russo-Japanese War, colonial administrator, and author.

Born in Sheshurino, Pskov Province, in 1848 to a retired officer with liberal inclinations, Alexei Kuropatkin received a superb military education, graduating from the Paul Junker Academy in 1866 and the Nicholas Academy of the General Staff in 1874. Much of Kuropatkin's career was linked to the empire's eastern frontier. Beginning as an infantry subaltern in Central Asia, he saw active duty during the conquest of Turkestan (18661871, 18751877, 18791883) and the Russo-Turkish War (18771878). Kuropatkin's close association with the flamboyant White General Mikhail Dimitriyevich Skobelev, earned him a misleading reputation as a decisive commander in combat (a deception Kuropatkin actively promoted by writing popular campaign histories). Kuropatkin was best suited for administration and intelligence, and he enjoyed a rapid rise in the military bureaucracy, including posts in the army's Main Staff (18781879, 18831890), head of the Trans-Caspian Oblast (18901898), and minister of war (18981904).

Kuropatkin assumed command of the ministry in a climate of strategic vulnerability, as growing German military power combined with a weakening economy. Accordingly, his top priority was to strengthen the empire's western defenses against the Central Powers. However, Nicholas II's adventures on the Pacific drew him back to the East, albeit reluctantly. Well aware of the threat posed by Japan's modern armed forces, Kuropatkin opposed the Russian emperor's increasingly aggressive course in Manchuria. Nevertheless, he loyally resigned his post as minister to command Russia's land forces in East Asia when Japan attacked in 1904. Insecurity and indecision hobbled his performance in the field. Reluctant to risk his troops in a decisive contest, Kuropatkin chose instead to order retreats whenever the outcome of a clash seemed in doubt. As a result, while he never lost a major battle, his repeated pullbacks fatally corroded Russian morale, and constituted one of the leading reasons for tsarist defeat in 1905.

After the war, Kuropatkin published prolifically in an effort to restore his tarnished reputation. During World War I, he returned to the colors on the northwestern front in 1915, but his leadership proved to be equally undistinguished. In July 1916 Nicholas II reassigned him as Turkestan's governor-general, where he suppressed a major nationalist rebellion later that year. Although he was relieved of his post and even briefly arrested by the Provisional Government in early 1917, Kuropatkin avoided the postrevolutionary fate of many other prominent servants of the autocracy. He spent his remaining years as a schoolteacher in his native Sheshurino until his death of natural causes on January 26, 1925. Kuropatkin does not figure prominently in the pantheon of great Russian generals, but his many published and unpublished writings reveal one of the more perceptive minds of the tsarist military.

See also: central asia; russo-japanese war; russo-turkish wars; skobelev, mikhail dimitriyevich; turkestan


Kuropatkin, Aleksei N. (1909). The Russian Army and the Japanese War, tr. A. B. Lindsay. 2 vols. New York:E. P. Dutton.

Romanov, Boris A. (1952). Russia in Manchuria, tr. Susan Wilbur Jones. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Press.

Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David H. (2001). Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye