While the armies of the Great Powers were busy slaughtering each other in Flanders, Tannenberg and Gallipoli, their weaker brethren were watching with keen anticipation from the sidelines like vultures waiting to gorge themselves on the corpses of the defeated party. As long as it remained unclear which of the big bandits would prove the stronger, the little bandits had to be patient and wait for their opportunity to arrive.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the Ottoman Empire was in a state of terminal decline. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. Three years later the Italian bourgeoisie proclaimed its colonial ambitions by grabbing Libya in North Africa from the Ottomans. Later they seized the islands of Rhodes and Kos. A year later a league of Balkan nations drove the Ottomans from their last foothold in Europe.
In the bloody struggle for world domination Russia entered as a second-rate partner of the Entente. The apparent strength of the Russian Empire concealed its internal contradictions and fundamental weaknesses. Russian tsarism combined elements of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country heavily dependent upon foreign capital with the aggressive characteristics of imperialism. Indeed, despite the economic backwardness of Russia, which never exported a single kopek of capital, Lenin included it as one of the five main imperialist countries.
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