One of the main arguments for the Germans attacking Moscow during World War II was that it was a transportation (mainly railroad) "hub" for the Soviet Union, and if captured, would seriously disrupt Soviet communications. At that time, Moscow was the capital of the Soviet Union so this would make sense, "all other things being equal".

But during the time of the Tsars (after Peter the Great), the capital was at St. Petersburg, not Moscow.

So did the rule in the first paragraph apply during the time of the Tsars when "all other things weren't equal? Were Russian communications more decentralized during the earlier period?

Or was it a situation where most of the Soviet Union's communications were built between 1918 and 1941 so that what happened under the Tsars had little impact on the World War II situation? Or could it be that St. Petersburg and Moscow were close enough together so that there wasn't much of a difference between a Moscow and St. Petersburg hub?

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    One telling example could be the Trans-Siberian Railway (built between 1890 and 1916), that started at Moscow and not Saint Petersburg.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 13:24
  • @SJuan76: Why don't you turn your comment into an answer that I would upvote and possibly accept. You might look into the reforms of Count Witte and Stolypin during the Tsarist times. But apparently, all roads to Moscow" applied even then.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 13:52
  • Russian communications were not very advanced in this period. B.H.L. Hart describes the lack of road network encountered by the Germans in 1941 - large highways were extremely rare and the road network was sparse and spartan. In R. Pipes, he describes the typical Russian village as essentially an island in the middle of a sea of land, with few ties to the outside world or even to Moscow. Moscow was considered a distant place where the leaders were, but rarely impacting them until the 1930s when Stalin had enough strength to pull everyone into the system.
    – Smith
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 14:15
  • Thank you, but that was about all my knowledge about tsarist road building and I don't feel it is worth an answer; I put it mainly due to the fame of that line but I do not know if it is representative of the whole of the country.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 16:20
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    @SJuan76, Actually, the Trans-Siberian route started from Miass (in what is now Chelyabinsk oblast), not Moscow. By the time 'the Great Siberian Route' was conceived, railway connections had reached the Urals. What makes people think that it starts from Moscow, is that its kilometers are counted from Moscow. But this practice only emerged in the Soviet period.
    – ach
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 16:31

1 Answer 1


Even when St. Petersburg was the capital, Moscow was still the "hub" for land transportation. Land communications from St Petersburg are only economically viable if they go south-west, south (Dyneburg, etc.) or south-east (Moscow). All other geographical directions are impractical because of rough terrain, lakes or lack of industrial centers. Hence St. Petersburg lacked direct connection to Arkhangelsk, Petrozavodsk or any east-bound connection that bypassed Moscow. Land communication between St. Petersburg and a majority of empire had to go through Moscow because of geographical constraints.

The map of Russian railroads ca. 1900 shows it quite clearly, St. Petersburg was a strategically critical sea port.

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    Note the rail network is dense in a belt from Moscow down to the sea. The 1942 German move into the Caucasus meant the Soviets could use that rail network to shift as many forces as they could want from the north down to the flank of the German offensive. If Stalingrad could be taken, it would shield the Caucasus operation from Soviet reinforcement from the north. Hence the importance attached to taking Stalingrad.
    – Smith
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 16:41
  • @Tom Au I see no hub at Kiev on this map. It has only straight line through and a branch under construction.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 9:36

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