In 1877-1878, Russia fought a war against Turkey to help its Slav allies, especially Serbia, throw off the yoke of the Ottoman empire. Russia went to war at a time when it was militarily weak, internally divided, and diplomatically isolated, and despite an official policy that emphasized retrenchment in order for Russian policymakers to concentrate their energy and resources on military, economic, and political reform under Russia's great reformist tsar, Alexander II. Why did Russia go to war on behalf of Serbia, and what does this case imply for the current crisis in Kosovo?
First, Russian panslav nationalists used new freedoms under the Great Reforms of Alexander II to incite the public to war. Mikhail Cherniaev, a retired Russian general who had led Russian colonial expansion in Central Asia, used a fake passport to elude Russian authorities and go to Serbia to lead its army against the Turks. The mass circulation press, partially liberated from censorship, spread inflammatory coverage of Serbia's war and printed graphic information about abuses heaped on Slav populations by their Turkish overlords. They also spread lies about Serbian victories in order to encourage Russian volunteers to join the Serb army. At the same time, civic activism by Slavic Committees in Russia brought unofficial medical, financial, and military aid to the war in Serbia. And hundreds of ordinary Russians, without official approval, volunteered to fight in Cherniaev's army. […]