Sergei Witte

From Academic Kids

Sergei Iulevich Witte (Серге́й Ю́льевич Ви́тте) (June 29, 1849March 13, 1915), also known as Sergius Witte, served as Russian Director of Railway Affairs within the Finance Ministry from 1889 – 1891, Transportation Minister (1892), Finance Minister from 1892 to 1903, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers (1903 – 1905) and Chairman of the Council of Ministers (1905 – 1906).

Witte was appointed by Tsar Alexander III to help Russia's struggling economy. Witte was very successful, and under his tenure as Finance Minister the nation saw unprecedented economic growth. Witte strongly encouraged foreign capital to invest in Russia, and to do so he put Russia on the gold standard in 1897. Witte encouraged the growth of Russian industry, and the industrial sector of the economy expanded rapidly, especially the metals, petroleum, and transportation sectors. To improve the economy and to attract foreign investors Witte also advocated curbing the powers of the Russian autocracy.

Despite repeated attempts at reform including the calling of a conference on the needs of the rural industry Witte's failure was in the agrarian peasant sector of the economy. During his time in office the lot of the peasants slowly declined and unrest increased in the peasant population. In part because of this and because of the nobility's dislike of him and his opposition to war with Japan, Nicholas II replaced Witte as Finance Minister in 1903, giving him the relatively powerless position of Chairman of the Committee of Ministers.

Witte returned to the forefront in 1905, however, when he was called upon by the Tsar to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Witte traveled to the United States, where the peace talks were being held, and negotiated brilliantly on Russia's behalf. Despite losing dramatically on the battlefield Russia lost very little in the final settlement.

After this success Witte was brought back into the governmental decision-making process to help deal with the civil unrest following the war and Bloody Sunday. Witte advocated for the creation of an elected parliament, the formation of a constitutional monarchy, and the establishment of a Bill of Rights. Many of his reforms were put into place, but they failed to end the unrest. This, and overwhelming victories by liberal political parties in Russia's first elected parliament, the State Duma, forced Witte to resign as Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister).

Witte returned just prior to the outbreak of World War I to urge that Russia stay out of the conflict. His warning that Europe faced calamity if Russia became involved went unheeded, and he died shortly thereafter.


  • The Memoirs of Count Witte, edited by Sydney Harcave

Preceded by:
Ivan Nikolayevich Durnovo
Prime Minister of Russia
1903 — 5 May 1906
Succeeded by:
Ivan Goremykin

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