From Christopher Clark: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914:
On 8 July, Count Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador in London, remarked to Edward Grey that he ‘did not see on what a démarche against Servia could be founded’.
The foreign secretary’s reply was characteristically tentative: I said that I did not know what was contemplated. I could only suppose that some discovery made during the trial of those implicated in the murder of the Archduke – for instance, that the bombs had been obtained in Belgrade – might, in the eyes of the Austrian Government, be foundation for a charge of negligence against the Servian Government. But this was only imagination and guess on my part. Count Benckendorff said that he hoped that Germany would restrain Austria. He could not think that Germany would wish a quarrel to be precipitated.
Grey made (or recorded) no reply to this last point, which was of considerable importance, because it placed the onus upon Germany to restrain its ally and glibly accepted the inevitability of a ‘quarrel’ – meaning in this context a war among the great powers – in the event that it should fail to do so. The same argument was conveyed more explicitly in a telegram from Vienna that reached Grey on the following day. It described a conversation between the British ambassador to Vienna and his Russian colleague, in which the Russian announced that he could not believe that Austria would be foolish enough to allow itself to be ‘rushed into war’, for an isolated combat with Servia would be impossible and Russia would be compelled to take up arms in defence of Servia. Of this there could be no question. A Servian war meant a general European war.
Within ten days, the Russians had established a seamless counter-narrative of the event at Sarajevo. There were contradictions in the picture, to be sure. As one Austrian diplomat pointed out, it made no sense for the Russians to say, on the one hand, that the South Slavs of Bosnia-Herzegovina were united in their loathing of Habsburg tyranny and on the other to complain at the attacks on Serbian property there by crowds of angry Croats. And the Russian assertion that Serbia wished nothing more than to live in peace and harmony with her neighbour sat uncomfortably with Sazonov’s earlier assurances to Pašić (via Hartwig) that Serbia would soon inherit the South Slav lands of the crumbling Habsburg Empire. Spalajković’s widely reported claim to the press in St Petersburg that the Belgrade government had warned Vienna of the assassination plot in advance raised awkward questions – disregarded by the Russians – about Serbian foreknowledge. Above all, the entire history of Russia’s sponsorship of Serbian expansionism and of Balkan instability in general was elided from view.
Conspicuously missing from the picture was, finally, any acknowledgement of Russia’s own links with the Serbian undergound networks. After the war, Colonel Artamonov, the Russian military attaché in Belgrade, candidly admitted his close pre-war relationship with Apis. He even admitted that he had supplied the head of the Black Hand with funds in support of their espionage operations in Bosnia, though he denied any foreknowledge of the plot to kill the archduke.
In any case it was already clear that neither London nor Paris intended to challenge the Russian version of events. An unpopular, warmongering martinet had been cut down by citizens of his own country driven to frenzy by years of humiliation and ill-treatment. And now the corrupt, collapsing and yet supposedly rapacious regime he had represented intended to blame his unregretted death on a blameless and peaceful Slav neighbour. Framing the event at Sarajevo in this way was not in itself tantamount to formulating a decision for action. But it removed some of the obstacles to a Russian military intervention in the event of an Austro-Serbian conflict. The Balkan inception scenario had become an imminent possibility...