Though Austria-Hungary and Serbia had begun to mobilize their armies already, July 28 had seen the official declaration of war of Austria-Hungary against Serbia, and the resulting pronouncement by Russia that they would mobilize their army as well. Nevertheless, Tsar Nicholas had not yet signed the order, and though he had signed two mobilization orders (one authorizing partial mobilization, not intended to be a threat to Germany, another ordering general mobilization), he merely thought he was putting the paper work in order . . . Nicholas told his chief of staff that neither order was to be executed without his authorization. The Tsar had good reason to be slow to act, especially against Germany: he was exchanging telegrams with his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, and both were encouraging each other to restrain their allies and to do the utmost to maintain peace (interestingly, these telegrams were signed “Nicky” and “Willy” respectively).
French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré finally arrived back in France on this day after several days at sea while returning from his visit to St. Petersburg. Though surprised by the dramatic turn of events since last he had been in touch (July 23), and determined to stay true to his ally, the Russians, Poincaré nevertheless deeply wished to avoid war. He therefore urged the Russians not to do anything that might provoke German mobilization . . . a message conveyed only after the Tsar had approved partial mobilization.
The question of war now rested with Russia: would they would they/could they craft their mobilization in a way which avoided provoking Germany?